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Make Your Workplace More Workable

A few ways to put your office in order

Day to DayEver wonder where the day went? Wish you felt more energized at the office? Afraid the piles of paper on your desk have taken on a life of their own? Well, whether your office is across town or across the hallway making your workplace more workable will help.

Working in a disorganized, uncomfortable environment contributes to stress. That’s why I decided to use de-stressing as the focus of this article. To keep things interesting there’s an Eastern flavor.

For advice on creating a more comfortable, work environment, I turned to three experts: Barbara Hemphill, a nationally known consultant who amazes me with the breadth of her knowledge; Shannon Del Vecchio, a feng shui consultant who’s free newsletter continues to delight me; and Jo Ann Sheldon, an organizing specialist who gave me some fresh ideas during a workshop last year.

Barbara Hemphill,  author of Taming the Paper Tiger at Workand Taming the Paper Tiger at Home

Unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others is probably the greatest cause of workplace stress. Other contributors include unwillingness to ask others for help — even when they would be happy to do so if only we asked; unwillingness to let others help because they can’t do it as well as we can!

Improve your workspace today by becoming more conscious about your environment, so you can make changes to get better results. For example, what is happening when you feel energized? What is happening when you feel unproductive? One of my clients says that frequently when he feels “stuck”, he looks around to discover a desk buried in paper. Simply moving the piles to the floor gives him a new perspective. Obviously, if you have to keep moving the piles to the floor, there’s a much bigger issue of paper management in general!

Barbara’s suggestions

When you work for someone else

  • Get rid of clutter! Clutter is postponed decisions. Create an environment where everything supports who you are or who you want to be. Research shows that we never use 80 percent of what we keep — and, ironically, the more we keep, the less we use! Look at every item in your office and ask, “How does it make me feel?” If your answer is anything negative, get rid of it! One or two personal photos are reasonable — a dozen is a good indication that you need to find a new job!
  • Have three trays on your desk: one for “In” — for things you have not yet looked at; one for “Out” for things you need to take elsewhere; and “File” for papers you need to put in a filing cabinet not within reach of your desk. Make sure any other trays have a specific purpose, such as Photocopy” or “Take Home” — or they soon become a depository for postponed decisions.
  • If you are short on space, consider a portable file box that will fit in the kneespace under your desk. If you have a built-in desk with large overhead compartments, use organizing equipment to divide the space into smaller, more useable sections. Use wall space for inspirational material, quick reference material, or check out organizing equipment designed to hang additional storage.

When you work from home

  • Position your office location carefully. If at all possible, separate your workplace from your living space, so you can physically leave your work. If you’re working at home in order to take care of children, consider hiring childcare while you work – studies show your work productivity (and potential for profit) will increase, and so will the quality of life for your children.
  • Choose a calendar system that works for you. If you’re working at home, chances are it’s difficult to tell when business ends and home begins – so you’ll probably want a calendar or planner system that encompasses both your personal and professional life. In addition, create a method for sharing information that all the family needs to know. It may be as simple as a calendar on the refrigerator with a different color pen for each family member.
  • Create separate filing systems for your personal life and professional life. Research shows that the average person spends 150 hours per year looking for misplaced information. If it fits in a file, put it there – and keep a list of your files, called a File Index – so you, or someone else, can find it when needed.

Shannon Del Vecchio, feng shui consultant, founder Tranquil Spaces Design Group

External annoyances are not the primary source of stress. For most people the real stressor — the one that honestly brings people to their knees — is that they don’t have a workable strategy for staying centered when these external annoyances come along, as they inevitably will. The question is whether we can receive life in the present moment with a peaceful heart and a healthy dose of good humor.

In most cases the single most important thing that people can do to improve their work environment is to introduce some personal symbol of nature, recreation, meditation or tranquility. Add a little something to focus on when everything gets overwhelming, whether it’s an image, a candle or a little statue.

Shannon’s tips

  • Desk placement is very important in feng shui. It’s ideal to sit with your back to a solid wall, facing the door, with a full command of the space around you. But the idea is not to live in the world with a suspicious or defensive attitude — quite the opposite, in fact. When we feel safe and protected by our environment, it’s easier to relax and open up; we can greet the world in a more trusting way. If you can’t change your desk position, try mounting a mirror so you can view the space behind you when you are seated at your desk.
  • It’s ideal to have a little green plant on or near your desk. If there isn’t enough light, make a practice of keeping fresh flowers in the room instead. Some connection to nature and life energy is crucial when you are indoors all day long.
  • Being task- and goal-oriented can make people feel emotionally numb by the end of the day. One way to prevent this is to surround yourself with color. Color is like emotional food it helps us to feel and to stay connected to our bodies: warm colors are energizing and invigorating, cool colors are calming and relaxing.
  • If your home office is in your living room, use a screen or armoire-style computer desk so you can make the work area disappear when you are not using it. Many people relish the idea of working at home until they wake up one day and realize that now work is constantly hovering at the edge of their consciousness. Creating a boundary in the space helps create the boundary in your mind.

Jo Ann Sheldon, founder Organized Living, Inc.  

I see four major areas that lead to stress on the job: 1) Poor Time Management Skills – not using time effectively, not making time to get things done; 2) Unclear Priorities and Goals – this is critical especially when analyzing time use; 3) Paper overload and ineffective paper management, an overload of email, faxes, voice mail, etc. and lack of efficient systems to “control”, process and organize this information; 4) Disorganized work space, not efficiently utilizing the space we have.

To improve your environment start by cleaning off your desk. Sort, purge, refer and file papers starting with one pile at a time. Organize your office so that anything and everything needed or used on a daily or frequent basis has an assigned “home,” that is within a swivel chair’s reach.

Jo Ann’s suggestions

When you work for someone else

  • Create or use an “U” or “L” shaped desk setup. These layouts are the most conducive to an organized workspace. They provide a place for the computer, a free work surface and space to keep the things you use most often accessible
  • Eliminate clutter one pile at a time, by sorting, purging, delegating and filing. Only file things that are relevant and not available elsewhere. Start today and be ruthless. Consider asking a fellow employee to assist you or coach and encourage you. Offer to trade services!
  • Be creative in storage concepts. Utilize available wall space for shelves and cabinets. Use these to store papers, books, files and supplies. Mount magazine holders for files and papers leaving your desk free for a “working” surface.
  • Set up files or storage folders for all active projects. Have them close by and available. Color code files by categories, subjects or projects. Create a master list and map of all files so you can easily find what you are looking for.

When you work from home

  • Design or re-design your office so that you can stay in one place and concentrate on the work at hand. Items you need often should be close by; store those you seldom use in a closet or on shelves.
  • Distractions are common at home. Try to separate your home office from the rest of the house – preferable through use of a private room. If that’s not possible, use tall bookcases, partitions or screens to create a separate space.
  • Critical for home offices or corporate offices – make a point to straight up your desk at the end of each day. Leave current priority projects in a file on your desk. This allows you to start anew each day.


About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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