THE BIG IDEA
By being intentional, we can create the conditions for a happier and more productive work environment.
FIRST, A RECAP
We started the course asking you to consider what factors impacting your productivity are within your control. Then, we looked at the value of productivity apps, and how you create a productivity system. Today: ideas for revitalizing your work environment and setting the stage for productive work.
A JOYFUL WORK ENVIRONMENT
We love the idea of a joyful home office so much that we wrote an entire field guide about it. Here’s our design reporter Anne Quito:
“As we face the reality of working remotely for the foreseeable future, many are testing corners of their living quarters—from the kitchen table to disused swimming pools—in their search for an optimal working spot. In thinking about their coronavirus-era home offices, people are asking: What tools do I need to do my job effectively? Does ergonomics really matter? Can I be really happy working at home? There are many aspiring gurus shilling advice, but there’s no single prescription as our living situations are vastly different. There are, however, a variety of ways for us to embrace our current circumstances and take back some control.”
The joy of a home office is that it’s a personal space you can cater to your own whims and needs (up to a point). But the same overall approach, of viewing your working space as something potentially joyful, can be transported to the office when you return.
Here are a few examples from our field guide of small changes workers made to their spaces:
A professor from Manila conducting classes from Manhattan created a mini-studio with ample lighting, camera, and sound rig. “I think if you’re well-lit, project clearly, and present yourself well, your students see that you’re well-prepared—that you showed up. I believe this helps hold their attention,” she notes.
Diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, one business owner maintains a crucial sense of order to help with stressful scenarios, including using her own chair in the working space she set up at her parent’s home.
A consultant with two kids working from her parent’s house in South Carolina decorated her makeshift office with her children’s pictures, and has taken to feeding birds outside her window, to provide sparks of joy throughout the day.
(There’s always a risk of making your home office too conducive to productivity, as Anne discovered when profiling the home of workaholic architect Frank Lloyd Wright.)
CRAFT THAT COMMUTE
Yoga lessons will often start with an instructor asking their student to “set an intention” before the practice begins. Similarly, before you sit down to work, research has shown how helpful it can be to start your workday in an intentional way as well. Whether your work environment is an office you reach after a lengthy commute, or a short stroll from your bed to your desk—you can optimize it by getting in the right mindset first.
Writes Quartz’s Lila MacLellan:
“Three years ago, a team of researchers led by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino found that people who use their commuting time to think through their plans for the day—something the team called ‘prospection’—were more productive once they arrived at the office than those who did other mental tasks or looked for distractions. Seeing the difference that planning ahead made on job satisfaction and stress levels in her study, Gino recommended prospection—the word never took hold—for both directions of your commute.”
But you don’t necessarily have to use your commute to think about your work day. You could also:
- Mull your dinner or evening plans
- Read a poem
- Connect socially with short exchanges—say hi to someone passing by, or ask your bus driver how they’re doing
- Day dream
- Do a guided meditation
Separating work from life with rituals can be energizing. The break affords you an opportunity to glide from one part of your day to another. You can move between roles, to become the slightly different you, establishing the right frame of mind for work or, later, for friends and family, and establishing a psychic barrier between your life at work and at home, as Quartz’s growth director Phoebe Gavin, who is also a life coach, said during a recent Quartz at Work from Home workshop
We think about optimal working conditions a lot at Quartz, and have experimented with a few different approaches which you might want to try out. You could:
Supercharge your wifi. Fast home internet has become an essential utility.
Supercharge your wifi. Trust us, it’ll save you a lot of time and stress.
Dress for joy. Picking out the right outfit can be like planting a bulb of joy for yourself that blossoms as the day goes on.
Mark time with scents. Remote workers are turning to scented candles as a way to mark time, change their mood, and help them focus.
Go shopping. You can browse Anne’s list of MVPS (most valuable products and practices for a home office) here.
Consider the humble nap (Yes, this deserves its own section.)
The stigma around workplace napping, Sarah Todd argues, is part and parcel of hustle culture, which valorises self-denial and assumes (wrongly) that we produce our best work when we push ourselves nonstop. It’s also tied up with the problem of presenteeism—the pressure that some remote workers feel to demonstrate to their colleagues and bosses that they are always available, ready to answer a Slack message or hop on a call at a moment’s notice. But the reality is that we’re only human. Read Sarah’s ode to the nap, and how taking them can help create shifts in workplace culture to accommodate more of our humanity, too.
Our suggestion is that you pick one of the tips we’ve provided to try out in the coming week—whether a midday nap or a brand-new printer. After you try it, add it to your “ta-dah” list, a prescription for anxiety and unproductivity prescribed by Quartz at Work reporter Sarah Todd.
“Making a ta-dah list is simple: At the end of the day or week, you write up everything you got done that ignites even the tiniest flicker of pride or self-compassion. The list can be a mash-up of the personal and the professional; nothing is too mundane to be worthy of a ta-dah.
Recent accomplishments on my own lists include earth-shattering moments such as ‘cleaned kitchen floor,’ ‘called Mom,’ and ‘found parking spot.’…
The reassurance provided by a ta-dah list may be particularly valuable in the coronavirus era. All the stress and isolation of this time has left many people feeling depressed, isolated, and anxious, yet prone to beating themselves up for not writing King Lear or otherwise being sufficiently productive. The ta-dah list is a way of countering the impulse toward self-recrimination, and recognizing that even the smallest of efforts can be worth celebrating.”