There are lots of ways to measure the success of your business, but there is something missing from every balance sheet and annual report. Something almost unquantifiable.  A missing piece of the puzzle called Success.

That missing link is this: Where you work affects how you work.

And how you work affects everything.

Researchers and office designers are also now seeing the benefits of functional and personal work spaces. One university study showed a whopping 32 percent increase in productivity when office workers were allowed to decorate their own office space. Wow! That’s for me!

Here are the top four ways that your office environment might be sabotaging your business by undermining your productivity, motivation and even your physical and mental health.


1. Cluttered Space = Cluttered Mind

One of the issues I hear over and over from business owners and team members alike is that their office is too cluttered for it to be a productive or inspiring work place.

According to an Office Max Workspace Organization Survey, 90 percent of Americans say that unorganized clutter has a negative impact on their life, affecting their productivity, state of mind and motivation. Think all of that affects your bottom line?

And if you work from home, that means a cluttered office is contributing to the overall feel of your home, and could be affecting your family as well.

But it doesn’t stop there. A messy office also impacts others’ opinion of you and your work, with 40 percent of respondents admitting that they assume that a cluttered workspace means the person must be lacking in other aspects of his or her job. This is true whether you work in an office or from home—remember, people can see where you are when you’re on a video call!

There really is no shortcut here. You’ve got to get in there and eliminate the clutter, starting with your desk.

How to De-Clutter Your Desk

Start with the desk top and remove everything. Then, go through each item and use the TAF method. Everything you touch has one destiny: Trash (toss it right then); Action (something you need to work on); or File. It’s best to do this standing up, as it’s a more active position and you’re less likely to get distracted by reading the piece of mail you’re sorting, for example. Make time to process the “action” and “file” piles later.

Once the desk is cleaned off, replace only those items that you need and use on a daily basis—that’s all. Your desktop is not for storage! Essentials might include: a computer, a pen cup, a calendar, a pad of paper and a few inspirational items (see #4 below). Don’t forget a designated “IN” or “ACTION” box and a “FILE” box to keep paper clutter corralled.

Use the same TAF method to work through the desk drawers, bookshelves, cabinets and piles. It may take time, and that’s okay. Set time limits and honor your progress as you go. Really celebrate your progress! It’s no small feat to conquer the clutter on your desk and in your office!

Most importantly, once you have your desk and office nicely de-cluttered, keep it up! Clear off your desk every single night. No matter what! Trust me, since I started doing this one thing every night, I arrive at my desk each morning clear and ready to go.


2. Dark = Decreased Productivity

When I first moved into my home, I put my office in the third bedroom because it made sense. That’s where I’d had it in my condo, and there was a cable outlet in there for the modem.

Problem was, it was the smallest, darkest, stuffiest room in the house. Where every other room has huge picture windows (the entire back wall of my house is windows), this room has just one 24-inch window. And it’s situated under a towering pine tree.

One summer day a friend was working with me. The air conditioning wasn’t doing much (this is the farthest room in the house and I think the ducts just kinda lose steam) and the ceiling fan was blowing our papers all over the place.

Frustrated, he said, “This is ridiculous! What are you doing? Can’t you use the dining room for your office?”

At first I protested. Because it’s the dining room. Never mind that I had no actual dining furniture and it was more of a storage room for my recently-deceased mom’s belongings that I didn’t know what to do with.

My friend helped me shift my mom’s stuff and I created a light-filled (there’s over 72 inches of windows in here!), bright, airy space that overlooks my courtyard with a magnolia tree. Almost immediately I noticed a huge shift in my work, my creativity and my overall sense of well-being while I was working.

Let There Be Light!

I tell this story because light really does affect our work. Researchers have been studying the effect of natural light on workplace productivity since the 1920s. Study after study has shown that light has tons of positive psychological and physiological effects. Effects include increased productivity, increased sense of well being, reduced stress and increased attention.

Light is so vital to employee health and satisfaction that some European countries require that workers be within 27 feet of a window.

So it’s important to have a window (or two!) in your office to let in as much natural light as possible. As an added bonus, seeing nature (or even just the color green) is an instant de-stressor. TIP: Add a live plant to your space to promote lots of brain-friendly oxygen for focus and concentration.

