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  • Writer's pictureAngela Stratman

10 Steps to Creating an Optimal Environment for Maximum Productivity

In a world filled with distractions, creating a conducive environment for productivity has become more crucial than ever. Whether working from home or in a traditional office setting, your space significantly shapes your efficiency and focus. Here are 10 tips to help you prepare yourself and your space for optimal productivity.


1.     Declutter Your Physical Space


Begin by decluttering your workspace. A cluttered environment can lead to a cluttered mind. Remove unnecessary items, organize your desk, and create designated areas for different tasks. Some people need to see the paperwork or notes to work productively. I am the opposite; I need my desk clear, except for essentials. 


Below is a picture of my desk at home, other than my electronics, my ReMarkable2 on the right, and my pen cup. My desk is mainly electronics. So, full disclosure: I have two computer set-ups. The one near the window is my personal set-up. And the one in the corner with the 2 monitors is my work set up. I don’t turn on my home set-up until I am on lunch or done for the day, and then once my home set-up is on, my work set-up gets locked. You will read about a couple of other things in this post: the window to let in natural light, the footstool under the desk, the chair with adjustable arms, and lumbar support. The books on the right and the tissue box are technically on my husband’s desk, as he is behind mine. 

The simple step of decluttering and organizing your space will enhance your ability to concentrate and reduce stress.


2. Personalize Your Workspace


Make your workspace uniquely yours. Personalization can boost your mood and motivation. Decorate your desk with items that inspire you—family photos, motivational quotes, or artwork. A personalized space can make you feel more comfortable and connected to your work. Again, don’t let too much personalization distract you.


As you can see in my desk photo, I don’t have pictures on my desk. For me, they are too distracting. I started to think about the people in them, the events we were at, etc. When my kids were little, I kept their pictures on my file cabinet, bookshelf, or wall behind my desk at work so they didn’t distract me and my co-workers could enjoy them. Make your space yours and change it up every few months or seasons. 


3.     Invest in Quality Ergonomics


Consider the impact of your physical well-being on your productivity. Invest in an ergonomic chair and desk set-up to promote good posture and reduce the risk of discomfort or injury. Here are a few reminders for good posture: Keep your arms at a 90° angle and your monitors at eye level to prevent you from needing to hunch over to see. 


Your physical comfort directly affects your ability to focus and work efficiently. 

I am one of those people who can’t sit still while working, so I have a footstool under the desk to prop my feet on or so I can sit with my ankles crossed. I have a standing desk at the office, so I can change positions when needed. If you are planning to invest money on something in your office, make it your chair. I like having adjustable arms so I can raise them when needed or lower them to push the chair under the desk. I also like having the added back support and the mesh to keep me from getting too hot or sticking to the chair (sticking to office pleather is a real thing!) 


4.     Establish a Routine


Establishing a routine creates a sense of structure, helping you transition into a focused work mindset. Set specific working hours, take breaks at regular intervals, and maintain consistency in your daily schedule. Routines create a psychological cue that signals your brain to switch into work mode. Routines work great for many people, especially kids.


I, however, am horrible with routines. They don’t work for me. I don’t even brush my teeth the same way every time! I keep things very general; I meal plan intending to make the meals “sometime” during the week and then pick from that list in the morning. I block my time based on my energy levels; will spend the first half-hour of the morning on emails, while I drink my coffee, and then start working on my more significant projects, leaving the afternoon for more mundane tasks when my energy levels are fading. 


5.     Leverage Technology Wisely


Embrace technology to streamline your work processes. Some great resources include alarms and timers to keep you on track, reminders for events or tasks, and automation programs like, IFTTT, or Microsoft’s Power Automate to automate tasks or processes. I have the automation to share my blog posts on social media at certain intervals and send auto replies to emails. Hence, people know I received them, and to track my time in each application I use on my computer and add the file name and the time in the file to a spreadsheet so I can bill my clients accurately. 


However, be mindful of digital distractions. A classmate in my MBA program said that using her tablet to take notes was too distracting; she would see notifications from games or other apps and get lost in them for minutes, if not hours. Make technology work for you, not the other way around. 


6.     Prioritize Tasks


Not all tasks are created equal. Prioritize your to-do list by focusing on high-priority and time-sensitive tasks first. Break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and tackle them individually. This approach prevents feeling overwhelmed and helps you stay on track.


