I Sent a Productivity Coach Photos of My Workspace — Here’s What She Told Me to Change

published Apr 9, 2023
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home workspace with deep blue walls, wood desk
Credit: Heather Bien

I spent a lot of time getting my home office right. I went through a few different desks, several different colors, and more furniture arrangements than I’d like to admit. And still, that doesn’t mean I actually use it. It looks lovely! It makes me happy each time I walk in there and see the dark navy walls, the darling Rifle Paper rug that I lusted over for years, and the chaise that’s perfect for afternoons when I want to sit for a few while scrolling through Instagram (I’m still a TikTok holdout). 

Yet rarely do I actually pull up a chair to my desk and work. I’ll take Zoom calls there — a navy background with nearly 80-year-old portraits and a stack of books is perfect for a writer — but I can’t seem to get in a flow state when I sit there. Typically, I find myself at the kitchen counter, sitting on a stool, or even in the living room, perched on the sofa.

So, I sent a few photos of my desk and home office setup to productivity expert Susan Lasky to see what she’d recommend. Lasky is a productivity coach and professional organizer who specializes in creating home office systems that help people work more efficiently and effectively, and she helped me understand how I could create a more functional space.

Lasky typically works with clients who are buried in paper and disorganization, which I am not. Besides my planner and a notebook, along with the occasional sticky note, I’m mostly paperless. I don’t keep files and my printer is only used for Poshmark labels. But neat and tidy doesn’t necessarily translate to function. As Lasky says, “A productive office environment is one that supports the way you think and work, and is both functional and inspirational.”

Here’s what she recommended I change about mine.

Credit: Heather Bien

Invest in an ergonomic setup.

This is, by far, the biggest obstacle to working effectively in my office. I bought an Italian birdcage chair off Facebook Marketplace and reupholstered it in a subtle windowpane fabric — it’s such a striking piece. But, as Lasky points out, it’s not exactly ergonomic. It’s too high for my desk and provides little support. There are definitely attractive ergonomic options out there so I don’t necessarily need to go into total office chair territory, but I do need something that offers lumbar support and lets my feet rest soundly on the ground. If I’m comfortable, I’ll work here. Right now, it feels like I’m sitting in an accent chair (because I am) and that’s not sustainable for working long periods of time.

Additionally, while I do have a stand for my laptop, which is helpful, I need to be better about using both the stand and my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. All three of those gizmos lend themselves to a more productive workplace.

Hang a few accomplishments.

I have artwork on the walls, yes, but Lasky has a suggestion: “Perhaps keep some of your published articles nearby for inspiration and ego-tweaking?” Funny enough, my husband just let me in on my birthday surprise — a framed copy of an essay I wrote for Virginia Living magazine this past year. My immediate reaction was that it was too much to spend on framing and I didn’t need it, but upon reading Lasky’s feedback, I told him not to cancel the order. It’s going to hang right above my desk.

Credit: Heather Bien

Optimize task and Zoom lighting.

“I don’t know how effective your lighting is for Zoom calls, and I don’t know how bright your lighting goes, but some people benefit from this, especially those with SAD,” explains Lasky. It’s true that I lean way too far into the ambient lighting sometimes, which translates into dimmer-than-is-practical wattage. I could benefit from a specific task light and perhaps a ring light for calls.

Bring in background music.

Lasky suggests bringing in a speaker for background music, which helps with focus and boredom. I actually do have a small Bluetooth speaker, and I can attest that this does help with staying on task and getting in the mood to work. I always steer clear of music with words, though, which I find more distracting than helpful.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Keep a wall calendar.

This was one suggestion I probably won’t take, but I can see why it could help others. For those working on deadlines, Lasky suggests, “From a tracking perspective I would have a wall chart showing where you are with each project. You might already have this on your computer, but a wall chart would keep the deadlines as clear reminders.” I use my planner and Google Calendar for this, but, if you struggle with remembering to open those types of organization systems, the clear visual reminder makes it easy to see as soon as you sit down at your desk.

Credit: Heather Bien

Set up the reading nook correctly.

Lasky explains, “I love the reading chaise by the window, but the pillow against the wall would mean you couldn’t use the lounge to stretch out your feet when you are sitting with your back to the pillow, unless you had a foot ottoman.” 

I was thrilled to hear that, even as a productivity coach and expert in office organization, Lasky advocates for getting up and moving around — you don’t have to be at your desk nine to five. She adds, “I would also have a rolling sofa table or lap desk for holding the laptop when you want a change of scenery or [exposure to] the natural window lighting.”