Arranging Your Desk and Workspace for Maximum Productivity

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Arranging Your Desk and Workspace for Maximum Productivity

Whether you work in a corporate office or at your desk from home, your workspace must be a place that you enjoy being in. Not only do you spend the majority of your day sitting in this space, but our workspaces can have a significant impact on our psychological wellbeing. A cluttered and unorganised workspace will leave our minds cloudy and slow, but a well organised and thought-out workspace will result in significantly higher productivity - which means more time off later!

With all the supplies, technology, paper, and equipment required in a modern-day office, it’s never been more important to get a handle on office organisation.

Having an organised space involves everything from the furniture, set up, lighting, colours, and comfort factor. You need to consider all the different elements in your workspace, as they all combine to form the atmosphere that ends up influencing your mood, behaviour, and productivity. So, how do you go about organising your space and therefore your mind?

Optimising your office space

No matter what size or shape your office is, you should utilise it effectively. Optimising and making the best use of the space you have is therefore crucial when looking to create an efficient working area. Organised space = organised mind!

 Go back in time

To help you get started with organisation, think of how your workspace was organised when you first set it up. If you work in a home office, you probably started with just a desk, computer, bin, and some office supplies. If you work in a corporate office, you were most likely just given a desk and computer upon arrival and ended up accumulating a whole bunch of other items over the time you spent there.

So stop for a moment and take yourself back to day one.

Go through your desk and drawers and immediately throw away items you don't need, keep items you most certainly need, and leave a third pile for items you may need but are unsure of just now. Throw away all dry pens and highlighters, old receipts, any old notebooks that you've not looked inside for a long time, and be honest with yourself when sorting through the items.

Once you have your two piles, store the necessary items in a drawer higher up, and the 'maybe necessary' items in a lower priority drawer. Go back to this drawer in two months and throw away anything you've not yet used.

 Furniture

Studies have shown that furniture with rounded or curved edges can also help stimulate creativity and productivity. In a 2011 study, undergraduates found that rooms with curvilinear furniture were more inviting and pleasant to work in. What does this mean for your office? A pleasant, inviting workspace means you or your employees will be happier when at work, and therefore more productive. An inviting workspace paves the way for a clean and uncluttered mind, and you can expect yourself to work with more clarity and efficiency.

A good way to utilise the space in a room is to make use of the corners and purchase an L-shaped desk. This way your desk space is maximised (as there tends to be more surface area on L-shaped desks), and you’re left with additional room for peripherals such as printers and other office supplies.

 Lighting

Creating a feeling of openness, light, and space can also help increase productivity in your workspace. Working in well-lit, brighter spaces is always more conducive to productivity than working in dimly lit, cramped offices. A 2007 study found that high ceilings incited feelings of freedom, and while that's not something easy to implement or change, it is worth considering how a big open space can influence your psychology without you even realising.

Windows are also shown to have restorative benefits when in an office, particularly if they look out onto a natural landscape. Reminding yourself that there's a whole world out there beyond the office will make you less likely to feel 'trapped' and unwilling to work. Glancing outside and seeing the sky and natural sunlight can have tremendous benefits, and subconsciously you will feel happier and more at ease than if you were in an enclosed space with no windows or natural lighting.

While we’re on the topic of lighting, sure dim is bad, but that doesn't mean you should instead have fluorescent or direct lighting. This kind of lighting often leads to eye strain, which will tire you out when working and can often lead to a headache. Instead, try lighting options that mimic natural sunlight.

 Openness

Ensuring that your entire office area is clear of obstructions is also important, as moving between spaces is made much more difficult if you need to manoeuvre between coffee tables, printer stations, and cables. Making sure there’s easy free movement between your office areas can make a significant impact on overall efficiency. Those five seconds spent dodging furniture add up!

The same applies to your home office space. Ensure there is free and easy movement between your desk and any cabinets, printer stations, or bookshelves. Keep the items you most frequently use as close to your desk as possible to limit the amount of time spent reaching for things throughout your day. This will again impact your organisation and productivity, as you’ll be more likely to return items to where they belong, leaving your desk uncluttered.

If you work in an external office space, it’s of utmost importance that you make the most of your space and use it how you wish. It’s essential to feel comfortable in your workspace and to know that you can use it as you like. If you feel like the couches in the reception area look comfortable, or the lighting in the boardroom is more conducive to productivity, take your work over there! Feeling in control of your workspace means you will be more productive.

Organisation tips

According to professional organiser, Ellen Delap, the average executive wastes six weeks every year searching for paper. What does that tell you about the importance of an organised desk space?

While the way you lay out your space is key to productivity and peace of mind, there’s not much use to it if you don’t organise your items properly! Implementing tidy and effective storage solutions is also key to creating an efficient workspace, as excess clutter causes mental distraction. Having a place for everything is important because it ensures that things are always put away and more space is made available for work.

