6 Ways to Create a More Peaceful Workspace

To get to my desk, I have to step over a pile of clothes I’ve been meaning to put away, clear boxes of books slated for charity and dodge an “in” tray that rivals the height of my five-year-old. On my windowsill sits a forlorn fern in its final death droop. I sigh. My office is decidedly NOT Zen-like.

But oh, how I long for it to be. A desk free of clutter, with healthy plants, a place for everything and everything in its place. Those who’ve achieved it say I can expect a boost in productivity and enjoyment in work, and a decrease in stress.

Gina Mazza Hillier promises me nothing less than “greater joy” if I can see my way clear — literally. Hillier is author of Everything Matters, Nothing Matters: For Women Who Dare to Live with Exquisite Calm, Euphoric Creativity and Divine Clarity and someone who has created her own Zen-like office space in her home.

She makes it seem so easy.

When she decided to work from home, Hillier removed everything from the space that would become her office. Then, she says, everything she put into that empty space — from the paint on the walls to the fresh flowers to the whimsical artwork — was placed there with intention.

And that seems to be the key, say the experts. Creating a space that nurtures your soul, boosts creativity and productivity, and encourages success is a product of consideration. Serenity is no accident.

And don’t confuse serenity with being laissez-faire, say the experts. A serene office will help us get more work done with less stress, leading to a fatter paycheck and increased well-being. I’m convinced. So where do I start?

1. Wipe the slate clean to get serene

Like Hillier, personal organizer Betsy Simmons – dubbed the “Queen of Serene” by her clients – suggests a clean slate, whether working from home or in an office tower. “Start from scratch and designate or zone this space within it for a specific purpose,” she recommends. “Remove everything. A fresh coat of paint is a good place to start.” Steer clear of red, orange or yellow, which Simmons calls fast colors, noting that they’re usually the colors of choice for fast-food restaurants. Instead, she recommends blues, greens and lavenders…but with a bit of punch to keep you calm but moving forward.

Starting with a fresh slate, promises Simmons, means that you create an environment that will work for you.

Then determine what you need in this location. A desk is generally a given, but choose a style that suits your needs without compromising. It’s too important a piece to try and simply make do, believes Hillier. Hillier also subscribes — “lightly,” she says — in the principles of feng shui. Simmons recommends the desk be placed facing a door and without a window to your back. “Open space draws energy from you and you want strength behind you,” she explains. Get a comfortable chair that keeps your posture erect but relaxed. “Or use a ball,” suggests Simmons. “It’s great for your posture.”

2. Work the system

Create a system and work it until it’s second nature, says Regina Leeds, known as The Zen Organizer and the author of six books including the New York Times bestseller One Year to an Organized Life and the upcoming One Year to an Organized Work Life (January 2009). “Another word for system in this context,” she explains, “might be ritual, habit or routine. If your day is run by the whims of others, you won’t get much done.”

Simmons agrees. “The more you can control and maintain the space, the more time you have to catch the curve balls that keep coming.” With that in mind, create zones in your office that reflect the different aspects of your work life — a priority zone, which is usually what you’re working on, a reference zone, and so on. Choose a system of organization — alphabetical, color-coded, by date or topic — that works best for you. Then stick with it, always returning things to their rightful zone.

Simmons also suggests that those of us seeking office serenity start each day with a plan. “Each minute of planning can save one hour of execution.” Then spend a few minutes at the end of the day on cleanup. “Do not pass it on until tomorrow!” she insists. “What a horrible way to start a day…by finishing up yesterday.”

3. Clear the clutter

While every magazine promises us the key to curing our lives of clutter, why do so few of us succeed? “Getting organized is a skill,” reminds Leeds. If it’s not something that we learned from parents or that comes naturally, it’s something we not only need to learn now, we need to take action to implement. With that in mind, clear anything out of your office that isn’t directly related to your work or to helping you work. That means kids’ toys (gulp), family photos (double gulp) and any extraneous stuff that isn’t currently relevant to your work or to creating a peaceful space.

4. Green and light are a go!

Bring in live plants. Not only do they help clean indoor air, they’re a positive life force. And by all means, light candles that lend an air of calm. Ensure that they’re nontoxic. Artwork that inspires is a great addition to any office space. And don’t just think of your walls. A beautiful rug can be art for your floors. Hillier includes fresh flowers in her office space. “They add to my energy,” she says.

5. Use the zone concept to get more done

Keeping in mind your office zones, tackle work in the same way. Group together tasks, such as phone calls or errands, blocking out more time than you think you’ll need to ensure that you complete tasks and complete them well. Leeds reminds us that “Time is a commodity. It can be wasted but never recovered.”

6. Work to live, don't live to work

Our work should complement our lives, giving us greater meaning, greater joy and greater balance. An office space that soothes our soul while it stokes our energy will be a place we’ll look forward to entering. It will lead naturally to a career that enriches not only our wallets, but our beings.


Leslie Garrett is the author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World (and one our kids will thank us for!). She plans to create a Zen-like office…as soon as she can find her desk. Visit her at www.virtuousconsumer.com.

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