See my blog post “Building Success: Approaches to Time Management” for more about prioritization. 


7.     Create a Distraction-Free Zone


Identify and minimize potential distractions in your workspace. Whether turning off

non-essential notifications, closing unnecessary browser tabs, or setting

boundaries with family members or roommates, creating a distraction-free zone

allows you to immerse yourself in your work thoroughly. Sounds easy, right? Nope.

This is usually one of the hardest things to do.


Distractions happen. They can be spouse, kids, parents, friends, strangers, traffic, or a million other things. Removing all of them is a challenge. Don’t be afraid to turn off communications, let people know you are working on something and can’t be interrupted, and ask for help to minimize distractions. Let me tell you a story of how hard this can be. 


I was working on my Bachelor’s degree when my kids were little (younger than 5), and if you have ever met a child, they want attention, especially from their parents. I tried to work on my classwork after they went to bed, but I was usually so tired that I just didn’t have the energy to focus and just wanted to sleep. So, I started leaving early for work so I could work at my desk before my shift started, but people would interrupt me, and I would end up clocking in early and starting work. I realized quickly that it didn’t work, so I decided to make my distraction-free zone my car. After work, I would park at the far end of the lot at work, in the parking lot at a fast food place, in the park, and even a few times in my driveway. I would read, write papers, study, etc., then head home, usually in time to put the kids to bed, but some nights, I would lose track of time, and they would already be asleep. 


Enter my good friend guilt! I felt guilty for not being there, I felt guilty asking for help, but I knew I needed to get my classwork done. I didn’t think I could ask my husband for help; he worked all day, too, and here I am, leaving him to take care of the kids most of the evening. I would lie; I would say I was going out with friends or co-workers, which, for some reason, felt less guilting than staying out to work on schoolwork. The logic wasn’t there, but I figured if he was mad at me for hanging out with co-workers or friends, I was more okay with that than if he was mad at me for working on something I wanted and frankly needed for my career. I know now that he would have been happy to help because he knew how much getting my degree meant. So please learn from my mistakes, ask for help, and tell people what you are trying to accomplish and why it is important to you. If they judge you or get angry, that’s on them, NOT you. 


As you’ve seen, establishing a distraction-free zone is undeniably challenging but crucial for productivity. It requires physical adjustments and the courage to communicate your needs and seek support. This leads nicely to number 8 – Mental Health. 


8.     Take Care of Your Mental Health


Productivity is closely tied to mental well-being. Incorporate stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or short breaks to recharge. Prioritize self-care to ensure you are in the right mental state to tackle your tasks effectively. It is okay to get up and move. Closing your eyes or looking away from your screens is also okay. If you stop momentarily and regroup, your tasks will still be there. There is a saying, and I don’t remember who said it, but it goes:


“Don’t burn your candle at both ends; you won’t shine any brighter, and you will burn out sooner.”


It’s true.


9.     Natural Light and Greenery


Optimize your workspace with natural light and incorporate greenery. Exposure to natural light has been linked to improved mood and productivity. Adding plants enhances the aesthetic appeal and improves air quality, creating a healthier work environment. 


I can’t keep a plant alive, not even a cactus, so for me, plants are just a stressor I don’t need. I do, however, love having natural light, even on cloudy days. When I started working from home, I worked at my desk in the basement. That didn’t last long, as it was always cold down there, and there was no natural light at all. My husband was kind enough to share his office upstairs, and I took the desk facing the window to see some natural light. Remember, don’t let the window become a distraction. 


10.     Regularly Evaluate and Adjust


As your work needs and personal preferences evolve, so should your workspace. Regularly evaluate your set-up and productivity strategies. Adjust as needed to ensure your environment supports your goals and well-being. If something doesn’t work, change it. If that is worse, change it back. Your preferences can change many times and regarding many different things. I used to try turning on background noise to help me focus, but now I work better in silence. Also, remember various projects have different needs. When I am writing, it must be silent; when I am doing data entry or a mundane task, I like heavy-beat rock music, and when I am working on a big data visualization project, classical or folk music works better for me. You need to learn what works for you.


By taking intentional steps to prepare both yourself and your space for productivity, you set the stage for success. Remember that productivity is not a one-size-fits-all concept, so feel free to experiment with different approaches until you find what works best for you. Creating an optimal work environment is an ongoing process that requires attention, adaptability, and a commitment to your personal and professional growth.

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