Whether working on a dissertation, conducting research, or grading papers, an efficient workspace can enhance your performance.
There are countless articles about how to organize your office or desk, but let’s face it – one size does not fit all. Different things work for different people, and sometimes we need to be creative. It’s important to keep things simple, focus on what you need, and be ready to adapt.
Changing something simple can make a world of difference.
For instance, my desk used to face towards a window. Initially, I thought I’d gain inspiration and feel relaxed because I could gaze outside during the workday. Quite the opposite; I became distracted. I watched birds, stared at clouds, and constantly thought about being outside. Then I moved my desk so that it faced a wall. It wasn’t a particularly interesting wall, but the change in scenery helped immediately. I could focus on work, and after a report or meeting, I’d stand up and walk to the window. It became a nice break, and it always felt rewarding.
Keep it Simple and Focus on the Essentials
I kept it simple, and I focused on what I needed — I needed to concentrate. Eliminating distractions makes it easier to focus, and distractions come in all forms. Take an inventory of your surroundings and identify what you need and what you don’t need in order to remain focused.
Have a Supply of Snacks at Hand
It’s helpful to keep a healthy snack within arm’s reach while working, perhaps a small bowl of fruit or a health bar. Not only is this good for you, but it prevents you from breaking focus to get up and rummage through the fridge. You probably don’t need your phone right in front of you while you’re doing research, alerting you every 10 minutes about who called or texted. Put the phone on the charger somewhere away from your desk. When you take a break or stand up to stretch, you can walk over and check your phone. If you’re in a public place, you can keep it in a bag or backpack.
If you’re prepared, almost anywhere can be your work station.
Changing your workspace doesn’t have to be drastic, but your workspace might change drastically. It’s the nomadic life of a scholar. Your well organized desk at home — stocked with pens, supplies, notebooks, ergonomic keyboard, and LaserJet printer — won’t do much for you when you have to take the show on the road. Be ready to adapt.
Make sure you have the supplies you need beforehand, and the train ride, the waiting room, or the office lunchroom can become your workspace. But be aware of your surroundings, because not every location is conducive to every activity. For instance, don’t schedule an important phone call with your adviser when you plan to be working in a noisy coffee shop. Don’t plan on quietly editing your dissertation near the group of noisy undergrads in that one section of the library.
There are plenty of tips about organizing drawers and de-cluttering your desk, but from a macro level it’s important to keep things simple when it comes to your workspace. Examine what you need to remain focused, and take note of distractions that break your concentration. Your work environment may not always be ideal, but basic preparation, awareness and a little creativity can help you turn any location into an efficient workspace.