 Separate work and personal items

Providing ample storage and organisation space for yourself or employees is important. Ensure that there is a dedicated space for personal items as well as work-related materials. This way there won’t be a clash of personal and work items, and your mind can be left to focus on what needs to be done. If you’re working from home, this is especially important as it can help prevent your home and personal life from leaking into your business life. Keep the two separate, and ensure they each have their own storage spaces.

 Utilise the walls

A great tip when it comes to organising your workspace is to utilise the walls. Walls can sometimes be the most useful spaces for storage and organisation. Consider installing a pegboard from which to hang baskets, or folders to hold paper, booklets, or other documents. Another idea is to stick pocket folders to the wall and use them as alternatives to drawers. Clipboards can also be hung up and used to stick receipts, notes, swatches, and other items that would otherwise be cluttered all over the desk and drawers or in post-it form.

For those who are visual workers and can't handle putting their paper away in a drawer or anywhere out of sight, consider a literature sorter for your desk. This way your documents can be filed away and organised neatly, but you can still be comfortable in the knowledge that all you need is right there, a glance away.

Arranging your desks and workspace with feng shui

As well as optimising the space that you have for your office, it can also be useful to consider the ancient Eastern practise of Feng Shui to help the flow of energy in your office. The principle of Feng Shui is that the placement of objects in a room or space affects the flow of the chi or energy within it. With the good flow of energy comes a good frame of mind.

Applying some simple, fundamental principles of Feng Shui can make a big difference to the atmosphere of your office. Whether you believe in the philosophy or not, applying these methods can have a tremendous impact on productivity and peace of mind.

 Feng shui for your office

  • Sit in the corner of the room furthest away from the doorway, facing the door,
  • Don’t sit directly in line with the door, as this is where negative energy tends to flow from outside the office;
  • Keep your back to a wall if possible;
  • Don’t have your back to the door, as this is considered similar to turning your back away from opportunities;
  • Having your computer placed in the North-West corner of a room is good for creativity, whilst the South-West corner is considered good for wealth;
  • Always balance the colours, surfaces, and textures in your office (light and dark, soft and hard, smooth and rough, etc);
  • Don’t mount any mirrors on your office walls, as they may reflect negative energy;
  • Eliminate clutter and wires as this obstructs the flow of energy in your workspace, and therefore clutters your mind;
  • Bring the outside in by making use of plants and natural scenery.

Keeping these simple rules in mind can have a dramatic effect on the general flow of energy within your workspace, leaving you with more clarity and ready to face the workday.

Ergonomics and OHS

Conditions such as neck and back pain, as well as hand and wrist pain, are extremely common in modern workplaces. Most of this is usually a result of poor ergonomics, so ensuring your workspace is designed to be ergonomic can mean less pain and more productivity.

Ergonomics are an Occupational Health and Safety issue, so large companies are required to address this matter for their employees. This is usually done by way of formal ergonomic assessments, provision of ergonomic equipment (such as special chairs or standing desks), and training on personal ergonomics. But if you work from home, that doesn’t mean that ergonomics should be ignored. They’re equally as important regardless of where you’re conducting your work.

It’s also important to consider other activities required in a workplace and what effects they may have on your health and safety. For example, lifting copy paper at the printing station could cause injury but shouldn’t if best practice is used. Bending at the knees when lifting is the first step, but positioning the printer and paper on equal levels can also help to absolve this. Always be mindful of how you are interacting with the work environment, and take measures to prevent injury as a result of ergonomic and safety issues. Knowing there’s no hassle or heavy lifting involved in your processes will make you less lazy when it comes to doing them, so try to make the work experience as easy and smooth as possible.

Office do’s and don’ts

 Do have a good attitude

Be positive when it comes to your workspace. Approach it with an optimistic attitude and you’ll be more likely to get the most out of it. Appreciate the good things in your workspace and don’t dwell on the bad - instead, look to how these things can be fixed.

 Don’t take advantage of open plans

The layout of an office space can determine the way that people interact within it. This can be both a good and bad thing. For example, an open plan layout may encourage collaboration but also lead to excessive distraction. It’s therefore important to respect the privacy of colleagues and not assume they’re always willing and available to chat. Every layout will have its pros and cons, and it’s up to the people within it to ensure its success.

 Don’t vibrate all day

Keeping smartphones in check is also important. Constant text messages and notifications buzzing all day is a distraction, so keeping phones on silent is the courteous thing to do.

 Do use private spaces for private calls

Always use a private room or boardroom for personal phone calls rather than forcing others to endure it. This is also important because your colleagues could potentially overhear sensitive or inappropriate information.

 Do respect others

Personal etiquette and office courtesy are important in the workplace, particularly if your office has an open plan layout. Respecting co-workers and the workspace is critical to a happy and productive office ecosystem.

Organising desk space

Optimising your desk space

When considering ways to keep your office free of clutter and distractions, it’s important to not forget your desk! Having a clean and clear desk is vital for concentration, and it should only have items placed on it that are required to make your work easier. A computer and phone are defaults, but other than that what else do you really need on your desk? Minimalism is key here. Paperwork should be filed away at all times and equipment such as printers should not be taking up prime desk real estate. Keep them off!

