Is your workspace bringing out your best? - Michelle Gibbings

You wake up the sun is shining, and you are looking out onto the vast expanse of the ocean. You are going for a walk surrounded by flowers and greenery. You walk into a room that is beautifully decorated. In all these situations you will feel something: happy, joyful, motivated, inspired or another emotion.

We intuitively know that the space we are in affects our mood, and yet so often our work environment is dull and drab, cluttered or too noisy. It’s not conducive to you being at your best.

The space you work in matters. In fact, Ingrid Fetell writes in her book, Joyful, that messy or disorderly environments have been linked to feelings of powerlessness, fear, anxiety, and depression.

Many years ago, I worked with a gentleman whose office was beyond messy. There was no clear desk space and the floor was stacked with papers and folders. There was stuff everywhere. I would almost have heart palpitations just looking at it. While his perspective was that every piece of paper was important, and he knew where everything was. In practice, this was usually not the case.

Clearly, he hadn’t embraced the Marie Kondo love of cleaning up. Her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, challenges you to consider no longer holding onto items unless they spark joy, and to notice how your environment makes you feel.

These types of concepts have been around for a while. The classic art of fen shui is built on the principle that we need to pay attention to the space we are in.

As well, a core tenet of basic productivity and continuous improvement approaches is that our work environment impacts how productive we are.

If you’ve ever put your work space through the Kaizen 5S process you’ve considered how to make your workspace more efficient and productive. For the uninitiated, this is a 5-step process that helps to create a clean and well organised workplace:

  1. Sort – scan the workplace and get rid of all the material, equipment and other items that are unused and lying around
  2. Straighten / set in order – taking all the items that remain, consider how frequently you use the item and who uses. Categorise and organise where things are stored and placed so they are easily accessible based on frequency of use
  3. Shine – clean your work area and set a routine for maintaining it that way and to ensure everything is in working order
  4. Standardise – set common ways of doing things, adopt standard tools and leave your workspace clean, particularly if you are working in a hot desking environment
  5. Sustain – don’t let your improvements slide

This approach can be highly effective in creating an ordered space, however it can also leave a work environment feeling sterile, cold and unwelcoming.

Consequently, consider as well, how you can make your space more aesthetically pleasing so your mood is lifted. For example:

  • Plants – bring the outdoors, indoors and have plants in the room and fresh flowers on your desk
  • Colour – use brightly coloured pens and folders, and even better have coloured walls. Colour is scientifically proven to impact how we feel
  • Smell – if you are working from home burn incense or use an oil diffuser. Scent has a powerful impact
  • Lighting – as much as possible use natural light, and make sure you go outside the office during the working day to get natural air and light
  • Noise – find the noise level that works for you. Some people like background noise, other people need silence

Of course, there may be limitations to what you can do to change your work environment; with your boss not taking too kindly to you repainting walls, shifting furniture or changing the lightbulbs. I’d suggest though there is always something you can do, however big or small, to make your space better work for you – particularly if you have a home office.

Remember, if you want to shift your mindset or inspire a new idea – often all you need to do is shift your space.

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