Seven Strategies to Streamline Your Workplace

By: Nora Yagolnitser

As the world slowly and tentatively starts to reopen, many of us are still staying home. Staying home means working remotely, and that means setting up our own work spaces. Some of us may be settling into home offices, others stealing a corner of a common room for a simple desk, and yet others getting creative with outdoor solutions. I’ve loved the chance to get some work done at the picnic table on our patio, but I’m finding that working in unusual spots has notably reduced my productivity. Fortunately, I’ve done some research, and I’ve compiled a list of seven strategies to streamline my work space and combat those challenges to productivity. I hope these strategies will be similarly helpful for you.

1. Consider ergonomics in setting up your desk.

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as a consideration of the interactions between workers and their work spaces. Designing an ergonomic work space starts by considering the physiological impact the space has on you as you work. Taking these factors into account can set you up for success, safety, and higher productivity. Many resources exist to help you plan an ergonomic work space, including this guide from the Mayo Clinic, which discusses the importance of choosing key elements like your desk and chair thoughtfully. You can also head to the Ergotron work space planner to help you calculate the right dimensions for a sitting or standing desk with a monitor, based on science and customized to your height.

2. Plan for optimal, including natural, lighting for your work space.

Also important for increasing productivity is the lighting in your work space. Obviously, bright light is preferable to dim light, so consider setting up your desk by a window, under a strong ceiling light, or next to an adjustable floor lamp. You can add a desk lamp, but that takes up valuable space on your desk. This article from Elle Decor includes a list of tips for setting up your work space from design psychologist Sally Augustin, who started Design With Science to bring scientifically-backed practices to creative and efficient design. Dr. Augustin emphasizes the benefits of increasing natural light in a work space, and the science is definitely there to back her up. This study conducted by Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that increased natural lighting in the workplace correlated with several markers of employee wellness, including better sleep at night. If you have the option to work near natural light, do it!

3. Organize and digitize paper clutter.

Once you’ve set up your desk, it’s time to start populating it with all those documents, to do lists, and files. But is that really necessary? First, make sure you have a system in place for organizing hard copies of documents out of sight. Consider a file cabinet, folders, inbox and outbox trays, or some combination of those as described in this example of a streamlined system for dealing with paper clutter at work. Ideally, most of your paper clutter is put away rather than strewn across your workspace. However, some information may be useful to keep in sight. Consider hanging up a cork board with pins or a whiteboard where you can jot down urgent notes. Either solution can help you move paper off your desk while keeping relevant information visible. Finally, digitize whatever you can by scanning. Pyrus allows you to share relevant documents digitally and securely. You can connect these documents to your team’s tasks so you don’t need anything but the digital copies to work and collaborate efficiently.

4. Keep other necessary supplies handy and organized.

This may be obvious, but if you’re getting up every few minutes for a highlighter pen, a paper clip, or a pair of scissors, you’re preventing yourself from achieving flow. Instead of fetching supplies from corners of your home as you need them, keep track of what you use for a few days and then block off some time to organize your necessary supplies right on your desk. You can choose to introduce an organizer for your desk, install drawer dividers to help keep things organized in categories, or just set up a few old coffee mugs for a simple solution. If you’re feeling really short on desk space, considering adding a floating shelf on the wall by your desk. That way, your supplies can stay in reach, and you can stay in your flow.

5. Add a plant. Yes, really!

Surprising or frivolous as it may seem, adding a plant to your work space can improve productivity in measurable ways. Dr. Augustin of Design With Science, whose advice on lighting I linked above, also encourages workers to add living things to their work space, whether plants or fish in small tanks, to decrease stress and increase focus. There’s real science to back that advice. The researchers in this study found that the presence of plants in the workplace correlated to improved attention capacity, while these studies found even broader benefits to introducing plants into the work space, including for concentration. Adding a plant to your desk may be the most simple strategy to boost your productivity.

6. With all that, keep it minimalist.

Dr. Augustin points out the danger of adding too much stuff to the work space, since too much visual complexity, which can result not only from clutter but also from elaborate decorations and decor, can distract from the real purpose of the space. This study supports the claim that the ability to focus your attention and achieve flow in your work is directly challenged by many, disorganized visual cues competing for your brain’s attention. If you feel at a loss for cutting down on stuff in your space and are ready for a drastic strategy, check out this blog post by The Minimalists, where they advocate for a radical experiment in work space minimalism. If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you!

7. Finally, minimize distractions.

We don’t need anyone to tell us this, but the articles exist anyway, telling us all about how our smartphones and inability to resist the ding of notifications drain our productivity. Fortunately, those same smartphones can help us combat our addiction. Lists like this one suggest various apps that can help you limit the amount of time you spend checking, responding to, and getting distracted by your phone. And of course, the simple solution to reducing distraction is just to make a place where you can set your phone while you work, in reach if needed but out of sight. Plus, if you’re using a communication app like Pyrus to manage your business processes, you’re in luck. Pyrus streamlines task management for you, putting everything you need to work collaboratively on projects in one place. That’s an easy way to minimize distractions.

I hope these strategies help you streamline, and I’d love to hear about your successes implementing them. Let me know how they work out. I’ll see your message when I finish my focused work on that next blog in my new, streamlined space.