What does your office say about you? That you are orderly and businesslike? Messy but creative? Hopelessly overwhelmed?
Whatever your current habits are – sloppy or neat – you’ll get more done and have less stress while you work if your office is intelligently organized. All kinds of studies have proven this to be so.
I’ve added at least an hour of productivity to my day by planning and organizing my work. A big part of that has to do with the physical organization of my office.
Here are 12 things you can do to make your office work harder for you.
1. Provide yourself with a range of lighting, from subtle to very bright.
You will need three or four separate light sources. I recommend fluorescents (overhead or indirect) to light up the room brightly when you’re feeling tired and need to wake yourself up. A second light source should focus on your desk. You can do that best with an overhead spot. A lamp, either on the desk or standing on the floor, will give your office a warm and friendly feeling when you entertain visitors. And natural light, shuttered with blinds, is great if you can get it.
If possible, have all your lights on rheostats (dimmers) so you can control the amount of light you need. And have them all switch on and off from the same place – preferably by the door.
The lighting in your environment may seem unimportant if you are not used to giving it any attention, but it has a direct effect on your energy and your mood. Use the best-quality lights you can afford.
2. Make the space workable.
Your desk and credenza should be tailor-made to fit your working style. Don’t shortchange yourself here. Give yourself sufficient room, but not so much that you will accumulate more stuff than you need. Make sure the files and equipment you use regularly are within easy reach. And position the furniture so that you can easily move from desk to credenza and back.
Put your computer on the credenza, not on your desk. That way, when people come in to meet with you they won’t feel like your attention is half on them and half on the computer.
3. Keep all regular reference and inspirational books handy – preferably within a step and a grab from your chair.
This can be done inexpensively by furnishing your office with store-bought bookshelves.
4. Invest the time and money to find and purchase a great chair.
From a personal productivity standpoint, your office chair is the most important thing you own. It is more important than your house – even more important than your car. Just think… on a typical day, you may spend eight to 10 hours in that chair. Your chair is also one of the first things people notice when they step into the room. So make sure it looks good.
Adjust your chair so that your trunk meets your hips at 90 degrees, and tilt your computer so that the top line of the text is five degrees below your eye level. (That way, you don’t have to move your head up and down to read.) Your keyboard should be positioned so that your hands lie flat. Set down a hard plastic mat on the floor beneath your chair so you can roll freely.
5. Keep an egg timer on your desk.
Use the egg timer to make sure you are never seated for more than an hour at a time. (I block my time off in 30- and 60-minute increments. I’ve rarely needed to go beyond that – even for important meetings.) Each time the timer rings, stand up before you turn it off. And once you are standing, get moving. Do something physical for five minutes. I stretch or do squats and push-ups. Sometimes I walk around the office and chat up my colleagues.
6. Get rid of the mess.
You may think it works to your advantage to have everything you could possibly need piled up around you, but it doesn’t. It just shows the rest of the world how unwilling you are to take control of your life.
“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” That includes holders for pencils, pens, and reading glasses – separate and easily within reach.
7. Use two inboxes and two folders.
The first inbox is the one that other people put stuff in. The second inbox is for you. Go through the first inbox every morning and select from it any important work you intend to do that day. Transfer that work to the second inbox. Take the rest of the stuff in the first inbox and file it in one of two folders.
You need one folder that has 31 pockets, one for each day of the current month. And you need one with 12 pockets, one for each month of the year. As you go through your first inbox, decide (specifically) when you will attend to each item. If that date falls in the current month, file it in the first folder – in the pocket that corresponds to that date. If it falls in a future month, file it in the second folder – in the pocket that corresponds to that month.
Make sure the second inbox (your inbox) is cleaned out by the end of the day.
8. Have one or two drawers for everything you might need in case of an “emergency.”
In one of my drawers, I keep all the tools I might need at the office. Small screwdrivers (even a jeweler’s screwdriver that fits the tiny screw that holds the arms to my reading glasses), WD-40, duct tape, etc.
In another drawer, I stash some back-up clothing (two laundered shirts and two ties) so I can look good for an unanticipated but important meeting.
As it happens, I have my own bathroom at the office where I can stock a toothbrush and toothpaste, bandages, ibuprofen, hand sanitizer, cuticle cutters, etc. But these items can easily go in one of your “emergency” drawers.
9. Hang a clock on the wall that your visitors can see.
Nod at the clock at the beginning of each meeting as you announce exactly how many minutes you have to solve the problem at hand. (Do NOT use the egg timer for this!)
10. Set up an old-fashioned bar.
Stock it with Scotch, vodka, and rum for those moments when kind words aren’t enough. A humidor for cigars is optional for some, but not for me. If drinking is not your thing, try a Chinese tea service. I have a bar on one side of my office, a tea service on the other. They both come in handy.
11. Bring some life into your office.
A live plant breathes back oxygen into the environment. It softens the hard surfaces too. Select a big green plant, if you have room for it. Care for it on a few of your five-minute “egg timer” breaks.
12. Decorate your office with signs of who you are as a complete person.
Put up your family photos and your business awards. The walls and spaces of your office are gazing grounds for your visitors. Make sure the message they are getting is the one you want them to get.
And make sure there’s at least one thing in your line of sight that makes you smile – maybe an inspirational quotation. Keep it there to work its magic until it loses power, and then find something new to replace it.
Invest in a sound system, too. You don’t need anything fancy – just something that puts out soft background music.
One final thing that I won’t put on the list because it may be too much to ask for until you are the boss: a daybed for a power nap when you really need one.[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]