Once upon a time I worked on a school campus with students who needed extra help. I pulled kids throughout the school day for work in small groups or one-on-one, helping finish homework, write papers, or practice math facts.
At the end of each day at this job I felt icky. I was drained and tired and just plain old exhausted. Every. Single. Day.
I was short-tempered and tight-lipped and usually left with a knot in my stomach.
I thought it was because of the students. I had recently been studying Covey’s work and was pretty convinced that I needed a different paradigm about the kids I was trying to help. Many days I felt helpless, like I was not making any progress with them.
One Monday I walked through the door to a surprise. The furniture had been rearranged. The walls freshly painted. The supplies organized into neat, colorful baskets and bins with a meaning to their location. There was more light in the room.
I felt the rubber band holding me together loosen a little bit. I took a deep breath and smiled. And at work that day, I felt so much better. I was more patient with the kids, smiled, laughed, and enjoyed myself more.
The kids noticed it too. They all commented on how different the space looked. And the attitude of every single person was improved. The weeks passed and because the new room was setup so well, we were able to maintain our new normal, which was higher functioning.
I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. The space occupied by a person or group hugely impacts the way we feel and think, the ability to focus, and the way we behave toward others. I do not remember reading that in Covey’s work.
I was the ripe old age of 23 when this happened. A year and half out of college with a lot to learn about the world of work.
And that day, thanks to a colleague who was older and wiser who recognized the need for a physical space facelift, I learned it.
We went from dingy, dark, messy, scattered to clean, bright, neat, and organized. Which list of words feels better?
Take a minute while reading this to check-in with yourself about how you feel. Are you having a day where you feel focused and productive? Are you feeling distracted by your inbox? Thinking vaguely of the project or deadline that you have on your plate but have zero motivation to work on?
Where are you right now? (Don’t worry, I won’t ask what you’re wearing.) Are you at home? Work? A coffee shop? Now look around your space and really notice what’s going on. Is it clean or dirty? Cluttered or organized?
Is your space supporting your groove?
If the answer is no, what would have to happen for it to become a yes?
What systems could you put in place for your space to support your work? Your creativity?
To make you feel and think better?
A spot for your keys. A 15-minute ritual to clean-up, tidy, and organize before you start working. (Set a timer so that picking up doesn’t become a procrastination tool.)
Don’t forget about the digital clutter too. Do you need to change the setting on your computer so your email doesn’t automatically open and distract you? Plan time in your schedule to delete emails that you no longer need?
Five years after my first experience with a physical space facelift I found myself working in a state building that had probably not been updated since I was in the throes of puberty. Or longer. It did not take long to experience that drained, icky feeling again. To crave the sunshine.
If you find yourself in a space that you can’t change or improve the way you’d really want to, it might be time to get creative. What kind of lighting can you add? Would a plant help your space? Or one or two carefully selected pieces of art? Try to avoid covering up dinginess with clutter in the form of too many kid drawings, Post-it Notes, and random scraps. A former colleague used to keep two two pieces of framed art that her daughter made in her office and she always said it was just enough. That she didn’t like the way it felt when her office was covered with her daughter’s work. Lot’s of kid art samples can be well-intentioned, but just as distracting as clutter. And kids get a kick out of knowing their artwork in framed. A win-win!
What else can you do to create a space that supports your work and productivity?
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Sara Marchessault is a coach, writer, and mom who helps busy women use journaling to create more space in their life for being productive without feeling overwhelmed. To learn more about Sara and her work in the world, please visit saramarchessault.com.