Simple Ways to Make Your Home Workspace More Creative
This article was first published in The Startup. It may contain affiliate links, which means that I make a small commission if you make a purchase, at no extra cost to you.
When it comes to getting into a creative flow, some people can only work in a specific place.
In my last semester in college, I took a creative nonfiction writing class. The lecturer, a professional writer, could spend hours talking about the only place where his creativity could run free: an antique mahogany desk in the study of his country house. Tucked away from the noise of the city, surrounded by old books and with a fountain pen in hand, he could finally concentrate on his writing.
Of course, not all of us have those luxuries. Sometimes we just need to get the work done — no matter where we are. If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that a home office can be set up literally anywhere — the kitchen table, on the floor surrounded by kids’ toys, or even on a stack of toilet roll.
While some offices are now on track to a new normal, many of us will still opt to work from home this summer.
And if you, like me, have been in dire need of a change of scenery, sprucing up your workspace might be the next best thing.
The ideal workspace doesn’t exist
My favorite working environment is a coffee shop or a library. Whenever I take a seat in one of these settings, I get into a creative flow. On better days, I even manage to do a day’s work in a couple of hours. And from conversations with fellow creatives, I know I’m not the only one.
What is it that makes coffee shops and libraries so productive for me?
Let’s break down some of its key features.
Both involve a journey. This means leaving the house and making a clear transition from home to work, whether it involves a long commute or just a short walk around the block.
Both are reasonably quiet, apart from background noise, chatter, or non-intrusive music.
Less distractions. Sure, you might overhear some conversations or zone out while people-watching. But for the most part, the usual distractions are out of sight.
Clear workspace. Coffee shops and libraries offer a blank canvas kind of workspace. No matter how small the table, you can (usually) count on it to be clean and clear of clutter.
Inspiring surroundings. When sitting in a library, I am surrounded by the works of great writers. At a coffee shop, I’m likely to be surrounded by freelancers and students, also working away. These factors make me feel inspired and motivated to keep working instead of scrolling through my feed.
Oh, and coffee. The main incentive is usually coffee.
Looking at this list, it’s clear to me that the actual place we work is far less significant than the presence of the particular features that help us get in the zone.
So, how can we apply these insights to our home workspaces?
Make a clear transition to work mode
Maya Angelou famously kept a hotel room in every town she lived in. This was her ideal workspace. She would arrive at the room by 6.30 in the morning every weekday and wrote lying across the bed with a bottle of sherry, and ashtray and a Bible for inspiration. At the end of the day, she would return home for dinner.
Separating home and work was crucial to her creative process. In an interview with The Paris Review, she said: “I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything.”
While my creative process is nowhere near as sophisticated as Angelou’s, this separation of home and work is common ground.
One of the most crucial features that make working at a coffee shop (or the library, the office, or anywhere that isn’t home) so productive is the clear transition between home and work. This transition isn’t just physical — it’s also psychological. It sends a message that it’s time to get into work mode.
Even though I don’t miss my hour-and-a-half rush hour commutes, this transition is something I’ve struggled with while working from home.
One simple solution is to take a faux commute. No, I don’t mean the computer from your bed to your fridge.
Going outside for a short walk or run in the morning before work can help clear your head and energize you for the day ahead. Bonus points if you listen to an audiobook or an inspiring podcast while you’re at it.
And if going outside isn’t an option, a pre-work ritual can essentially serve the same function. This could be reading a chapter of a book, taking a shower, or putting on a specific work playlist. Whatever your ritual may be, repeating it every day before work will deliver the message that it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Comfort and inspiration: the recipe for a productive workspace
Once you do sit down to work, your workspace should immediately set you up for success. To make this happen, you need a combination of comfort and inspiration.
Comfort is the foundation of a productive workspace. When you’re fidgety or uncomfortable, you spend more time thinking about the discomfort than the task at hand.
Let’s take a look at some practical ways to keep discomfort to a minimum.
Who needs more back pains? The first investment I made when I decided to work from home was a comfortable chair. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune — I happened to find my Ikea desk chair on a local listings site.
Invest in good lighting. Having worked in a dark office for the entirety of winter, I can vouch for the importance of lighting. If your workspace is nowhere near a window, make sure to have a reliable desk lamp. Your eyes will thank you for it.
Keep distracting clutter out of sight. I can never focus on a pile of unfiled papers beside me, so I make sure to tidy them away every week. And while we’re on the topic of distractions, putting your phone in a drawer while you’re working is always a good idea.
Some say a messy desk is a sign of genius. That may be, but I still prefer to keep mine tidy. Setting aside some time to clean and clear your desk at the end of the week is a great transition from work to weekend. Next time you sit down to work, you’ll be starting with a clean slate — just like your favorite coffee shop seat.
When your surroundings inspire you, it’s so much easier to believe in the work you’re doing — and in yourself. Your home may seem far from inspiring (especially after months of staring at the same four walls) but sometimes all it takes is a few small changes to feel differently.
Take it from best-selling author and entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss. His workspaces are designed “by association and positive constraints.” He makes sure that every object in the vicinity has a purpose, and wants “positive emotional associations with each object within my visual field.”
Inspiration can take many forms. For me, it’s as small as stationery. On any given day, my planner and my favourite pastel highlighter set sit front and centre on my desk. Whenever I see them, I feel motivated to take notes and plan my day. Pssst… You can get £10 off your own personalised planner with this link!
Plants are a great way to make your space feel more alive. The monstera plant that sits by my desk grows at a worryingly rapid pace. Almost every week I notice a new leaf fanning out. Until it completely takes over my room, it comes with an inspiring benefit: visible change in action. Seeing it grow makes me feel less stuck in time, and inspires me to make progress in my own life.
Wall decor is a great way to infuse creativity into your workspace. On the more practical end of things, I love having a wall calendar handy. I religiously download and print Planoly’s gorgeous free calendars every quarter.
But wall decor goes beyond the practical. An inspiring mood board of your business branding, your mission statement, or positive quotes and affirmations can make all the difference when you’ve hit a creative block. So get your DIY mitts on, and fill your space with mood-boosting positive associations that spur you on. If you’re looking for some inspiration, I have a Pinterest board full of inspiring graphics to choose from!
Fill the silence. While some people concentrate best in complete silence (a difficult feat to achieve in the best of times), many of us find comfort in non-intrusive background noise. My preferred genre is lo-fi, or chill, relaxed music that aids deep focus. When I really miss the coffee shop buzz, I play cafe sounds from my favourite white noise website. If coffee shop sounds aren’t your jam, you can also try out rain sounds to complete your creative nook.
And of course, no workspace of mine would be complete without coffee.
At the end of the day, where we work is only a small factor in the quality of our output. But since we spend most of our waking hours working, why not make the experience as pleasant, comfortable, and inspiring as possible?
I’d love to know how you set up your workspace for creative flow! Let me know down in the comments, or over on Instagram! And while you’re here, why not take a look at some of my other posts about productivity?