In addition to natural sunlight, artificial light is also important if you’re in the office in the evening hours (and who isn’t?). A good desk light is critical—even during the day—because it helps to reduce eye strain and fatigue. For ceiling lights, look for energy efficient, long-lasting LED fixtures without the annoying hum of fluorescents or the heat of halogen bulbs. To simulate daylight, look for bulbs with a temperature (color) of 5000-6500K.

If your home office doesn’t have natural light, find ways to bring the outside in. Good artificial light sources are doubly important, as is some kind of nature-themed artwork. Look for an art print of a beach scene or grove of trees. Either could work wonders for a windowless space!

Assess your energy levels and how you feel if you work in a windowless office. In some cases, you may want to consider relocating your home office to another part of your home where you could reap the benefits of natural light.


3. Your furniture is physically or psychologically hurting you.

Really the two essential pieces of furniture for an office are a desk and a chair. Everything else—such as client chairs, filing cabinets and bookshelves—is important, but your desk and chair form the command center of your business.

Your desk should have a sufficiently large surface for your essential items such as computer equipment, whatever office supplies you need at hand every day, as well as a few inspiration pieces (see #5 below).

Invest in a good chair!! I cannot stress this enough, and your body will thank you. Most entrepreneurs spend hours at their desks, and many have back, neck and shoulder issues. A good chair that fits your body will be comfortable and should last a good while. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it should be sturdy and provide support where you need it most. Click here for a helpful guide on finding the right chair for you.

How to Place Your Desk

Now that you have the essential pieces of furniture, where you place them is important, too! I discovered a brilliant post about desk positioning on Karen Kingston’s blog (she wrote the book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, which I highly recommend).

She says that the “best position for a desk is facing into the room with a solid wall behind you and a view of all the doors and windows in the room.”

Even better is what Kingston calls “the command position” in feng shui, which is sitting diagonally opposite the door.

Not every room layout will accommodate these prime positions, however, there are two “worst positions” to avoid if at all possible:

  • Worst position #2: Facing a wall. Kingston says that, “It’s rare to meet achievers of any kind who sit looking at a wall.” The energetic effect of facing a wall, which represents an insurmountable obstacle, squashes a person’s spirit rather than inspiring them.
  • Worst position #1: With your back to the door. The absolute worst position is to sit at a desk with your back to the door. Sitting like this releases the stress hormone cortisol. (It’s a primal protection thing.) Not very creative or inspiring!

Here’s a simple way to move around your furniture and find the perfect fit before breaking your back trying a bunch of different positions. Create a scale drawing of your room on a piece of graph paper, measuring the walls and noting any doorways and windows. And then measure and draw shapes to represent the furniture pieces and place them on the room drawing, playing with different layouts until you find one that feels right.

To make it easy, you can get a free excerpt from my Room Arranger Room Makeover Toolkit by clicking the graphic below. The mini toolkit includes graph paper and pre-measured shapes for common pieces of furniture.


4. Uninspired = inefficient

So now you have a de-cluttered, light-filled, efficient space with great furnishings … that’s all you need, right? Almost. Just one more ingredient to keep your office (and your business) humming. This one will keep the momentum going, the creative juices flowing and the engines revving.

It’s important to surround yourself with things you find beautiful and inspiring—the things that keep you going. When you feel good in your office, your mind will be able to focus on the task, the problem, or the project at hand.

Exactly how you do this is really a personal preference. Think about adding one or more of these elements to your office:

  • Pretty file folders
  • Scented candle (citrus scents uplift your mood)
  • Awards, certificates, diploma (use a gallery ledge for a modern look that’s easy to change up)
  • Inspirational quotes (such as wall decals)
  • Plant/flowers (bonus points for nature!)
  • Photos of loved ones
  • Treasured collectibles
  • A copy of your vision statement, mission statement, logo, book cover—whatever it is that you’re working on or towards
  • A vision board or visual representation of your “why” statement

Just remember #1 on this list and don’t let these fun, inspiring and meaningful things clutter up your workspace. Here’s to your home office success!

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