Some people claim they work well in a high-stress environment. I’m not one of them. My productivity is highest when I’m fully relaxed. With inspiring goals I still feel a positive urging to get my work done, but the pressure to work stems from passion instead of fear.
year I made changes to my home office to better relaxify it (I
know relaxify isn’t a word, but it should be). I enjoy being in my
workspace, and I can work productively for many hours without feeling
like I’ve lost my humanity.
When considering changes to your
workspace, here’s rule #1: If it feels right to you, it is right.
That rule is primary; my specific suggestions are secondary.
that in mind, here are 10 suggestions for creating a more relaxing
1. Make your workspace look attractive to you.
I walk through a typical corporate office building, I see the most
dreadfully sterile workspaces. It doesn’t look remotely human. Do
people get hired to work there… or assimilated?
professional workspace be a sterile sea of beige and gray? Remember
that where you work, you also live. Given the amount of time you’ll
be living in your workspace over the course of your lifetime, it makes
sense to add some visual appeal.
The first time you see your
workspace each day, you should feel good about it. It should be
attractive to you. Really it should be your favorite place in the
entire building, house, or campus. If you’re in your workspace right
now, please step outside for a minute, and then re-enter it while paying
close attention to your sense impressions. What’s the very first
emotional response you can detect? Do you feel stressed? Overwhelmed?
Bored? Apathetic? Focused? Peaceful? Is this an emotion you
experience often while working?
Now choose the emotion you want
to feel, and experiment with different visual elements to see how they
alter your feelings. Try new furniture, photos, posters, mirrors,
flowers, knick knacks, toys, statues, rugs, artwork, crystals, etc. If
you have the necessary control, you can also tweak the lighting in your
workspace to create the right type of mood. I know a programmer who
works in a completely dark room with no windows, he loves it.
Clear out the clutter.
One look at a cluttered
workspace, and you get a sense that the person working there is
stressed, overwhelmed, and disorganized. Years ago I read about a study
that concluded most managers will not promote a person with a messy
workspace into a position of responsibility. It’s assumed that if you
can’t organize your physical environment, you’re probably incompetent to
a certain degree and can’t be trusted. And if layoffs happen, you can
imagine who the most obvious targets are.
But even more critical
is the effect a cluttered workspace has on your focus. It’s difficult
to feel centered when you’re surrounded by unfinished tasks that
constantly remind you of what you haven’t done yet. Ideally the only
paper items on your desk should be directly related to the current task
at hand. Store everything else in drawers, shelves, or cabinets. Many
people notice a dramatic improvement to their productivity when they try
For how-to tips on organizing your workspace, be sure to
read Getting Organized.
3. Add plants.
are a wonderful way to add life to a lifeless workspace. Use only
living, oxygen-generating plants, not lifeless fake ones. Water them as
needed to keep them healthy. Over time you’ll find that your plants
begin to resonate with you and become a reflection of you. Dying plants
= dead career. Fake plants = appears successful but empty on the
inside. Healthy plants = healthy career. Lots of plants = abundance.
Bring yourself back to nature by adding some plants to your workspace,
and you’ll find yourself enjoying the environment much more.
currently have three plants in my office, and I’ll soon add more. Two
bamboo plants. Are they really lucky? Since I bought them last
year, the income I receive from this site has increased by about a
factor of 100, so who knows? I added a small mirror behind them as
well, which doubles their visual presence without taking up extra
space. Maybe that doubles my luck too.
4. Make it smell good.
dentist Paddy Lund has his staff bake fresh muffins for his patients
daily. Think about how a dentist’s office usually smells. Now imagine
walking into one that smells of blueberry muffins. Along with other
changes, this reportedly helped Lund increase his income by a factor of
10. I’m not suggesting you add a Holly Hobby Easy Bake Oven to your
workspace, but there are plenty of practical ways to make it smell
better than cleaning supplies.
A while back I read that certain
scents have a measurable effect on productivity. If I recall correctly,
lemon and lavender produced the most significant positive results.
I love scented candles, especially the 3″x6″ pillars. They not only
make my office smell good, but the colorful candles and decorative
candle holders add visual appeal as well. My favorites aromas are
vanilla and lemon. I have almost a dozen scented candles in my office
at any one time. I find it worthwhile to pay for good quality candles.