 Find the essentials

Organisation expert David Allen suggests thinking of your workspace as a cockpit and dividing it accordingly. Organise your items into two groups - permanent and transient items.

Permanent items are those you regularly use, such as your computer, notebooks, and stationery. Transient stuff includes those documents you'll need today but not next week, any incomplete work, and anything that's not necessary now but might be later. Keep only the items you use daily within reach. Everything else can be stored nearby but away from your desk.

According to writer and strategist Matt Perman, the essential items you truly need on your desk are:

  • Your laptop or computer monitor;
  • Mouse and keyboard;
  • Notebook (as in the one you are currently writing in);
  • Pen or pencil (laying flat and not in a pen holder, which is unnecessary and takes up space), and;
  • An inbox for your loose sheets of paper.

Utilising feng shui for desk arrangement

As with office design and layout, Feng Shui is also applicable to your personal desk space.

To start, if you're working from home, or your boss is nice enough to let you move your desk, try to place your desk so that it is facing the main entrance to your office. If your boss isn't so nice, then Feng Shui expert Laura Cerrano advises arranging a small mirror on your desk to reflect the entrance to the office. The idea behind this arrangement is that you need to see your opportunities to be able to seize them, and having the door within sight allows for this.

And here are some other Feng Shui strategies you can employ to keep your desk chi flowing:

  • The back left corner of your space is representative of prosperity. Here you can place a plant or a valuable item;
  • To build yourself a good reputation or maybe even some fame, channel your energy into the back centre of your desk. Here you can put some business cards, a nameplate, anything to motivate you and remind you of past successes;
  • The desk area dedicated to health is the centre, so if you'd like to channel good energy towards your health keep that area free of clutter and mess;
  • The right centre of your desk is where you can channel creative energy. Place a piece of inspiration here to motivate you throughout the day. This is dependent on your creative aspirations, so leave something that will personally inspire and encourage you here;
  • Front and centre is reserved for your career. For success, channel good energy to the front and centre of your desk by keeping it free of clutter and posting positive affirmations or motivational images and quotes.

Implementing these basic principles and consciously considering the positive flow of energy, whether you believe in it or not, will help create a better working environment for yourself.

Desk ergonomics

Setting your office and desk space up in an efficient manner is an excellent start, but there is another essential component to maximise your productivity. Simply having your desk and equipment set up the right way isn’t enough - you need to ensure that you are correctly set up for interaction with your desk and equipment.

Important to office ergonomics is the type of chair you sit on. It’s one of the most simple yet most effective elements of an ergonomic workspace. Don't forget, you're on this chair for upwards of six hours a day, so it needs to be comfortable.

Essential to office chairs is an adjustable seat and backrest height. You want to sit so that your thighs are parallel to the floor with your feet flat, and buying a generic-sized chair won't help you achieve that easily. It's also a good idea to have a chair with wheels that can swivel and move easily around the office (especially home offices, as you don't want to get up every time you want something from the printer that's just out of reach!)

Posture is another large part of ergonomics, and it's important to follow a few key principles to ensure you're not wasting the adjustable chair by slouching and sitting incorrectly. Sit so that your keyboard is in front of you and your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle, with the monitor at eye level so your neck can stay balanced.

Remember to keep your shoulders and back relaxed and not slouched. Take frequent breaks to stretch, and do some hand and finger exercises to prevent injuries such as RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome. Every hour, try to spend at least thirty seconds looking around the office or outside the window, anywhere that's not your monitor (a phone doesn't count).

Sitting comfortably means you’ll focus less on back and neck pain while working. You’ll stop working less often to adjust the way you’re sitting. You’ll be more productive as your back is straight, your eyes are aligned with the monitor and your body is at rest. With a correct desk setup, you’re less likely to leave your office feeling sore.

Organisation tips

Desk organisation is important as it allows you to maintain an efficient system for your work and peripheral items. The flow you create around your desk is also important, as it influences the way your desk should be organised.

Experts suggest that a left-to-right flow works best for most things, and this includes your desk space. For example, an in-tray should be on the left while an out tray should be on the right. This will allow your mind to work from left to right, as it does with reading, while you progress through tasks and paperwork. Having your work scattered all over the place will disrupt the flow and leave your mind cluttered and confused.

Using your desk drawers for more than just hiding clutter is also effective for improving desk organisation. Keeping pens and other tools at hand in the top drawer and storing other items in order of priority or bulkiness is a good rule of thumb to follow.

You could also allocate a small part of your desk to act as a landing strip for your personal items when you enter each day. Having a routine where you place your briefcase, phone, and other items in the same place on your desk will help you settle in each day, and also keep track of where those items are. Keeping them in the same space every day will effectively remove that space from your mind as you know what is contained there, leaving you to concentrate on the rest of your desk area.

Office and desk organisation and effectiveness can be personal, but using proven guidelines as a benchmark or starting point is an efficient way to find your optimal setup. Despite the various options available, one thing's for certain - a clean and organised workplace, coupled with a clean and organised desk, is the first step in creating a workspace that inspires productivity.

3 months ago
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