10 Ways to Relax Your Workspace

photo by jimmyroq

Does your workspace feel inviting or does it make you want to cringe? Remember, where we work, we live as well. Our desire to work should come out of a sense of passion and drive. But an unorganized or boring work environment will dramatically stunt our productivity.

It’s not just about how our workspace looks though, it’s how it feels that creates the feeling of a relaxing space. Even more, it’s how we work.

Here are 10 ways you can create a more relaxing workspace:

1. Keep only what is needed on your desk; nothing else.

This is a difficult one to follow, but is essential to creating a relaxing work environment. If our desk is filled with unnecessary folders or projects that don’t need our immediate attention, we’ll easily become distracted and lack focus.

By keeping on our desk only what we are presently working on, we create the proper attentional feng shui of our workspace. That means we have our workspace designed to only focus on the most important task(s).

Ideally, at my own desk, I try to only keep out what I’m currently working on. I have to be ruthless sorting out what my biggest priority is. This helps keep my adult ADD in check (want to ride bikes?).

2. Clear out the clutter.

When you walk into your workspace does it give you a feeling of dread, or does it invite you in? We can’t expect to have a relaxing workspace with piles of paper, receipts, files and miscellaneous junk crowding our space. If you only change one thing, get organized.

Clear everything off your desk except the absolutely necessary items. This means filing (I know, the dreaded f-word) anything that doesn’t need to be out and keeping everything you don’t need constantly, in drawers or cabinets.

  • Use in/out trays to sort your paperwork by urgency and relevance.
  • Create an action for each tray such as “needs research” or “to be filed.”
  • Consider how often you use particular items and place the ones that you need frequently in a convenient place.

Often, the beginning of our day in the office can be our rudder for the work day. Inevitably, we can’t control everything, but at least we can set the right tone by coming into a clean and organized space at the beginning of the day.

3. Make your space comfortable.

Ergonomic is one of the biggest buzz words around every office it seems. Probably because so many companies have settled workers comp suits for not being ergo-friendly. Although these companies might not have known that they were doing anything wrong, there’s a reason why ergonomics are important.

Here’s some basic ergo tips:

  1. Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Keep proper posture.
  3. Adjust the arms of your chair so they’re level with your keyboard.
  4. Placed referenced documents for typing near the keyboard to prevent repetitive neck movement.
  5. Your wrists should be straight and “float” about the keyboard.
  6. Relax your hand on the mouse to prevent cramping.
  7. Adjust brightness/contrast on your monitor; place away from windows and bright lights to prevent glare.
  8. Do eye asanas anytime your eyes get tired.
  9. Adjust your screen font size to make it properly readable.

4. Listen to music.

Find out what type of music helps you work the best. I find that when I’m doing repetitive work like answering emails, voice messages and filing, a good eclectic mix of music is perfect for me. “Radio Paradise” is one of my favorite stations. You can find it on iTunes under Radio > Eclectic > Radio Paradise.

iTunes has a lot of other great stations you can choose from as well, just do a little exploring. When I’m doing creative work that requires a high level of focus I prefer strings. Vitamin String Quartet is one of my favorites.

Stan Richardson (Japanese bamboo flute artist) is one of my favorite artists to listen to in the morning when I’m writing. Figure out what kind of music works best for you.

5. Personalize your workspace.

When we personalize our desk space, it helps remind us that things outside of work are important. Pictures of family members and loved ones can help us stay motivated and remember what we’re working for, instead of working for “work’s” sake.

Our workspace should be visually appealing to us. After all, we spend about a third of our day at work over the course of 40 years. That’s a considerable amount of time to spend in a sea of grey.

Take a moment to think about what your ideal workspace would look like. What would make your workspace more inviting?

Adding plants (living ones of course), candles, photos, fresh flowers and fresh fruit to your desk is a good start. The idea of having fresh fruit, flowers and fresh (recent) photos is that we’ll be inviting new energy into our work and lives.

6. Single task.

It’s a common belief that we’ll be more efficient and get more done by juggling multiple tasks simultaneously. Multi-tasking could practically become an Olympic sport. It reminds me more of a circus.

Trying to walk and chew gum at the same time may not be that difficult. But while you’re actually trying to finish an important project, you’re more likely to have greater success without any distractions. Stop trying to answer your email, check your Blackberry and clip your toenails at the same time.

Also, switching gears constantly means your brain requires more time to move from one mode of work to another. Multi-tasking makes you more prone to error and stress when you’re juggling too many things at once.

Instead try only focusing on doing the most important tasks of the day first. Ask yourself “if I could only do three things today, what would they be?” If you can’t finish those three, what would be the one most important thing? If you dedicate your morning to finishing these tasks, I guarantee that the rest of your day will be much smoother.

7. Create uninterruptible periods.

Dedicate a block of time each day to be completely uninterruptible. This will help you focus on your most important tasks.

