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Your Workspace - Friend or Foe?

Updated: May 17, 2020

What's your workspace telling you today? What's the daily message you sit down to each morning?

Is it a supportive story or one that's depleting you? Aiding you to concentrate or undermining your every attempt?

Are you even aware of your immediate environment (or microsetting) and the people-place effect it's having on you?

Because it can be a significant hinderance. Or it can act as an encouraging friend, nudging and nurturing you to produce good work.

3 Distractors

Distraction is everywhere and affecting everyone at the moment. It's helpful to identify the main sources of distraction so you know where they are coming from:

  • what's going on in your mind

  • what's going on in your body

  • what going on around you in your environment

Mind: these are intellectual and emotional attention-seekers that seem to pop-up, unasked for, and reroute us whenever we really need to concentrate.

Body: in this context, these are physical signals that divert our precious attention arising from hurt, illness or hunger. If you have a painful throbbing injury or feel nauseous it's likely to be interfering with what you want to be focusing on.

Environment: these are the messages that call to us from our immediate places (microsettings) and interact with our senses. When you get these microsetting messages right they can help you to settle in and get on with your work. On the other hand, unhealthy and inappropriate messages can sabotage your attempts to focus on your work.

This article looks at environmental distractors and considers how Place Therapy can help you to improve your current working conditions.

So How is Your Workspace Impacting You?

Each of us is being surreptitiously informed and directed all day every day by each environment we are part of. Whether you recognise it or not, it's happening. We are all are being shaped and formed and reformed by what's around us. There's nothing sinister about it, it's simply the inevitable effect of the immediate environment upon us as human beings.

We have a certain amount of choice as to what what extent we allow ourselves to be influenced by our microsettings however. We ricochet around unthinkingly under the sensory provocations of our surroundings, or take some control, become more aware and begin to intervene in the way we are impacted.

Taking greater ownership of the design of our workspace environment allows us to begin ameliorating distraction. Removing or mitigating unwanted messages, we can begin to tailor our workspaces to reflect you unique needs and style and become more productive as a result.

Friend or Foe?

If you were to think about your workspace as a person, would you describe it as a friend ie someone who is welcoming, helpful and kind, as someone you feel good around and whose company you enjoy?

Or would you avoid this person because they're a bad influence, draining or diminishing you in some way, distracting you from your work and just making life difficult?

You can think of your workspace as a potential friend or someone you would rather avoid. Who would you prefer to meet at work every day?

Most of us would rather work with a friend, someone who's always ready with an upbeat message and a smile. Your workspace should make you feel this way when you arrive at it each day, wherever it might be - home, office, shed, whatever - particularly during these difficult times.

5 Sense Good Sense

A sensory check is a quick way to discover how friendly your workspace is.

Our sensory systems are like little journalists, constantly gathering environmental messages or stories about the world around us. These stories create an impulse which is sent to the brain and triggers:

  1. a thought

  2. then a feeling

  3. finally, an action (eg getting with your work or gazing around distractedly)

All this happens in a flash. So it's important to become more mindful of the messages and stories you're receiving from your environment, in this case your workspace. Have a careful look around you; is everything fit for purpose ie will it help you engage with your work, or is it drawing your attention away and causing your mind to wander.

Untested workspaces mean you could be allowing yourself to be influenced by sensory messages which are undermining your comfort and focus.

A cold hard seat will insidiously nag away at you, trying to catch your attention and get you to find a cushion or move to another chair. Sorting yourself out a comfortable chair at the outset of your day will reduce at least one distracting message.

Investigate what doesn't work for you in your workspace and mitigate it where you reasonably can. You can begin this process by following the four steps of Place Therapy.

Place Therapy

This is about curating your workplace so it energies you and reflects you at your best. It’s an ongoing honing process comprising four steps:

  1. CLEAR clutter

  2. CLEAN everything

  3. CREATE your (work) story

  4. ENERGISE - bring it to life!

1. Clear: all your senses should up uplifted by everything around you (ideally). If it looks, sounds, smells, feels or tastes bad to you it's probably not right for you, although it might be for someone else. For you, it's simply distracting clutter. Remove it and replace it with something that's going to support you and focus you on your work.

1. Clean: dirt is distracting and undermining, especially in the workspace. Once your clutter is cleared take the opportunity to thoroughly clean before recreating your workspace.

2. Create: what story do you want to experience when you settle down to work in your workspace? What do you want to see, hear, smell, touch and taste around you? This 'work story' may not come quickly or easily to you so allow a few days for it take shape. It doesn't have to be an expensive refit. A simple, well-framed photo of loved ones placed within eyesight can act as a reminder as to what really matters to you in life and why you're working in the first place. Everything you surround yourself with should be able to justify its existence in a way that's valuable to you.

3. Energise: this is about bringing life and movement to your workspace. You bring your own energy when you come to work each day. You can add more vitality with living plants, pets (if you're at home), music, home baking, an open window and so on.

Test Your Workspace

How will you know when you've got it right - when your workspace is really working for you (or as near as can be in current circumstances) and the story you've created is a good fit?

What sensory stories will tell you that what you've created is successful? What will you see, hear, smell, taste and touch when your workspace is as good as you can get it for you?

Because this is about your workspace, no one else's. (Be realistic here eg if your space is being impinged upon by someone else's music, wear headphones and block it out with something more suited to you. If you're sharing a table, create a mini desktop each morning with a small plant, photo and desk lamp to attractively mark your territory without causing undue offence to the other occupant/s.)

Don't stop. Continually honing your places will enable them to support you as your life changes. Your workspace needs in 2025 will not be completely the same as they are in 2020. Keep on top of your environmental stories to ensure they are always relevant to you and supportive of you.

The more adept you become at tailoring places - your work nooks - to your own-working needs, the easier you will find it to begin #WildWorking anywhere and do good work.

Jane Anderson PhD specialises in Sociospacial Reciprocity and Place Therapy. She's been working in wellbeing for nigh on 30 years and is especially interested in the people-place relationship and how it underpins all other aspects of staff engagement and wellbeing. Her Staff Wellbeing Framework Model is now charter-marked for quality assurance.

Distraction illustration by Josh Quick

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