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Designing Your Workspace to Maximize Creativity

When it comes to getting creative work done, your workspace is where the magic happens. At least, in theory. In reality, it’s also the place where a whole lot of procrastination, excuse-making, time-wasting, and head-banging-on-the-desk happens. 

The good news: that’s not always entirely your fault. Sometimes, the problem isn’t necessarily with you, but with your workspace. In fact, one literature review took a look at several studies surrounding work environment and employee performance, and came to the conclusion that environment has a significant impact on productivity, satisfaction, and attitude. 

That means that if your workspace isn’t, well, working for you, it could be negatively affecting your performance. But with some small tweaks, you could design your workspace so that it maximizes creativity and minimizes the things that are holding you back.

With the right workspace, you’ll discover more creativity, a more positive attitude, and greater satisfaction with your work. Here’s how to design a workspace that will do just that.

Make it true to you.

The best creative work is authentic. It comes from a genuine place. It reflects something unique about you. That means that if you’re going to design a creative workspace, you need to make sure it’s true to things that make you feel creative.

“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”

Lao Tzu

At Design.org, we believe that positive change requires self-awareness. You need to know who you are, what you want, and what’s keeping you from getting it. Only then can you start to “create happy” in your life. Self-awareness is important if you’re going to make your workspace true to you.

When trying to make your workspace your own, think about places your personal style is already reflected, like your wardrobe or your home. Are you into trendy pieces that prioritize style over function? Or classic pieces that are all about comfort? Are you a minimalist, or do you love the accessories and knick-knacks that add personal touches? What colors and patterns really speak to you? There is no right or wrong answer to these questions; what’s important is that you answer them honestly so you can use that information to design your workspace.

Whether you have a whole room to work with, or just a single desk, there are always ways to incorporate “you” into your workspace. Whether it’s the paint on the walls, your screensaver, liners in the drawers, a patterned cushion for your back, or a colored pot holding a plant, think of how you can personalize your space to make it a space you’re happy in. 

Keep it comfortable.

Creativity requires focus, and you’re not going to be able to focus if you’re not comfortable (take it from someone who gets cold easily and has some back problems). It’s really important that you do what you can to maximize comfort in your workspace, so you can focus on creating, and not on how to find the right position to avoid a stiff neck.

Here are some things to keep in mind when creating a comfortable workspace:

  • Temperature. Consider keeping a small personal fan by your desk if it frequently gets stuffy or warm, or a sweater or blanket if you get cold often. (Of course, if your workspace is at home, play with the thermostat to find a comfortable temperature.)
  • Chair. Few things affect workplace comfort more drastically than your chair. If you find yourself getting uncomfortable while working, try upgrading your chair first. Most recommended chairs have adjustable height, good cushion, and armrests.
  • Support. Lumbar support is vital to keeping your back pain-free. Try a lumbar support pillow if your chair doesn’t have it built-in. You also want your feet to be able to rest flat on the floor, so use a small footstool if you’re having trouble with that.
  • Lighting. If your workspace has harsh overhead lighting, consider adding a small lamp to your space, or, if possible, using natural light.
  • Keyboards and monitors. Your keyboard should be well within reach while your arms are resting on your chair’s armrests (preferably at close to a 90-degree angle). Your monitors should be at arm’s length and at eye level. If you do most of your work on a laptop, it may be worth getting a second monitor; it will save your neck and your eyes. 

Minimize distractions

Distraction is enemy number one of creativity. Getting in flow requires focus, and since flow is where your most creative work happens, focus is pretty important to doing meaningful work. 

Getting rid of distractions is going to look a little different for everyone, and the first step is knowing what distracts you. Take some time to notice the distractions that pull you out of focus. Track these for a few days and see if you can notice some patterns. Once you have those in place, you can come up with solutions.

There are some best practices when it comes to minimizing distractions in the workplace, like:

  • Turn off notifications. You really expect yourself to focus when your phone is buzzing every 5 minutes? Turn off notifications, put your phone in another room, or go into “do not disturb” mode while you’re working.
  • Avoid decor that moves. Anything on your desk that is moving is likely to distract you from time to time, as our brains tend to notice change. This could be a digital photo frame that cycles through a slideshow, an hourglass, a clock with a second hand, etc.
  • Sign out. When you sit down to work, sign out of social media and email. Let yourself be fully immersed in the work you’re doing. If possible, you could even try working offline so that all online activities are off the table.
  • Have a “do not disturb” sign or signal. If interruptions from other people are a source of distraction, use some sort of sign or signal to let people know when you’re available to them, and when you’re not. 
  • Get organized. Creative people have a reputation for being giant slobs, and that might work for some people. But you know what doesn’t work for anyone? Not being able to find what you need, when you need it. Even if you’re comfortable with a cluttered desk, try to have some kind of system that allows you to find important things—pens, paper, files, etc.—quickly when you need them. The less mental energy you have to spend finding things, the more you’ll have to spend creating things.
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Get inspired

Inspiration can go a long way toward helping you be creative in your workspace. When you’re trying to figure out what inspires you, think about the five senses:

  • Sight: display artwork or poetry that inspires you, or create a vision board to help you work through a certain project or to display your unique style.
  • Sound: use music to get you pumped up and inspired. (Create your own playlist of happy, creative, or inspirational music if it helps.) Get some nice headphones if you work in a public or noisy place. If music is too distracting, try a white noise machine or a “background noise” video on YouTube. If you do better working in silence, get noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Touch: this is more about texture than the actual act of touching. A variety of textures in your workspace can keep creativity from going stale. Think: wood, fabrics, plants.
  • Taste: creativity can definitely be affected by what we eat. Eat foods that energize you, and keep healthy snacks close to your workspace so you can grab them easily. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s okay to give into it once in a while. The point is to keep your mind sharp.
  • Smell: smells trigger memories and emotions, perhaps even more so than any of the other senses. For example, a nice-smelling candle on your desk can give your brain a little pick-me-up.

You never know what might inspire you on a given day, so keep your options open by having things that stimulate the five senses in your workspace.

Also, think about who inspires you. Connection is key to happiness, and reminding yourself of the people you love can help make your workspace a little happier. Add a picture to your desk of people that inspire and uplift you. It’ll be like they’re cheering you on every day.

A well-designed workspace is a happy, creative workspace. And you don’t have to spend a lot of time, energy, or money to get there. With a few simple tweaks, you can design a workspace that maximizes creativity, so that you have the perfect environment for creating happy.

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