Like many in the U.S., my work life was unexpectedly turned upside down in mid-March of 2020. Every job I’ve had has been a “desk” job, and that desk has always been in some sort of company office. I had the technical ability to work from home, but it wasn’t the norm--I’ve always worked from a company office location at least 4 days a week.
So it’s safe to say when I received an email on March 15, 2020, telling me not to return to the office until further notice due to COVID-19, I was thrown for a loop! But, no big deal, right? I figured we’d be working remotely for like, you know, THREE WEEKS.
Flash forward 10 months and here I am, still working from home everyday! (In fact, I haven’t stepped foot in my cubicle since last March--my sweater is still hanging over my chair, my planner open to March 13. Creepy right? My poor desk plant!).
There are definitely some perks of working from home that I have come to love. What I DIDN’T love was my home desk/office sitch. I live in a one-bedroom, 725 square-foot apartment with my husband and very large (but adorable) dog. When COVID regulations set in, we had an old beat-up desk in the corner of our bedroom to use on the occasional days when we worked from home.
I wish I had a picture to share, but since I don’t, visualize a small metal desk that your husband’s two older brothers used in their college dorms that now has uneven legs and a piece of cardboard to replace one of the missing glass-top stabilizers. Now, laugh while you picture me trying to grab my coffee thermos or plate before it slides off the uneven desktop whenever I lean my elbow on it...
It only took seven months of my lunch ending up in my lap for me to accept that this COVID work-from-home thing just couldn’t be considered temporary anymore, and that I had to create a more functional work space.
It took some re-arranging and creativity, but improving my work space (which now also doubles as my fav blogging space!) has so hugely boosted my daily productivity AND happiness, that I wanted to share my tips with you! The best part? I spent under $200 total on my new setup. You don’t have to drop big bucks to create a more positive work environment at home!
Now, there’s no behavioral science or research backing the effectiveness of these tips, just some things that really worked for me and might for you other remote-workers, too :)
1. Make sure you have enough space
This took some creativity in our little apartment, but has made all the difference! My old desk’s location meant every time I pushed my chair back, it bumped against my bed--it just felt cramped. And between two computer monitors and a keyboard, there wasn’t much room on my desk for anything else. I like to hand-write notes, and always had to write on my lap or on top of my keyboard (SO many accidental keys pressed!).
With a bit of re-arranging, I was able to free up a different corner of my bedroom that allowed for a desk two feet wider and about 8 feet of open space behind me. It sounds so simple, but having this extra space has been so freeing. Plus, the new arrangement means Christian and Tito don’t have to squeeze past me (and accidentally end up in the background of my video calls…) to get to our closet, which is both less distracting and makes my space feel more private, more “mine”.
Important to note, though, that maintaining your productive space requires ongoing attention! If you’re like me, you tend to leave things wherever you stop using them, aka, the bedroom floor--slippers, sweatshirts, towels, winter clothes, you get it. Keep the space around your desk/chair clear from this personal clutter--it has not only made me feel less cramped, but also has helped me maintain a mental separation between personal and professional spaces, a mindset of “it’s work time” when sitting at my desk (even a desk that’s only a few feet from my bed!).
2. A quality desk is worth every penny
After measuring the dimensions of my newly cleared space, I began the hunt for a new desk. My main priority was one big and tall enough to give me the space I needed to spread out my things (and legs!) comfortably. Amazon had a TON, and after a few hours of reading customer reviews, I settled on this Need Home Office Desk. While I highly recommend it--it’s sturdy, reasonably priced, and no assembly required!--Amazon had a bunch more similar options of all sizes and colors. Just keep in mind how much time you’ll be spending there--no need to break the bank, but a quality desk is worth every penny!
I didn’t expect this, but having a sturdy, right-sized desk has meant so many fewer daily distractions--like not having to find a place to write my notes! It’s also nicer in appearance, and while I didn’t think that mattered, it's added to my more professional, productive-feeling experience!
