15 Features of the Perfect Work Space

Creative Commons License photo credit: kogakure. No workspace is complete without a Samurai long sword.

There’s no getting around it. Working environments are one of the biggest factors that affect how productive we can be throughout the day. There’s a major difference between spending time in a tidy, aesthetic area or a bowling alley dumpster. It may have worked alright for Oscar the Grouch, but as his name implies, he wasn’t much fun to be around. And who can blame him?

Yes, there are  many factors that go into creating a great working environment. I’ve compiled a list of the 15 main components that I believe to be pretty important in creating a killer workspace. While individually they aren’t end-all solutions, together they can create something that even Oscar could appreciate.

  1. Good drinks: coffee, tea, etc. – A comforting beverage is great for a helpful work environment. It’s a small perk, but every little bit helps.
  2. Nice view – If you’re working out of your closet, odds are you don’t have very good natural sunlight or an aesthetically pleasing view. Try putting the desk near a window to add some natural lighting and something interesting to look at every now and again.
  3. Good chair – Oh my. If there was one piece of furniture that I’d gladly plunk down some coin for, it’s the office chair. It will really make or break your overall working experience. It’s one of those items that the more you pay for, the better it will be.
  4. Foliage – Add some carbon-munching plants around your office. They can provide some color and fun to any workplace.
  5. Fountains – There’s nothing quite as relaxing as the sound of running water. Try adding a little fountain in your office to add this relaxing noise. However, don’t make the mistake of buying a mammoth fountain that’s usually reserved for the gardens. It will totally dominate the noise of the room and will make you have to pee every 2.5 minutes on average. Not great for productivity.
  6. Non-distracting music – I’ve found that a little jazz, world, rhythm or classical background music helps lighten the mood, and can even help focus. Some people can focus with any kind of music, but I’ve found that the stuff without words typically works the best. To each his own though. Oh… one rule. No Michael Bolton.
  7. Great lighting – This can make a huge difference on your eyes. It’s a major problem for your eyes to stare at a flickering light like a computer screen for hours on end. Ensuring that you have proper lighting will take some of the strain off of your eyes.
  8. No clutter – Clutter is an aesthetic problem as well as a mental problem. Cluttered work spaces give create cluttered thinking. Your mind will never be as clear as it could be with a messy, unorganized environment. This also includes your desktop clutter as well. (ZenHabits has a great post on how to reduce clutter for extra reading.)
  9. Your own space – You have to have a place to call your own in order to get into the flow of work. A place where your brain can say “ahh… this is where the magic happens” and productivity abounds.
  10. Manageable work loads – Unrealistic work loads will nag at your psyche all day long. Your productivity will curl up into the fetal position and start sucking it’s thumb faster than you can utter “GTD” if you consistently set unmanageable work loads for the day.
  11. Become unplugged –  I’ve found that the best way to become productive isn’t by adding tools, it’s taking them away. Doing as much as you can with the smallest amount of tools is an incredible way to really focus on the task at hand. Using simple, offline tools work wonders for sparking creativity and efficiency. If you’re a web developer, try offline environments like Mamp. If you’re a write, use simple text editors. Unplug from the Internet and only use it as needed. Wi-Fi is overrated, my friends.
  12. BreaksWorking with rests is incredibly critical to ensuring that you’re going to get the most out of your day. I’ve argued before that these breaks improve efficiency and creativity.
  13. Exercise – The typical modern office or homeworker leads a pretty sedentary lifestyle. Health can drastically go down hill if we don’t take care of ourselves and exercise. This isn’t an option: it’s a must. Aside from all the health benefits of exercise, there are lots of great work benefits as well.
  14. Great desktop wallpaper – While it’s a small aesthetic thing, it can make a huge difference. Clean, fun or just different desktop patterns changed every now and again can add little spice to your workday, and can provide a slight boost. If you’re a mac user, try Desklickr. It automatically changes your desktop at certain intervals to high-quality pictures from Flickr. Variety is the spice of life, friends.
  15. Treadmill-desk – This is possibly one of the greatest ideas a web worker can implement. Want to burn calories and work on a computer? Look no further than the treadmill desk, as shared to me by Jonathan Fields. A very quick hack can get you working on your treadmill in no time, burning calories while cranking away.

Leave a Comment

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • specialcharacter November 10, 2009, 12:01 am

    You missed something from the photo – samurai sword.

    Essential for a busy day programming.

  • specialcharacter November 9, 2009, 7:01 pm

    You missed something from the photo – samurai sword.