This works best for me early in the morning. I try to discipline myself to not check my email, voice mail or anything else that seems urgent until I’ve finished at least one of my most important tasks. If you feel the urge to check your email or respond to whatever comes up in the moment, re-focus yourself, take a deep breath and get back on track. Commit to a certain amount of uninterrupted time to work on your most important project.

If you can only devote 30 minutes to your important task, that’s fine. Next time go for 45 minutes. Eventually you can build your way up to an hour, then an hour and a half and eventually 2 hours. Although, I wouldn’t recommend more than 2 hours of solid work, unless you’re really in the zone and it would be detrimental to stop.

8. Stay in the present.

This is probably the hardest tip of all to remain consistent with, but it’s essential to enforcing tips 6 and 7 and to really turn them into a habit. Staying in the present means that our attention is 100% focused on only the present task at hand. We’re not thinking about what we need to tomorrow, next week or even the next 5 minutes. We’re completely focused on the here and the now.

Re-focusing myself to stay in the present has had a tremendous impact on my productivity and my quality of work. Because my attention is completely focused on what I’m doing right now, I’m able to devote all of my energy to its completion. As a natural result, I have a much higher attention to detail because my mind is not divided. I’m able to pick up on mistakes and oversights that I probably would have missed if I were busy worrying about tomorrow or the next project that I need to work on.

9. Take a mini-spa break.

What better way to bring a little more relaxation into our workspace than to take a mini-spa retreat right at our desk? Here are a few examples of easy ways to create a relaxing break:

  • 5 minute mini-steam. Pour hot water in a cup. Put 3-4 drops of essential oil such as peppermint, lavender or eucalyptus in the cup. Put your face over the cup and put a large file folder over your head to trap the steam as much as possible. Now close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. (Your co-workers might think you’re a little strange but at least you’ll have something to talk about at the water cooler.)
  • Mini-acupressure session. Take 2-3 minutes to give yourself an acupressure session. Acupressure uses the Chinese principles of opening your energy (chi) channels by applying direct pressure on certain points of the body. Press your middle fingers firmly on the temples and move slowly in a circular motion. Do this for a minute or two and then press your middle fingers at the top of the nose, in between the eyes. Move your fingers up and down in a slow and steady motion. Remember to breathe!
  • Take a walk. Take a few minutes to go outside and walk around the building or down the street. Remember to stay in the present and just relax for a moment in nature.


10. If it feels right to you, it’s right.

What matters most is what feels right to you. Everyone will have a different idea of what helps them relaxed and stay the most productive. For some, this might mean blasting Ozzy and head-banging your way through the day. Or perhaps you prefer listening to Enya and being completely Zen.

If it helps you relax and stay productive, it’s right.

Don’t settle for working in a lifeless cubicle your whole life. Imagine the most relaxing, enjoyable space you could work in. Now make it a reality!

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Comment & Add Your Voice

apricot. April 13, 2008 at 8:12 pm

this was really insightful, honey. It reminded me that we should probably make our own computer desk more relaxing. :]

Reply

Herbalife April 13, 2008 at 11:31 pm

The single task concept is so true. You can accomplish much more in a day with focus rather than multi-tasking.

Reply

Clay Collins | The Growing Life April 13, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Thanks Jonathan. You’re killing me with link love and I’m really grateful. I’m glad you found “attentional feng shui” to be a useful idea!

Thanks a ton!

–Clay

Reply

Evelyn April 14, 2008 at 1:29 am

I probably need to look more into the ergo of my study table when I move into my new place. Thanks for the tips!

Evelyn

Reply

Michael Henreckson April 14, 2008 at 3:59 am

Great list Jonathan! Some of my favorite productivity tips from your list include single tasking, un-interruption, and of course the little breaks for things like taking a walk. Those things give me exponential productivity increases.

Reply

JEMi | Tips for Life, Love, You April 14, 2008 at 5:49 am

no where on this list do I see hire a personal assistant to pick up after you
..
darn

:) I love my office space when I clear it out – I think and work freely
I know when it gets super cluttered, it’s sheer habit. Bad habit of not putting away things I ought to put away.

judging from the reeeally nice picture you have up ( :-D ) I could also afford a lil green life in my office. Painting my walls light green (I did) doesn’t count. I’m on it!

Reply

Max Norman April 14, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Jon-

Loved the list, but was pleasantly shocked by number 9; I had never thought of that. I think that would be effective for relaxation, breaking out of routines and fun.

Max

Reply

tsims April 15, 2008 at 7:46 pm

I’ve also found that it’s nice to go through a set of progressive relaxation stretches after longs stints at the desk.

Reply

Alma April 17, 2008 at 10:52 am

Having a small aquarium on your table can reduce your stress level dramatically. Watching nature videos at http://www.relaxwithnature.com can help too. And go for a walk as often as you can.

Reply

Herbalife September 4, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Do stretching, take a break and take deep breaths. Clearing you mind for a brief moment helps too.

Reply

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