Set up your workspace (Exercise #12)

May 8, 2006

I enjoyed following Lifehacker's The Coolest Workspace Contest. The winner, Ryan's Orange Simplicity, reminded me a lot of my own home workspace… instead of orange I've got a bright toy store blue on high walls but other than that very similar.

I happened to be simultaneously reading David Allen's Getting Things Done (since I'm going to be seeing him talk tomorrow, and have been meaning to see what this is all about anyway) and have been pleasantly surprised by the well-roundedness of his philosophy. I've always been a big advocate of the power of environment on the quality of life. One of the first steps of the book is to set up your environment… a space all your own both at work and at home that is set up explicitly to aid in your ability to work. A few factors to consider might include:

  1. Time. Spend two whole days setting this space up. By giving it a good chunk of time you will give it the energy it deserves, while also not letting the task of it burden you too much.
  2. Space.  Make sure that this space is entirely your own, not shared.
  3. An inbox… something that can hold items that need to be processed.
  4. A trash can.
  5. A calendar for time-centric tasks.
  6. An open space, paper, pens, a whiteboard maybe, for note-taking.
  7. A filing system and label maker.

These are all very reasonable tools to help set up a workspace in your home and your office. The goal of an efficient workspace is to be able to capture all of the unresolved things that float around in your head. To be able to take ambiguous worries and untie them into individual "desired outcomes" and "next actions".

The power of environment

My outward environment is an incredibly powerful influence on me.  Several of my best tricks to happiness involve manipulating me environment: working in a neighborhood that I like, being able to walk to work, using a Mac, etc.  Our minds not only derive happiness from our environments, but also project their own inner states into our environments.  It's a two-way communication.  What do you think happens first: having a disorganized environment or having a disorganized life?  It's a funny chicken/egg situation.  One will cause the other.  Think of the variety of reactions you've had to people's offices, living rooms, and homes over the years.  You can tell two things from a person's environment:

  1. How a person wants to be
  2. How a person actually is

Isn't that weird?  Actually, it's not that weird if you think about it.  We are a constantly shifting picture between who we want to be and who we are… and because of the two-way nature of our physical working environments, a close eye can catch pieces of both of our selves as they battle, compromise, convince, and betray each other over time.  An environment that is deliberately and wisely set up will be a greatly helpful to the half of you that is the vision of your best self.

Read up more on setting up your environment:

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7 Responses to “Set up your workspace (Exercise #12)”


  1. […] Set up your workspace (Exercise #12) – Radical Mutual-Improvement (tags: blog Creativity GTD Home HowTo Lifehack Lifehacker lifehacks Organization Organizing Productivity Workspace) […]

  2. //bob Says:

    I compartmentalize everything and have it all in easy to reach but in separate places. This works for me. My work space is not a pretty sight but it is functional. I couldn’t work efficiently with a clean desk and my desk looks like I am actually getting something done!
    Hey and I found something Gmail is useful for: a spell checker. I have Gmail open all the time and just wrote this using “Compose Mail” and used the spell checker to correct my many misspellings and then copy and paste to post. Cool! //bob

  3. analysis Says:

    One way I greatly improved my workspace was by getting a Mac Mini. Yes, the hard drive is slow, but otherwise it’s a quick machine that replaces both my Windows PC and my dual-G4 Mac. (You need 2 GB of RAM to do this successfully!). It wasn’t a cheap solution but I freed a lot of space right near my desk, and now I don’t ever again have to listen to the drone of computer fans. The Mini is practically silent, and even the external hard drive I sometimes use for extra storage – a Newer Technology ministack – is fairly quiet, since it uses a thermostat-controlled fan. Also, the Mini uses about 30 watts of power under normal conditions, so your power bill goes down (esp. if you need air conditioning! Not much heat comes out), and you’re reducing your impact on the environment.

    If YOU choose to do this as well, and I strongly recommend it – if you are a PC user, you can use BootCamp and stay in Windows permamently while sstill getting Apple-quality hardware – get a good security system! (Like a cable/alarm for notebooks, it has a security slot.)


  4. […] Radical Mutual-Improvement has some good tips for setting up your workspace: […]

  5. //bob Says:

    My XP laptops are fine for the kind of work that I do and very power efficient. My whole house is powered by solar panels and batteries so being power efficient was one of my main concerns. Never had a virus problem cause I keep everything updated and run a pretty tight machine, Remember that I said that I compartmentalize everything; well one laptop is for my work and one is for entertainment, experimentation, and with a dual boot of Suse 10.0. //bob


  6. […] Aaaah yes Radical Mutual-Improvement preaches on cleaning up your nasty work area. […]


  7. My workspace is always very cluttered. I’m going to try to tidy it up a bit and see what happens. It’s just that I’m used to my mess.


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