I’m no candle expert, but I’ve noticed that the cheapest ones tend to
burn unevenly, become terribly misshapen as they burn down, and don’t
produce a very rich aroma.
Occasionally I’ll burn some Tahitian
vanilla incense, but I use that very sparingly and wouldn’t recommend it
in a corporate environment because you’ll stink up the whole building.
I burn it right next to an open window, which dilutes the scent and
keeps the room from becoming smoky.
If you don’t like candles,
there are other options for improving the smell of your office. You
can get a diffuser and fill it with essential oil, add some potpourri,
or even try sliced lemons. Be careful when considering chemical air
fresheners though, as there are reports they can pose health risks.
Play relaxing music.
Experiment with different types of
music to see what effect they have on your stress level and
productivity. Use headphones if you need to keep from disturbing
I prefer total silence when I do certain types of work,
but for everyday tasks I like listening to music. I use the free WinAmp player and
listen to streaming music from Digitally Imported. After listening to DI’s free
streams for years, I finally bought a subscription ($60 for a
year). The subscription streams are higher quality, more reliable (no
time-outs or disconnects so far), and commercial-free. My
favorite streams are Vocal Trance and New Age.
6. Get a
Most likely you’ll use your chair more than
any other object in your workspace, so consider investing in a good
one. Today there’s an assortment of oddities you can sit on, including
knee chairs, balls, and more. Head to an office supply store and find
something that suits you. If your company won’t get you a decent chair,
then consider buying your own.
I don’t own a super-expensive
chair (I think it was $200 originally), but it works for me. It keeps
my spine straight, and I can sit for hours without pain or discomfort. I
tested dozens of different chairs before picking this one. It’s about
10 years old now though, so this would probably be a good time for me to
take another look to see if I can find an even better one. I’ve heard
really good things about the Aeron desk chairs. On the other hand, it might be
more fun to upgrade to a throne.
7. Add a portable fan.
with good air conditioning, you might have periods where you just want
to feel a little cooler, or maybe you’d like a bit of air circulation.
Use a small portable fan to keep your comfort level right where you want
it to be.
Today’s high in Las Vegas is 105 F, and later this week
it’s supposed to hit 110. Mid-summer temperatures can exceed 120
degrees. Even with the air conditioning on, it can still get a little
warm in my home office during the summer. A portable fan is a nice
addition to my workspace. The Vornado fans are really good. They’re a little
more expensive but well worth it – they run quiet and circulate the air
8. Add a fountain.
If you find the
sounds of running water soothing, consider adding a small fountain to
your workspace. You can get a basic one for under $20.
Last year I
added an illuminated rock garden fountain to the corner of
my home office. I plugged the power supply into the same power base I
use for my PC equipment, so I can simply flip a switch in front of me to
turn it on. I probably run it about eight hours a day on average, and I
add water about once every three days. When I hear the fountain
running low, I’m reminded to water my plants too.
Personalize your space.
Does your workspace look like an
automaton works there, or does it include elements that are uniquely
you? Remember that your workspace is your living space for much of your
day, so make it livable and not just workable. A good way to
accomplish this is by adding items that hold emotional significance for
Photographs are an easy way to personalize your space. I
have some typical family photos in my office and the requisite wedding
picture, but there’s one particular photo from when my wife and I first
met that was taken by my (now deceased) grandfather that’s very special
to me. I like being able to see it when I work. It also reminds me
that I’m not alone — my wife and I are sharing a wonderful path
together, and I’ve seen plenty of signs that my grandfather is watching
10. Establish uninterruptible periods.
a period of time each day where you turn off all outside communication,
and encase yourself in a cocoon of concentration. Put up a “Do Not
Disturb” sign, turn off your phone, disable your instant messenger, and
don’t check email either. Use this time to work on the tasks that would
cause you the greatest stress or which require your utmost
concentration. It’s easier to relax and focus when you know you won’t
Some jobs obviously require more solo
concentration time than others. A computer programmer may need a lot,
while a receptionist may need virtually none. Determine how much you
need to be productive, and do whatever is necessary to get it.
I really need to concentrate, I usually lock my office door. My family
sometimes objects to these communication blackouts, but with two kids
at home on summer vacation now, I find it necessary to enforce some
boundaries in order to get my work done. I’m not particularly friendly
or compassionate when I get interrupted while writing, so this is
largely for their own safety.
