Maximizing Productivity in a Home Workspace

Printer’s Desk / Rug / Broy Hill Lamp (found at HomeGoods) / Vintage Artwork found at estate sale / Vintage Chair / Creepy HomeGoods Whale / Paint color: “In the Navy” (Color #50BB 10/147) by Glidden

Mitch here!

I’m one of those people who worked from home before it was required. So I thought it’d be useful to share a few tips on how to create a productive home workspace.

Note: You don’t need a dedicated room to do this!

Home office organizing essentials

From tiny college apartments and tiny New York apartments filled with tiny cockroaches to tiny Chicago three-flats and tiny Chicago duplexes with a tiny human being, I’ve lived in some real dumps. And it didn’t take long for me to figure out that working from home doesn’t automatically lend itself to productivity. With a little structure and thoughtful design, though, you really can get a solid home “office” up and running without moving or building an extension. Below, you’ll find a few helpful organizing tips for making your work-from-home life work.

5 tips for creating an office setup that helps you get more done

1. Allocate a dedicated workspace

Time to get creative. Give yourself a tour of your home, and really consider all the possibilities and how you might be able to change its current setup to allow for a workspace. Consider every room, every wall, every corner. The more underutilized, the better. Some will find this easier than others. Kelly and I shared a studio back in New York, for example, and determining where to set up desks was TOUGH. (We ended up dividing our living room by putting the couch and bookcase in the middle of it. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.) Maybe it means getting rid of some furniture; maybe it means creatively rearranging. But try your best here.

It may be absolutely impossible. If that’s the case, you may need to go the whole “collapsable office” route, which means setting it up in high-traffic areas during certain times of the day and taking it down when you’re done. In this situation (which I’ve been in a lot!), I highly recommend investing in storage solutions for your work stuff. Kelly is a huge fan of the Container Store–or Amazon or Target as products go on sale at different times–for this. If you have the right storage for your supplies, you’ll be able to quickly set it up and take it down. (It’a also worthwhile to clear a drawer or closet for storage, if possible.)

My current home office is a dark room in our basement. I chose the least desirable space in the house because I knew I could more easily devote it to work without life encroaching on it. Having a dedicated space helps me stay focused and clear-headed, prioritize work tasks, and get a lot more accomplished.

2. Get comfortable

Your home office should be as inviting as possible. When I find myself uncomfortable in my work space, I come up with any excuse to take breaks and procrastinate. Here are a few ways to make your environment nicer:

  • Upgrade your office chair to prevent slouching. Chairs that are either too low or too high can harm productivity and actually cause injury.
  • Consider opting for a desktop or a laptop on a stand to improve posture and work efficiency.
  • Open up the windows to allow natural light in your space. There’s ample evidence that natural light has positive health benefits, and those of us who spend lots of time at our desk can benefit greatly from more light.
  • Bring low-light plants or artificial greenery to the space.
  • Improve the sonic space with a smart speaker or noise-cancelling headphones. I prefer to listen to less distracting ambient music throughout my work day.
  • Get a Yeti. It’ll keep your coffee hot for hours and minimize interruption. Kelly also loves her water bottle. (She drinks two of them per day to meet the 64-ounce water intake recommendation.) Worth every penny.

3. Set up a routine

The realities of working from home make effective routine building difficult. Unlike in a traditional office or working environment, pressures of childcare, homeschooling, housework, family dynamics, and roommates can interrupt and interfere with workflow. And it can be wilding frustrating and discouraging.

Kelly and I find that establishing a well-defined routine helps to alleviate some of these stressors. We designate specific roles for ourselves throughout the day to allow for equitable time with the kids and with work, and to ensure that the house doesn’t fall apart. Of course, our needs change day to day, so we have a quick meeting every morning to determine what the schedule will look like. This does, however, make us so much calmer. We define when work will occur and when family time will occur, and as a result, we feel less guilt and more happiness… and we actually managing to get a little done. (It also helps us prioritize tasks and prevent non-work related tasks from impinging on work!)

It’s important to remember that all work routines look different. They also change. For years, Kelly and I preferred to work in the middle of the night, for example… and now that we’re parents, we get our best work done in the morning. (Because we’re near death at night. 😜) It will take some trial and error before you finalize an effective routine of your own. Just remember to be flexible and adaptive where possible.

4. Purge (specifically paper)

Kelly’s written at length about her dedication to the KonMarie method of decluttering. When she first became obsessed, I definitely thought she was nuts. (I say that in the most loving way possible.) But since having actually decluttered our home, I’m amazed at how much calmer and happier we are as people.

Home offices are often the toughest spaces to declutter, though, because they become dumping grounds. But now is the time to get that space in shape! Get rid of the crap. It might take an hour or two, but it’s worth it. I promise.

The hardest part will likely be getting rid of all the paper. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Gather all the papers: Yes, this means ALL of them. And not just from the office; from all over the house. And this goes for every family member’s individual paper stashes too. Because nearly everyone has them. Heck, I found bills in Lucy’s changing table. Jokes. But pull ’em all out and lay e’m out.
  2. Organize into piles: Next, organize the pile into categories. I went with a “Act on now,” “Keep for a while,” and “Keep forever” strategy here. This process helped me to realized how little of my paper hoard was worthy of space in my office. Most of the mess could be filed under the heading Procrastination and the tasks it represented were far too old to even act on. (Time to give up.) What little of the paper actually required my attention could also be digitized and put into my computer-based workflow which made accomplishing the tasks much easier. I recommend the iOS Notes or Google Drive apps which easily turn your smartphone into a document scanner.
  3. Purge: I was shocked to see how much physical paper I had stuffed around the house. When I finished the project, I threw out four huge garbage bags full of total nonsense. I also bought a paper shredder to alleviate the stress of discarding sensitive documents. (Easily recycled, too.)
  4. Design a system for going forward: The lessons learned from purging your paper should be used to design an ongoing system for handling incoming paper. Our system involves a filing cabinet with labeled folders for immediate, near-term and longterm tasks. Any paper that doesn’t fit into those categories gets shredded or digitized.

5. Organize a workflow to keep necessary items close

You can tell a lot about people by the state of their desk. I’m the kind of guy who puts everything on top of his desk just in case I need it. Kelly, on the other hand, has trouble concentrating if anything besides her coffee cup and planner is on hers. She admittedly uses her office more efficiently and has a thoughtful organizational strategy for all her stuff. (Though she’s perfectly fine with a computer desktop that resembles a massacre. She’s an odd duck.)

Anyway, nothing kills my concentration more than hunting for supplies. I have REAL trouble finding things. If I’m looking for tape, for example, and I open a drawer with several rolls of tape visibly in it, I do not see those rolls of tape. I don’t know what I see but it’s not that.

But the best home office tip I can offer is to organize your tools by frequency of use. For example, it surprised me how often I went hunting around the house for scissors in a given work day. Having organized tools at the ready can improve any workflow and, as a result, productivity. I keep my most-used supplies on my actual desktop, my somewhat frequently used supplies in my top drawer, and the rest in my bottom drawers. It’s a good system and minimizes messes and lost time.

In conclusion

Organizing your home office for productivity doesn’t take a big investment. With thoughtful consideration of your space, workflow and needs, you’ll be working productively from home in no time!

What’s been working for you? I’d love to hear!

Mitch. OUT.

(Please enjoy your Saturday, Kelly. Love you.)