Ideal Workspace

A lovely friend of mine just got a new office, and it’s so lovely! It makes you wonder about how you would design your own ideal work space, from scratch. I have always worked in offices where we had both limited space and resources. I did once get to buy myself a new chair, very fancy. I also worked in a job during the course of which we got to move to a new space, and an operations person came in and helped design the work spaces for optimal workflow something or other. It was optimal to me, because I was right by the printer. It was not optimal for me because I was the only person in the new office who could hear the phone ring, and I always ended up greeting guests, like a secretary. But we had so many plants.

Really, I do productive work in any number of places. I need a computer, a flat surface, and hot beverage. I do lots of good work on job applications sitting in bed in my pajamas. I have written an entire grant proposal sitting in an airport lounge. I wrote a section of my undergraduate thesis longhand at the bar (not recommended). I used to stage manage 30 actor plays from a fourth row  theater seat with a binder, a pencil and a cell phone. Obviously, it depends what I am doing, but really, my ideal workspace is a little like this:

  • A bright room, slightly cool, but not cold, with a window either directly in front of the desk or to the side;
  • An L-shaped desk, with a filing cabinet and drawers on one side;
  • A comfortable chair with a high mesh back, and a sweater or shawl draped over the back;
  • The desk and chair in a healthy ergonomic relationship with one another, to minimize pain in the pinched nerve I seem to have in my shoulder (I say seem, because it only flares up when I am stressed);
  • A lamp with a low-wattage bulb and a yellow light (not a harsh white light);
  • An unlimited supply of tea nearby but not in the office (for strategic short walks);
  • Computer in the center, ideally with a second monitor, phone on the right side, away from the keyboard;
  • Pencil cup with several pens, pencils, a highlighter, a marker, a ruler, and scissors to the left;
  • By the pencil cup, a blotter (I think this is what it’s called) with a notebook and Post-It notes;
  • A large color-coded dry-erase wall calendar, especially if I am doing project or event-based work;
  • A system of file separators on the desk but not in the main workspace, for organizing current projects;
  • A clock that is not on the computer;
  • At least one plant, and occasional flowers;
  • Some brightly colored art prints or posters and a small library of books on a shelf, but no pictures on the desk;
  • Oh yes: within walking distance of my apartment is ideal, but anywhere below 14th Street would be fine.

But really, the ideal office to me is more about a feeling, not the accouterments. I don’t care if it looks like a page out of Real Simple magazine (though that would be nice). I care that it is sunny, bright, clean, and fresh. I like haphazard piles that are still organized. I like things to have their place, but not in an overly fastidious way. I like to have access to past work and to files, but I don;t need anything but current projects in front of me every day.

Right now, I feel like I would settle for a space that isn’t my couch. But if I have to spend 50 hours a week someplace, it needs to be somewhat livable. I once worked for an ED who moved her office into a windowless interior room so that other staff could have the areas with sunlight. She did it because she is an extremely generous person, but also because she was out of the office so much that the benefit to her of having a sunny desk was negligible.

Where do you love to work? This is all about the physical space in which I would love to work. But workflow and project management tools, systems, computers…a different, and more complicated story for another time.


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