Now go do it!
a moment to survey your workspace and jot down a few changes you’d like
to make. How can you make your workspace even more relaxing, livable,
and attractive? If cash is tight, set a budget for how much you’d like
to spend on relaxifying your workspace. Maybe you can even get
your employer to pay for some of it, especially if it’s likely to boost
What if your employer rejects the changes
you’d like to make? Some changes are certainly negotiable because of
their side effects. Your coworkers may not appreciate the scent
of jasmine wafting through their workspaces. But if your employer is
downright ogre-like and won’t permit you a plant or a family photo,
well… I’d recommend getting a new employer. Your work should support
your preferred lifestyle, not squash it.
Think about the most
relaxing places you know of. What is it about those places that makes
you feel good? What are the sights, sounds, and smells? How can
you modify your workspace to create a similar feel? You might not be
able to duplicate the feeling perfectly, but you can always get close.
If you don’t have time for a complete workspace makeover, then just make
one little change each week. Add a photo. Buy a plant. Clean up the
junk pile. Relaxify and enjoy.
a Productive Workspace
How would you like to permanently boost your productivity by making
some simple changes to your work area? If you’re going to spend so much
time at your desk, then make sure it’s going to be a pleasant
How does your workspace make you feel?
you’re at your desk right now, take a moment to clear your mind, and
think about how your work area makes you feel. Take a deep breath and
get a sense of the subtle energies you pick up. How does this place
make you feel?
Do you feel stressed? Worried? Relaxed?
Peaceful? Fired up? Motivated? Energized? Drained? Happy?
Depressed? Overwhelmed? Busy? Important? Insignificant? Bored?
Excited? Rushed? Angry? Creative? Aroused? Come up with a few words
to describe the feeling you get from your environment.
recommend you leave your work area, go someplace else for a few minutes,
and then re-enter your work area so you can pick up a fresh impression.
Notice how your feelings change very subtly as you enter your place.
What do you notice about this change?
Get a second opinion
you have a hard time sensing your work area objectively, get a second
opinion. Grab a coworker who has a fairly different work area than
yours, and invite him/her to sit down at your desk. Ask him/her how it
feels to enter and to sit in your work area. Get several opinions if
you like. Have some fun with your co-workers, and hop from desk to desk
to see how each person’s work area feels. Sit in each chair and
imagine what it would be like to work there for a day. Whose work area
do you like best? Whose do you like least? Maybe even rate each one on
a scale of 1-10.
Notice how each environment makes you feel.
Also notice that no two are quite the same.
What’s different about
the work areas you rated most highly? What did you like about them?
if you don’t like how you feel?
If you realize your work
area makes you feel lousy, that’s OK. Changing the way your work
environment makes you feel isn’t too difficult. There’s always a way to
All you really need to do is follow this simple rule:
If it feels right, it is right. If you use that as your guiding
principle for making changes to your work environment, there’s no need
to bring in a feng shui expert. I spent a good bit of time studying
feng shui and ultimately felt that this simple rule covered about 80% of
what I wanted to remember.
Imagine your ideal space
how you’d like to feel in your work area. What mental state would you
consider the very best to have as your daily default? Pick two or three
words to describe it. When I did this, I chose relaxed, peaceful, and
Now picture what kind of work environment would help to
create the feelings you’ve selected, even if it doesn’t seem realistic
to work in such a place. For example, if you chose to feel peaceful,
what’s the most peaceful place you can imagine? Create a mental image
of the ideal place for you to work.
Alter your space
take your imagined ideal space, and project it onto the reality you
have to deal with. Maybe you can’t work on a mountain lake, but perhaps
you can bring part of that vision into your real space. Make a list of
simple changes you can make to your work area. If you’re not sure
they’ll work, that’s OK. Think of these changes as experiments. If you
don’t like them, you can always undo them.
One by one take some
time to implement these changes. Add a poster, a fountain, a candle, a
plant, or some photos. After making each change, notice how your
feelings change. Remember to follow the rule, “If it feels right, it is
right.” If a change feels wrong or neutral, then undo it and try
I want to emphasize that the rule is, “If it feels
right, it is right.” Note that I’m not saying, “If it looks
right, it is right.” How your environment makes you feel is more
important than how it looks.
most valuable idea I got from studying feng shui was the concept of the
commanding position. This is the position where you feel supported
from behind (and optionally on the sides too) and open in the front.
