Take Two Minutes to Make Your Workspace Work

It would not be a surprise to anyone I know that, when I completed Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment, my top 5 talent areas did not include any that could be understood as detail-oriented.

I am a terrific idea generator. If you need a strategic thinker to help map out a good course of action, I may be your gal.

But if you need a messy stack organized or a spreadsheet created to track the minutiae, you’ll likely get better assistance from your dog than from me.

Yesterday, for example, I arrived to teach CPM without a pen in my bag, and managed to misplace not one but two that I borrowed from participants during the day. My brain just doesn’t track the details well.

Lucky for me, I also have a reasonably low tolerance for clutter. Since I can’t organize very well, I try to get rid of things so that I don’t have to make decisions about where to file or store them.

This is especially fortunate in moments like last week Tuesday, when we moved the KUPMC and Public Administration offices from one floor of the KU Edwards Campus to another. I didn’t have too many files or piles to try to keep track of as we loaded in one office and unloaded in the other. And those I do have are made up more of reference materials than things I use on a daily basis.

As such, most are still sitting in their boxes while I ponder (in a vague, back-of-the-mind way) whether I’ll put them in the equivalent locations to where they were in my other office or identify new spots. Or whether, as is looking increasingly likely, I’ll determine that most of the items are so seldom needed that the mental clutter of having them in my space exacts a higher cost than it would to look them up again online or elsewhere when I next need to refer to them.

Because while I don’t have so many piles, I still have some. And they tend to line the edges of my desk because I can’t quite decide how to file them. But since packing these up to move to the new office, my desk has been a lovely, wide-open space. I look at it and imagine the amazement the pioneers felt as they emerged to the west of the tree-covered plains of the east and gaped at immense spaces of the prairies.

Okay, maybe it’s not quite the same.

But I do very much appreciate the way the clear desk has had something of a calming effect on my mind this week, and it reminded me how much our physical surroundings affect us. As I’ve been typing this I’ve realized that I need to move my printer further away from my computer to create more openness in the area of my workspace that I most use to hopefully further leverage this feeling of calm to support my work. This two-minute task will be utterly worth the trouble.

To some extent our workspaces are fixed–we have real walls or not, windows or not, and we often inherit furniture that is not quite matched to our functions, let alone taste.

But don’t overlook the little things you can fix to make a big difference in decreasing your annoyance factor or improving your ergonomics in subtle but important ways: scoot your phone over so that you can stop nearly tipping over your coffee mug with the cord every morning. Move your trashcan or recycle bin so that it’s located within reach of where you generate most of your trash or so that it’s finally out of range of your knees. Ask your facilities folks to raise your overhead cabinets further up the metal rails that hold them so that you can stop having to be careful about bumping your head. Order a new mouse that will actually track whenever you use it, not just when it wants to.

Fix something little in your space so that you no longer have to expend the energy it takes to be annoyed. Then tell us what you changed in the comments below so that the rest of us can maybe borrow from your ideas.