Is Your Space Making You More or Less Productive?


This week is World Space Week. While I’m not sure an article aimed at web working astronauts would have that big an audience, taking a look at an alternate meaning of the word “space” might. Your workspace is hardly the final frontier, but it’s definitely an area that could use some attention when it comes to your productivity.

My corner office (so called because it’s literally occupying the corner of my living room) is consistently a tangle of wires, gadgets and gear, but that’s about the only consistent thing about it. It’s also always a work-in-progress, with things constantly being moved around and re-arranged in an attempt to find the configuration most conducive to work.

One of the reasons I spend a lot of time on it is that it’s a good way to procrastinate and avoid the important work I should be doing. But another reason is that the place where I spend the better part of my day had better be comfortable and supremely usable in order to improve both the quality of my work and of my life overall.

I’ve generally used a multi-monitor setup, though I’ve also advocated going down to a single screen to help you focus in the past. Right now, I think I’ve struck a good balance. I still use three screens (though I’d use only two or one if I had a large screen as my main display, like the one of the new 27-inch iMacs (s aapl)), but I rarely look at more than two. I also have my iPad at my workstation, operating solely as a standalone IM client. It resides on my left, outside of my field of view. That way, I can hear when a message comes in and note it, but there’s no visual imperative drawing my attention away from the task at hand.

I have a comfortable, ergonomic office chair, but it shares its duties with a large inflatable exercise ball that I use intermittently for the health of my back. The exercise ball also helps keep me focused and on-task, I’ve found, since I’m basically locked into position when I’m using it, and can’t really slouch or swivel around to check out what’s on TV, for instance. If you’re a web worker who spends hours at a time unbroken in front of the computer, I highly recommend one.

For work that requires real focus, I use a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. If my work urgent as well as important, then I’ll just use them without being connected to an audio source. Silence is golden, and for me, it’s also productive. I think I work faster when it’s quiet because it makes me want to hurry up and move on to another task, one that hopefully involves auditory input.

I used to have a bad habit of catching up with TV shows sporadically during the work day. I still do this, sneaking a show here or there, but now I do it in my work space, often while I’m doing something work-related but that doesn’t require  much attention at the same time. I’ll watch shows on the monitor on the right of my workspace, and do work on the main screen of my iMac. It saves me time because watching a show doesn’t become an event that I have to get up for, attend to, and get back to work from. It happens inline with my productive activities.

My space has taken shape through many years of trial and error, and it works because I know what is and isn’t going to distract me from getting things done. I’ve taken out things like a second computer, which I thought would speed things along but which just ended up being a Facebook/online shopping machine. But I’ve also come back to things like multiple monitors, because working between two apps is just so much easier that way.

To suss out the best configuration of your own workstation, you have to pay attention to the same kinds of things. And remember, nothing that you change can’t be undone, so don’t be afraid to go ahead and try whatever feels right, but always keep tabs on what you’ve done and how it’s affected your performance, or you’ll just find yourself wholly lost in the realm of procrastination.

What do you find productive about your current work space? Can you identify anything that’s definitely a distraction, and if so, can you change it?

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Adam Bluhm

I am also always in search of the perfect workspace. I’m currently using 4 19″ monitors with a comfy chair and lots of light and 2 fish tanks. The fish tanks work as both a form of relaxation and a source of distraction sometimes. I also have a small TV I can use if I watch something not too involving and I can time it with some work that does not require my absolute concentration (e.g. doing time-intensive but not necessarily thought-intensive work). I just have to clean up some clutter and it should be complete. I also have some wonderful noise-cancelling headphones that are just invaluable sometimes!

Annette Pedersen

You all hit the nail on the head. Organization and being comfortable while working at our desks all day is essential! What a great article.

I also use 2PC’s and monitors. Monitors side by side with 2 separate keyboards on a wonderful older cherry finished dining room table I collected from a yard sale. I did use only one keyboard and mouse with both pc’s for awhile using the software Kavoom, but then decided it was just too sporadic.

I love light! So I moved my home office to take over my Dining room! I live top floor apartment and i have this wonderful view of trees. And i have flowers on my patio. I have the light from my big sliding glass window and the main DR window. Love it! I have incorporated some feng shui also on my desk. I have a bonsai tree, a bowl of rocks,crystal, and colorful ball candles from my old hippie days. Makes me smile every day to work from home :)
~Enjoy your day~

Curtis Andrew

It seems obvious to me that your workspace will effect your productivity. I have also spent a lot of time organizing my workspace for optimum efficiency.

I also use 3 monitors (24″) but I have them all link together. I don’t think your set up an ideal multiple monitor setup because you have to turn your head to view the other monitors.

I think the best way to organize your workspace is like a cockpit. All the tools you need on a daily basis should be there in arms reach – everything else shouldn’t be there…

Justin Levy

I definitely agree that your workspace can affect your productivity.

I have struggled, much like you, with the idea of a single monitor vs multiple monitors. I continually come back to multiple monitors and that is the current set up that I’m running.

I find that it is hard for me to be productive if my workspace is messy. I clean and organize my office at the start and end of each day, especially the immediate area around my main workspace. Anything like loose paperwork distracts me and makes me feel like everything is disorganized, even if it really isn’t.

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