For example if your house has a mountain or hill behind it, then your
home would be in the commanding position, much like a highly defensible
castle. In workspace terms, the commanding position ideally means that
you work facing the entrance to your work area and have a wall right
The commanding position creates a feeling of security.
It makes it easier to relax when you work. When you have your back to
the wall and you face the entrance to your workspace, your focus is
forward, and a forward focus contributes to high productivity. You
never have to concern yourself with someone approaching you from behind.
If part of your focus is on what’s happening behind you, you’ll be
more distracted, and your productivity will suffer.
I used to work
with my desk against the back wall of my office, so my back was towards
the door. That just seemed an efficient layout for my office. But
after studying feng shui, I decided to give the commanding position a
try and rearranged the furniture so that my back was to the wall and I
could see the door. It made a noticeable difference even before I’d
made any other changes. I felt more comfortable and relaxed. There’s
something about the feeling of being supported from behind that makes it
easier to work productively.
If you think of the layout of a top
executive’s office, it’s almost invariably in the commanding position.
The person sits facing the entrance to the room. You don’t walk into an
executive’s office and see their back.
If you’ve never worked in
the commanding position, find someone else who has their office setup
this way, and go sit at their desk. Notice how different it feels
versus if your back is to the entrance and you have to worry about
people coming up behind you. Even if you have a door behind you with a
lock, the commanding position is still better.
If you make only
one change to your work area, this would be the one to make. Once
you’ve tried it for a few months, you’ll never want to go back.
Several months ago I altered my home office
with the intention of creating the feelings of relaxation, peace, and
focus. It wasn’t difficult to do, and I made most of the changes in the
first week. I gave myself a budget of $200 for the alterations, but I
spent less than half of it. I wasn’t sure these changes would make any
difference, but it was worth a try — even a small increase in
productivity would be worth it. When I made these changes my office was
designed with functionality and efficiency in mind, so I wanted to keep
those benefits while changing the way the location felt to me.
as I sit at my desk, I’m facing into the middle of the room, so I can
see the door. On the wall behind me is a poster of a mountain forest
(which further reinforces the commanding position). I count nine
scented candles within reach of me, some in decorative candle holders
with small rocks. The room smells of cranberry, since that’s the candle
that’s burning right now. There are three plants in the room: a
medium-sized one on my filing cabinet and two small bamboo plants. The
bamboo plants are next to a small fountain, which creates background
sounds of water splashing over rocks. Behind the fountain and bamboo
plants is a small mirror, which has the visual effect of doubling their
presence. Relaxing music is playing through my PC speakers (currently
I’m listening to Enya’s new Amarantine CD, which is one of my favorites).
There are a few decorations around the room: a small stuffed yellow
bear, a dragon sculpture, a turtle sculpture, a couple stone gargoyles, a
miniature zen rock garden, and a crossbow. I keep my office organized
and uncluttered as well, which contributes to the feelings of
relaxation, peace, and focus.
When I sit down at my desk, switch
on the fountain, light a candle, and put on some relaxing music, it
often feels like I’m about to get a massage rather than go to work.
Because the environment is so peaceful and relaxing, it’s hard for me to
feel stressed or overwhelmed. I look forward to going to my office
because it’s a nice place to live, not just a productive place to work.
I’m sure I’ll continue improving it over the years ahead, but I’m
pretty happy with the results so far.
When my wife sat down at my
desk after I made the initial changes, she remarked at how different it
felt. In fact, she became instantly jealous. Eventually she decided to
work on transforming her office too. For Christmas I gave her a
fountain and some scented candles to get her started. She set them up
on a corner of her desk, and even that small change gives her work area a
very different feel.
If you don’t like it, change it
you find yourself too often feeling stressed, overwhelmed, bored,
unmotivated, frustrated, etc. at work, perhaps your environment is
reinforcing is these negative states. Take those feelings as a signal
to make some changes and create a more balanced and comfortable work
area for yourself. A few simple changes you make today can serve you
for years to come.
And don’t just read about it, think about it,
or talk about it. Go do it! You’ll be glad you did.