I’ve been working from home full time for seven years now as a freelance writer, and over the years, I’ve learned a lot when it comes to optimizing how I work from home—mostly through trial and error.
With shutdowns related to coronavirus, I’ve found myself spending even more time at home lately, so I made some further upgrades to my setup, which have not only improved my work routine but have also made me more productive, less stressed, and generally finding better balance while living and working in the same space.
I’m sharing my best tips for how you can do the same and make a few minor adjustments that have major positive impacts when it comes to working from home.
Create a nonwork space in your workspace
If you have a few extra square feet in your home office (in my case, an empty corner of the room), use it to create a designated area for nonwork activities.
I opted to create a comfortable spot for reading, relaxation, and meditation practice with an oversized armchair from Sixpenny, a small side table from Article, and a lamp with an adjustable intensity and color setting to accommodate different activities done at different times of the day. It’s a simple arrangement that has made a huge difference in managing my mental health and taking a more mindful approach to the workday.
Having this space helps me maintain a healthier workday, encourages me to take breaks throughout the day (rather than being locked onto my desk chair all day), and gives me a place to both slowly start the workday and wind down at the end. Research shows this is a wise move: Regular meditation practice is a powerful cognitive-behavioral coping strategy for modifying the ways in which we respond to daily stressors.
Bring the outdoors inside
If you stepped into my home office right now, you might think you’d entered a greenhouse. This is because I’ve recently added quite a few green plants to my workspace with selections from local greenhouses and ordered through online plant company the Sill. With two pets at home with me, I made sure they were animal-friendly varieties that were overall low maintenance.
Having live plants is not only good for my home air quality, but it also has an overall calming effect. Adding plants to your workspace is proven to reduce stress and boost productivity: One study found bringing plants into the workplace boosted overall productivity by 15%, while an analysis of 10 different studies showed that greenery consistently had a positive impact on mood.
Leverage the power of scent
Until recently, I never realized how impactful different scents could be on my workday. Then I started experimenting with diffused essential oils and various candles. Through trial and error, I was able to determine which scents were most effective for producing a focused, positive environment within my workspace. In my case, citrus-leaning scents worked best.
Psychological research can explain the power of certain scents. Rachel S. Herz, an assistant professor of psychology at Brown University, shared in Scientific American that scents do indeed influence our cognition and behaviors.
“In terms of cognition, mood has been shown to influence creativity with the typical finding that people in a positive mood exhibit higher levels of creativity than individuals in a bad mood. Odors can also produce the same effects. When people were exposed to an odor they liked, creative problem-solving was better than it was when they were exposed to an unpleasant odor,” said Herz.
Establish an alternative workspace
Living and working in the same space isn’t always easy, especially when you’re constricted to less than 1,000 square feet, as I am. I’ve found it’s helpful to establish an alternative workspace—especially one that’s outdoors. Studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology show that being outdoors makes people feel more energetic, less stressed, and more alive.
In my case, I opted for a Treepod set up in my backyard. With it, I have a private (and bug-free) outdoor spot I can retreat to on days when I need to get out of the house while I take calls and get work done. This has been especially helpful since traveling off-site for solo retreats and working from a coffee shop haven’t been a viable option lately with the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Experiment and discover
Everyone will have different needs when it comes to a home office setup that’s optimized for maximum productivity and enjoyment, so keep in mind that experimentation is part of the process as you consider the suggestions I’ve shared here.
As you test and try different tactics, be open to making adjustments to find the solutions that best accommodate your needs and preferences.
Kaleigh Moore is a writer and consultant for companies in the SaaS industry.