It feels great to just be in New York’s Grand Central Station. The high, vaulted ceilings, natural light from the arched windows, wide stone walkways, and generous, elegant stairs… It can lift the spirits of even the most harried commuter. It is spacious even amid a mob and there’s a feeling that you can breathe. There is a flow, a simplicity. No clutter.
Penn Station, just about a half hour walk away, is the opposite: cramped hallways, low ceilings, no natural light, and a floor plan without logic. The same huge crowds surge through Penn and Grand Central daily, but one feels oppressive while the other, even if just for a moment, can actually uplift.
You’ve probably experienced how different spaces can make you feel different things, but you might not have thought about their impact on your behavior. It turns out the spaces we occupy shape who we are and how we act in pretty significant ways. That’s especially true for spaces we spend a lot of time in – and your workplace probably tops that list.
According to neuroscientist Christian Jarrett, this can have serious consequences for your creative performance and wellbeing. “Given that many of us spend years working in the same room, or even at the same desk,” he says “it makes sense to organize and optimize that space in the most beneficial ways possible.” So how can you take control of your environment and make sure the place where you work is making us more productive instead of less?
Think about your workplace - is it more like Grand Central or Penn Station? It’s not a question of size. Think about things like the openness, light, flow and simplicity. These can have a huge impact. Here are some tips to help you make your space work for you.
OPEN UP YOUR WORKSPACE
Even in a small space, you can arrange a desk so it’s positioned looking out, towards natural light or angled in an optimal direction. This will create a different spaciousness than just facing your workspace toward the wall and greeting visitors with the back of your head.
ONLY USE THE LIGHT YOU NEED
If you can turn off the fluorescent lights, do. Even though we tend to work in completely lit up spaces and on lit screens, most spaces will actually lit up enough to work in without fluorescents because of basic building requirements. Reducing the amount of ambient light in your workspace and optimizing the light you do need (with desk lighting for example) can reduce eye strain and even help our circadian rhythms be more regulated. (Take note, night owls!)
ELIMINATE CLUTTER AND CREATE BETTER FLOW
As the old saying goes, a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind. In this day and age, we often need less physical materials and tools to do our work. So take a hard look at what you really need within reach and remove other objects that could be potential distractions. This will help you think more strategically about the work you do, and allow you to make space for the most important things.
BORROW IDEAS FROM GREAT SPACES
Think about a space that calms you down. Think about one that excites you. What parts of those spaces do you like best? Borrowing ideas from other spaces (for example, borrowing calming colors from nature) and incorporating them in small ways into your workspace can help foster those types of moods when you’re working.
CONSIDER THE WHOLE OFFICE
For those of you who work in offices with other people, thinking about your larger work environment is important, too. Consider all of the above factors to create an environment that support the “we” of an organization, as well as the “me” of individual work. Things like space planning, furniture selection and technology all play a role in your overall workplace environment. That feeling of being a part of something larger is an important motivator – the same way getting swept along with the crowd in Grand Central Station is both an individual and a collective experience. By building a space that supports your productivity and creativity, you’ll get a boost of energy and, hopefully, spark a little inspiration.
Stephanie works for Teknion, thinking about how to make the workspace productive and supportive using space and technology. She can be reached on Twitter @sgdouglass. Photos via Adam Jones and Erwin Bernal.