Is Your Space Making You More or Less Productive?

This week is World Space Week. While I’m not sure an article aimed at web working astronauts would have that big an audience, taking a look at an alternate meaning of the word “space” might. Your workspace is hardly the final frontier, but it’s definitely an area that could use some attention when it comes to your productivity.

My corner office (so called because it’s literally occupying the corner of my living room) is consistently a tangle of wires, gadgets and gear, but that’s about the only consistent thing about it. It’s also always a work-in-progress, with things constantly being moved around and re-arranged in an attempt to find the configuration most conducive to work.

One of the reasons I spend a lot of time on it is that it’s a good way to procrastinate and avoid the important work I should be doing. But another reason is that the place where I spend the better part of my day had better be comfortable and supremely usable in order to improve both the quality of my work and of my life overall.

I’ve generally used a multi-monitor setup, though I’ve also advocated going down to a single screen to help you focus in the past. Right now, I think I’ve struck a good balance. I still use three screens (though I’d use only two or one if I had a large screen as my main display, like the one of the new 27-inch iMacs (s aapl)), but I rarely look at more than two. I also have my iPad at my workstation, operating solely as a standalone IM client. It resides on my left, outside of my field of view. That way, I can hear when a message comes in and note it, but there’s no visual imperative drawing my attention away from the task at hand.

I have a comfortable, ergonomic office chair, but it shares its duties with a large inflatable exercise ball that I use intermittently for the health of my back. The exercise ball also helps keep me focused and on-task, I’ve found, since I’m basically locked into position when I’m using it, and can’t really slouch or swivel around to check out what’s on TV, for instance. If you’re a web worker who spends hours at a time unbroken in front of the computer, I highly recommend one.

For work that requires real focus, I use a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. If my work urgent as well as important, then I’ll just use them without being connected to an audio source. Silence is golden, and for me, it’s also productive. I think I work faster when it’s quiet because it makes me want to hurry up and move on to another task, one that hopefully involves auditory input.

I used to have a bad habit of catching up with TV shows sporadically during the work day. I still do this, sneaking a show here or there, but now I do it in my work space, often while I’m doing something work-related but that doesn’t require  much attention at the same time. I’ll watch shows on the monitor on the right of my workspace, and do work on the main screen of my iMac. It saves me time because watching a show doesn’t become an event that I have to get up for, attend to, and get back to work from. It happens inline with my productive activities.

My space has taken shape through many years of trial and error, and it works because I know what is and isn’t going to distract me from getting things done. I’ve taken out things like a second computer, which I thought would speed things along but which just ended up being a Facebook/online shopping machine. But I’ve also come back to things like multiple monitors, because working between two apps is just so much easier that way.

To suss out the best configuration of your own workstation, you have to pay attention to the same kinds of things. And remember, nothing that you change can’t be undone, so don’t be afraid to go ahead and try whatever feels right, but always keep tabs on what you’ve done and how it’s affected your performance, or you’ll just find yourself wholly lost in the realm of procrastination.

What do you find productive about your current work space? Can you identify anything that’s definitely a distraction, and if so, can you change it?

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