How To Have A Great Workspace When You Work From Home

Working from home is becoming more and more popular these days. About 56% of all US jobs have the potential to be at least partly compatible with working from home; and with the rise of the gig economy and the ease of access to freelancing opportunities that the internet gives us, is it any wonder that about 25% of professionals now choose to work from home in some capacity? This new work environment is fantastic for people like us. It’s essentially the Unbound philosophy applied to a job. It allows a certain amount of freedom and flexibility that enables us to pursue our passions, without being tied to a desk at a corporate office somewhere. Just like it’s difficult to find a more flexible way of doing college than with Unbound, it’s hard to find a way of working that comes with more opportunity or potential than working from home. However, as with everything, working from home has its' own unique shortcomings. Being disciplined and productive on your own, for example, or getting yourself unstuck when you don’t know how to move forward. Or even maintaining a professional, dedicated space with enough separation from your not-work life that you can do top-notch work without distraction. Staying disciplined and building support systems to help you in your day to day work are things that require on-going attention. Setting up a great at-home workspace, though, is pretty simple. It can even be fun! Just give it a little attention and some thought, and you can set yourself up for a successful work-from-home career. Here are some tips to get you going…

When it comes to creating a great home workspace, functionality, stimulation, and personality are key.

Stimulation Keeping yourself inspired and motivated is important. After all, there isn’t much social interaction to keep you interested and no manager down the hall to keep you moving. Working from home can be lonely and challenging. Being able to remind yourself why you work, why it’s important, and where you want it to take you can make working from home easier. Personally, I like things to be clean. My mind doesn’t work well when I feel like clutter is pressing in on me—so my workspace is fairly minimalist. To keep myself motivated, I keep a journal on my desk. Not only does this serve as an outlet for stray thoughts (giving them some place to live while I work so that they don’t distract me), but also serves as a reminder of how far I’ve come, and where I would like to go. I also keep a rotation of three or four books that I find particularly inspirational on hand. In addition to this I always have a copy of Emerson’s Self-Reliance nearby for those times when I need a little extra boost of either inspiration or motivation.

The trick with keeping yourself stimulated in your workspace is to find things that you connect with, things that move you are give you the urge to stretch yourself just a little further, and to surround yourself with those things.

Functionality Perhaps the most important thing that you can do to increase the functionality of your at-home workspace is to clearly define a dedicated place that is only used for work. The idea here is to mitigate, as much as possible, the messiness of working from home. Create a dedicated space for work For example, having proper work/life balance is difficult if you work from the kitchen table. While working from the kitchen table isn’t objectively a bad thing, psychologically, you want to make it as difficult as possible for work and life to mix. We are most productive when we are able to work for a set amount of time, and then break away completely to rest for a while. Yet when you work from somewhere like the kitchen table, you’re training your mind to jump into work mode whenever you’re in that place. So what ends up happening is that you’ll sit down to enjoy a meal with your family, but instead of relaxing and recharging your mind thinks that it’s time to work. Take it from someone who has made this mistake and has a few too many 14 hour days under his belt: find a place to work that is dedicated just to getting work done and nothing else. If you can find a space that’s naturally separate from all other functions other than work, this would be ideal. Think spare bedroom, unused garage space, or maybe a converted attic. Even if you need to work out of a closet, having a dedicated work space will boost your focus and productivity while giving you the ability to “leave the office” at the end of the day. Keep a clock or a timer near by Putting limits on how long you work without taking breaks is just as important, if not more important than having a dedicated workspace. It’s very easy to get sucked into work when you're working from home. And if, like many of us, your work involves tons of sitting at a desk, it is not unheard of for some of us to inadvertently stay seated for hours on end. Would you be surprised if I told you that sitting at your desk for this long is slowly killing you? In fact, staying seated for prolonged periods of time has been “associated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems.” Staying at least moderately active throughout your work day, and not sitting down for 8 hours straight—in addition to keeping you alive—increases focus, stamina, happiness at work, and creativity. So you’re going to want to make it as easy as possible to remind yourself to be active. For your health (and sanity) make sure that you have easy access to a timer in your workspace that reminds you to get up and move around every hour or so. Another good idea to have a functional workspace is to limit your distractions as much as possible by setting strict rules for your workspace, and being disciplined in observing your own rules. These are some of my rules:

  • Don’t eat at your desk!

  • Don’t watch movies at your desk.

  • Stay off of distracting sites like Facebook or YouTube unless you’re on those sites for work.

  • Keep strict work hours whenever your in your workspace—during work hours, I am unavailable for anything other than emergencies and activities directly related to today's work

Get organized. This is about as straight-forward as advice can get. Keep the essentials within reach, keep the clutter down, and you’ll increase your output. Have a white board or a cork board or a small notebook nearby to keep notes, cards, project visuals, and outlines on hand. Limit the amount of visible charging cords or non-essential items. Don’t keep anything work related on your desk, unless you are currently working on it or soon intend to be working on it. The only things that should be a part of the function your workspace are things that have an intended purpose. They either make the space more functional, or they make you more functional; if not, get rid of it. Personality No amount of built-in stimulation or functionality is going to make your day to day work more enjoyable if you don’t like spending time in your workspace. This is where the personality aspect of your home workspace comes into play. In your day to day life, your personality influences how you dress, how you speak, the thoughts that occupy your mind, and how you interact with the people around you. But what happens when you’re forced into a situation that does not fit with your personality? You probably want to get out of that situation as soon as possible, don’t you? Certainly, you wouldn’t enjoy the situation. Your workspace is no different. For example, my personality is calm, focused, reserved, purposeful, and maybe a little too ambitious when it comes to my dreams, but still rooted in reality. As a result, everything in my workplace serves a purpose. I like things to be clean, but not sterile. I prefer deep and earthy colors in my workspace—they feel like they carry a weight to them that resonates with me.  I like to have a candle or two nearby because lit candles are calming to me, and help me focus. Your workspace though, would likely look and feel drastically different from mine. Like how I feel cramped by clutter, some people feel limited by strict order. Where other people like to have growing things nearby, I would be distracted by uncontrollable nature of growing things. While I put emphasis on things that serve a purpose, someone else might put more emphasis on things that simply inspire them, or entertain them, or even distract them. When it comes to inserting you personality into your workspace, the point isn’t exactly to make you more effective in your work, but rather to make it more enjoyable for you to be at work. One of the major benefits of working from home is that you get to control your environment. No nasty grey cubicle walls penning you in (unless you like that, I guess); no real rules about what you can and can not surround yourself with as you work. Your workspace shouldn’t be sterilized of your individuality. Quite the opposite. It should be a reflection of you! Written by Wyatt Dalton  

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