What’s worse is sitting down hunched over a computer for eight hours a day. This can lead to minor aches and pains and pretty soon, you’ll be procrastinating and trying to get comfortable rather than focusing on that deadline. Plus, those aches can turn into some pretty serious medical issues down the road if not addressed.
If you’re like me and work in a cubicle 40+ hours a week, you know conditions can sometimes be less than ideal. A poor workspace can lead to a lack of productivity and bad health.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way! You can set up the optimal workspace in just 4 simple steps, which will lead to happiness and higher productivity.
1. Identify The Problems
At the risk of sounding like a concerned interventionist, the first step in creating a better workspace is identifying the problems around you. Once you find your pen and a notepad (or borrow one from a co-worker), step out of your cube and observe from the entrance.
How can you focus if you have 5 different projects sprawled across your desk, a cup of coffee on the verge of causing a flood, and your keyboard tilted to the left…Jot down anything you notice as a problem or annoyance. Think of the things that bug you throughout the day. Keep it simple. Your list might end up looking something like this:
For added insight, take a walk past co-workers in neighboring cubes and observe how they do things. I’ve always admired a cube neighbor of mine who uses color-coded folders and sticky notes.
2. Organize Your Desk
I recommend cleaning up your desk and organizing things first because you’re going to need the space later. In organizing the items on your desk, I like what Matt Perman of WhatsBestNext.com suggests – treating your desk like a cockpit, thus keeping essential items close and the rest out of the way. If you only use a hole-punch once a month, put it in a drawer or farther out of reach.
The first thing you should do is gather ALL of the papers on your desk and merge them into a single pile. Set them aside for now. Be sure to grab a bunch of folders and maybe a folder rack when you get a chance. If anything is obviously garbage, toss it. Or better yet, recycle!
Next, clean up loose utensils and office hardware (like pens, rulers, staplers, tacks, paperclips, etc.). See if your office admin has containers for these items, or obtain your own. You only need one or two of each pen, marker, pencil, or scissors. Unless you’re an accountant or number cruncher, you can probably get away with using the calculator on your computer. You also don’t need more than one calendar – keep your favorite one. Donate your unneeded supplies to your office supply cabinet or stash away.
Then, look at the extra trinkets laying around. Do you have toys that don’t need to be there? Yea, I’m talking about slinky’s, brain games, train whistles, or other items your 9 year-old self would be proud of. All but the most worthy items should be taken home. I’m a big fan of personalizing your workspace, but you don’t need to recreate your childhood bedroom.
Finally, organize the cords and wires of all your electronics. All of your computer, phone, and peripheral cables should run along the same path behind everything. One nifty tip to keep these items together is to use the Velcro wrap found on your laptop’s power cord. Another is use that handy hole found on the stand of your monitor. If you don’t have these, try zip ties or something easier like string. Use a power strip if not everything reaches the outlet.
Once you’ve completed all that, tackle that stack of papers. Go through them one by one and recycle stuff that doesn’t need to be kept. Create separate piles for related items and then put those piles into a folder or rack. From now on, only take out what you are working on and put away when finished.
3. Reduce Strain On Your Body
Now for the (potentially) bigger issue – your health. According to Toni Bowers of Tech Republic, the 5 biggest health hazards in your office are:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – pain or numbness in your hands and wrists
- Eyestrain – tired eyes, blurry vision, and headaches from staring at a screen
- Back pain – soreness from sitting too long, even with good posture
- Bacteria – from not cleaning your desk, keyboard, or phone regularly
- Stress – builds up without a physical or active outlet to release
To avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, make sure your wrists don’t rest on anything. Your hands and wrists should hover above the keyboard. You’re better off the more you use your hands in different ways throughout the day as well.
Eyestrain can be prevented by first making sure the text and content on your computer is easy to see. Squinting to read text on the screen is not a good sign. Make sure you are not too close or too far from the screen. You’ll also want to look away from your screen frequently to let your eyes adjust.
Back pain can come even if you have a fancy posture gizmo for your chair. First, make sure your chair height is set correctly. Sitting up straight, your eyes should be near the top of your screen. Most importantly, get up and walk around at least once an hour. Stretching works wonders.
Bacteria is easily handled by cleaning your desk, keyboard, mouse, and phone at least once a week. Keep some Lysol wipes in your desk and wipe down before you start working on Monday.
Reducing stress requires a little more effort. Physical activity goes a long way in stress management, so take walks when you can. The least stressed out people I know are involved with sports and hobbies after work and on the weekends. If you’re having problems with a co-worker, communication is key. Do not let any stressful situations linger for too long.
4. Don't Get Lazy!
All of the above requires some effort on your end! Take a few minutes at the end of each day or between projects to organize your materials and store away. Get up and move around once in a while. Do not let the problems add up.
Voice your concerns if you cannot make your own situation better. Let your boss know if your chair is broken. Tell IT if you can’t read the screen.
Taking a few minutes to assess and address your situation can go a long way in improving your work life.