3. Lighting is everything!
I’ll always promote a window view--the natural light and feeling of closeness to the outdoors constantly boosts my mood, and is worth any little distractions it causes--but sometimes being by a window just isn’t enough. And anyone who has experienced a Midwest winter understands this. It’s awfully hard to keep focused on work (or even DO work) when the sun goes down by 4pm!
To stay alert, focused, and productive, you need proper lighting. Sometimes the artificial lighting in office settings is harsh. But at home, you get to choose your lighting! For me, this cute (and inexpensive!) desk lamp with a few different intensity settings is the perfect complement to the natural light from my window. An added bonus is that having an easily movable lamp right on my desk lets me create better lighting for my video calls!
PLUS, it has two USB ports so I can plug in my phone and headphone chargers! Again, it seems simple, but I didn't realize just how much it helps productivity to focus on convenience--no more interrupting calls or work to crawl under my desk and plug in my phone charger!
4. Give things a dedicated space
The first part of this tip is to keep the things you use everyday close. It sounds so simple, but I wasn’t doing this with my old desk! With my limited space, I’d throw my notepad and pens on the floor, and put my sticky note stack and planner on the nightstand a few feet from my desk. What’s the point of having a nice candle or daily planner if they’re out-of-sight, out-of-mind (and out-of-smelling-distance or arm's reach!)? It also just leaves you feeling scattered, disorganized.
If you want to be less distracted, have everything you need for your work day within arm’s reach so you aren’t hopping up to grab this or having to look around for that.
Then, give your daily essentials a dedicated spot! This is key to keeping your space organized and free from distracting clutter. With each item having a spot, I always know right where to find it--like my VPN fob, my headphones, my glasses, etc.!
But, for this to be effective, you obviously have to return the items to their spots. I’m not great at this--as a busy day progresses, my pens scatter across my desk, and my glasses and headphones end up God knows where. But, I take 2 minutes at the end of each work day to return everything to its dedicated spot, and sitting down to an organized, ready-to-rock desk every morning has made a world of difference in my work day!
5. Make your work space your HAPPY place!
This last tip is my favorite--you spend SO much time at your desk, might as well do what you can to make it an enjoyable space, right? Find some small ways to incorporate things that will bring you joy or boost your mood throughout the work day, and make sure they’re in eyesight! Emphasis on the word “small” here. You don’t want something too space-consuming or distracting.
There are so many ways to go about this, and it’ll look a bit different to each person. But that’s the fun part, and it’s what makes your work space feel unique, interesting, and most importantly, YOURS!
If you need some inspiration, here’s what I did:
Reminders = I’m a big Post-It fan, so I strategically place helpful reminders where I can see them! My one-word theme for 2021 is “guts” (see my last few blog posts for more on that!), so I stuck it on a Post-It on my monitor where it serves as a little pick-me-up whenever I see it throughout the day. (I also have “guts” on Post-It notes on my fridge and bathroom mirror, reminders are great outside of your work space too!) Just don’t get too carried away--too many notes can be distracting or just dilute the effect to the point where you forget they’re there.
Small personal items = My cute little figurine is called a “worry bird”! It was a gift from my sister-in-law, and is meant to be held as a calming mechanism when you’re overwhelmed. It’s small, significant, and I use it a lot, so it’s a perfect figurine for my desk! I've also found cute coasters to be a fun and practical way to spread some positive vibes throughout the day.
Anything aesthetically pleasing to you = This is vague, but making my desk space “prettier” has made my work days so much more enjoyable! Things like swapping out my boring black mousepad for this cute marble one (just $8 bucks on Amazon!), adding a small fake plant (cheap and no maintenance!), pretty candles, using a cute mug for my pens--the options are endless, just remember to keep enough functional working space cleared too!
Again, no science-backed research here, but I was amazed at my increase in productivity and overall happiness since creating a more personalized, functional workspace, and I hope these tips help you do the same--whether for working and blogging like me, or for any other projects you’re passionate about!
How has your work experience changed since COVID-19? What do you like/dislike about the changes? Any tips for improving a remote working experience? I’d love to hear them!