    Essential for a busy day programming.

  • nospam June 2, 2009, 9:08 pm

    You need to also:
    unplug the phone
    shut off email
    close the door

  • Cherie April 14, 2008, 2:49 pm

    Good chair comes first. Then… no clutter! (Or at least a good way to hide it. Clutter equals confused thoughts.)

  • glen April 12, 2008, 2:49 pm

    Rich: :)

  • Rich April 10, 2008, 1:05 pm

    To the Michael Bolton thing: Amen, amen and again I say…amen!

  • Joe April 10, 2008, 9:55 am

    Interesting use of wallpaper there. I’ve done the whole “desktop wallpaper makes your monitor transparent” trick too and it’s not as easy as it looks to set up!

  • Wendy April 10, 2008, 9:47 am

    Nice workspace ideas! I try to keep desk clutter under control but it has a life of its own. Oh, and a great chair is a must – go for comfort over the latest design.

  • glen April 9, 2008, 10:15 pm

    tbrooks: actually I have no idea ;) I pulled the image from Flickr.

  • tbrooks April 9, 2008, 9:42 pm

    Is that a Hag Capisco? I’ve got a Aeron right now, but a buddy of mine swears on his Hag.

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts…

  • Jennifer Hofmann April 9, 2008, 5:36 pm

    Hi Glen –

    Another post I wish I’d written! People (myself included) forget how vital the “feel” of their space is to their enthusiasm for work – and productivity.

    In my business, InspiredHomeOffice.com, I see again and again how making simple changes (like the ones you’ve mentioned above) have an invigorating and calming effect on the occupant. :)

    Awesome article. Thanks for the reminders!


  • Hugo April 9, 2008, 5:18 pm

    There’s only one thing on the list I don’t agree with, and that’s the desktop picture. For true minimization of distractions I keep my desktop plain black. There is nothing to look at, just the window currently open. I’m using Hazel (Mac) by the way to keep it totally clean. Every file that somehow lands on my desktop is automatically removed from it and put in a special folder. It works wonderfully well for me.

  • Ann April 9, 2008, 5:12 pm

    My desk is by a window but what I see is the side of the garage! Still, it does offer some natural light.

    I just recently did a major declutter of my work space (before and after photos to appear soon on my blog); I can’t belive the difference it made, not only to my productivity, but to my mood in general.

    What I think I need now is something organic on my shelf to soften the edges – even though I’m a renowned house plant killer.

    Any ideas for plants that thrive on neglect?

  • Arturo Gonzalez April 9, 2008, 5:10 pm

    Fantastic tips! I’ll get started on making a major makeover to my workspace. Nothing like a good cup of Costarrican coffee to kick it up a notch.

    Many blessings to all,

    Art Gonzalez
    Check my Squidoo Lens at: Quantum Knights

  • Julie April 9, 2008, 2:58 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I long for #9 (Your Own Space). In the last few years, I’ve worked for 6+ companies on a part-time or contract basis. So far I’ve had:
    – to tend a cash register that changed day-by-day
    – a desk in a commonly-used hallway
    – a shared office
    – a shared desk (don’t ask how many problems *that* caused!)
    – use of other peoples’ offices when they weren’t around
    – use of boardrooms where the stuff already on the board was more important than my stuff and couldn’t be erased

    It makes me yearn for an office (or, heck, even a cube!) that’s all mine, not shared, and not in some communal area!

  • Kristen April 9, 2008, 2:51 pm

    Great post, Glen! All good reminders…

    I just found your blog and am really enjoying it. You were a huge help (very patient) when I was putting an application on my Facebook page and I’m still grateful!

    Have a good day!

  • Leonard Klaatu April 9, 2008, 1:42 pm

    Clutter often drives me crazy, but I appreciate the creative power of clutter. Books especially.

    I don’t mean trash, or filth. That’s not clutter. Clutter, to me, is worthwhile stuff that is stacked, piled or otherwise poorly organized. In other words, it’s good stuff that is unorganized.

    Thoughts can be like that. Clutter sometimes spurs creative thoughts. The blank page haunts writers. Clutter, in appropriate tonnage, is often the prescription for my stale creativity.

  • glen April 9, 2008, 11:25 am

    Most definitely Lisa. Toys or tools? The lines are very blurry.

  • Lisa Creech Bledsoe April 9, 2008, 11:19 am

    Ahhh. Becoming unplugged is my favorite. As a person who works all the time on a computer, we are overwhelmed with toys that masquerade as tools.