A web worker’s office is her most important tool. Arranging it should be given more care and importance than setting up one’s LinkedIn profile. In my four years of web work, I can’t say that I’ve achieved the perfect office yet, but I already know what I have to do to get there. If I could, I would go back in time to implement the following things so I could get a better start with my home office setup.
Spend time looking for a great chair. One thing we have in common with office-bound workers is the need for a good chair. Without it, we’re prone to back aches and hours of working in pain or discomfort.
Alternatively, some people prefer to sit on uncomfortable chairs or even work standing up. Having uncomfortable seating sometimes forces people to work faster and more efficiently. But if you prefer a more contemplative style of working, you should focus on looking for a comfortable chair.
Keep regularly used items within reach. Most of us have many physical tools we use for work, such as post-its, pens, index cards, or a USB thumb drive. It’s best to keep these tools within your arm’s reach as you’re sitting down in front of the computer. Apart from the items I’ve already mentioned, I also keep Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” on my desk as a quick reference. If you have similar reference books for your field, it might prove to be handy to keep them nearby as well. Having easy access to all these tools means you don’t have to waste time and energy walking around the house to look for them.
Make sure you have sufficient lighting. In an article about resetting one’s body clock, I wrote about how seeing bright light when you wake up tells your brain that it’s daylight. This makes your office lighting important, especially if you like to work shortly after waking up. The source of light can be natural, artificial, or a mix of both – as long as enough of it is available when you need it.
Add a little variety. Whether it’s the photographs on your desk, the art work on your wall, or the plants on your windowsill, it helps to have a few elements in your office that can be changed or rearranged. These will allow you to breathe new life into your office whenever you’re getting bored with your old setup or you simply want a bit of change.
Have as few distractions as possible. When I started web working, my office was in the same space as a television set. Obviously, this wasn’t a good idea as I often found myself turning the TV on and wasting my time with yet another episode of Seinfeld which I’ve already seen twice. My desk was also situated badly, directly beside the front door and near the phone. This meant that if there were any visitors, callers, or if anyone was coming in or leaving, I would be forced to deal with them.
Now, my office is in a separate room. This means that I’m no longer forced to welcome guests or pick up the phone by default. Since I made the change, I noticed a considerable decrease in the hours I spent working. The bottom line is that you should find a space where you’ll have the least amount of distractions and close it off. It’s better to have your office in an unused room. If not, close off your workspace with dividers.
Establish house rules. Apart from the space itself, you also need to work on the less physical aspects of your office, such as established rules that are understood by your housemates or family. Some examples include the following: you can’t be disturbed between 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, no one else is allowed to clean up your office for you, you won’t receive phone calls during the day, etc. If your office space sets the physical boundaries, these rules will set the mental boundaries you need so you can channel your attention to you work.
It takes some experimentation and a few weeks of trial and error to have a workspace that is complementary to your work style. These simple tips are just starting points you should consider when creating or re-creating an office that you’ll be proud of.
What does your office look like? What makes it work for you? Are there any aspects of your workspace that need improvement? Feel free to share pictures.