For the past eight years, I’ve been working from home at least four days a week, and it’s been wonderful. Avoiding the distractions of a traditional office has made me more productive than ever. However, this isn’t the case for everybody; working from home can add many new distractions.
Here's what I've learned about creating a productive and healthy home office environment.
1. Simplicity & Minimalism
Whenever you find yourself questioning your organization method or wondering about the best way to file something, keep the K.I.S.S. principle in mind.
Try to throw away what you don’t need, and do your best to avoid the gradual art of hoarding. Uncluttering your life whenever possible will reduce stress and improve productivity in the long run. I try to bring this ideology into everything I do, especially my work at home.
Make your workspace as minimalist as possible. Less clutter means less distraction and better focus. Try the following:
- Keep your desk clear of any excess at all times
- Try to store all files and books digitally whenever possible (be sure to have a backup plan)
- Re-examine your use of paper
- Eliminate unnecessary stuff you're attached to
- Simplify your filing system
- Clean out your desk drawers
- Keep the room clear and clean
2. Music for Creativity & Productivity
I always work with music, and there have been studies that prove its effectiveness. For this reason, a quality set of speakers was important for my office.
I wanted something powerful and well-balanced that had a simple and clean design. I went with Harmon Kardon Soundsticks and have no regrets. If you don't like working with music, try listening to ambient noise such as ocean waves, thunderstorms, rivers, or city sounds. I've found that this actually boosts productivity and helps reduce stress while working.
If you live in an apartment with a lot of noise, have kids, or have a lot of noise in your home office for other reasons, I suggest exploring some of the following options to help you reduce the amount of noise in your workspace.
Headphones are likely the best approach to take. A noise-canceling set can be nice, especially if you like dead quiet. Some of the newer, battery-powered noise-canceling earbuds are very interesting to work with: They cut out all white noise, which provides an interesting effect. They don't cut out larger noise though, and I don't typically use them.
I don't use noise-canceling headphones, and I work in a home office with a wife at home and two toddlers (it's LOUD). My secret trick is to combine earplugs and studio headphones. I've tried many different types of headphones to reduce noise, including earbuds and studio over-ear from Bose, Beats, Sennhauser, Audio-Technica and more. The best I've used are Audio-Technica's studio headphones. They sound excellent and they block out quite a bit on their own. Adding earplugs to the mix entirely blocks out screaming kids one wall away during nap time, which is about as loud as you can get next to having construction work done.
Earplugs are essential if you work in a home office with kids around. Like headphones, I've tried many and found that 3M's Classic E-A-R plugs are by far the best in terms of quality, noise-blocking ability, and cost (they’re by far the cheapest per pair). These are typically used by construction crews in cities and are excellent at blocking out sound. The only downside is taking off all the gear when I need to get on the phone.
Most of the noise from outside your office is going to come in through the doorway. I've tried many different approaches to block sound, including a basic door bottom draft blocker made of two fabric-covered tubes, door seal tape (mostly useless), and an acoustic door seal kit complete with an automatic draft seal ($$$). With two toddlers, I've also sealed their doors as well for sound from the outside, and I've found the most economical and best way to seal a door for sound is using a white aluminum-foam weatherstrip kit.
This is also known as a "cinch seal"-style door sealer and is typically used to seal an outside door from cold air. I paid close to $250 for an "acoustic" door cinch kit that I have in my office, and then used this on the doors of our toddler's bedrooms. This combined with a good quality bottom draft works exactly the same for a total cost of about $50.
If you really, really need quiet, insulation is the last stop. I'm currently in the process of renovating our basement and turning it into a larger home office. With kids running around upstairs, soundproofing everything is of the utmost importance. There are all kinds of approaches you can take, including residual channels, green glue, double drywall layers, Rockwool insulation, and foam sealing. Of these, here's what I've gone with:
● 1/8" thick, 1" wide neoprene foam staples to all ceiling joists - this reduces what's know as IIC, which is vibration noise transition. Translation: footfall noise.
● Great stuff foam sprayed in all open gaps and spaces as needed - I decided to do this myself as an added sealer, and it did reduce notice a noticeable amount of sound before any of the contracting work began.
● Roxul Rockwool - This made all the difference. Once the framing work was done and the Rockwool was added, the outside sound went almost dead quiet before the drywall was even up.
If you have an existing room you use as an office and sound is coming through the walls, I'd recommend exploring one of two options:
- Add another layer of drywall and repaint. This is the cheapest option, and you may be able to do it yourself.
- Remove the walls, add Roxul, re-drywall, and repaint. More costly, but you can be 100% sure sound won't come through the walls.
If sounds seem to travel up to you through the floors, consider adding a carpet. This helped quite a bit for me in my upstairs office.
4. Lighting: Natural & Artificial
Always try to have natural light in your office. It helps improve your mood and productivity. If you have a window that opens, even better! In the summer, it’s great to have a breeze roll through on a nice day—it completely changes the work environment and mood. Avoid fluorescent lights when possible, as over-illumination has been shown to cause annoyance and negative health effects.
I’ve found that warm white LED lights typically work best. They’re not too bright and feel the closest to a natural interior light. Look for LED lights with a 2700K rating, which is the exact rating for a true warm white look.
5. Seating: The Right Chair
The office chair you choose is more important than you might think, so don’t skimp on this one. A good chair can be better for your health and can help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and other work-related injuries. You don’t need the latest Herman Miller, but ergonomics are important; you should be able to adjust the height so that your elbows are at a 90-degree angle with your keyboard, and to fix the chair in an upright position to avoid slouching.
I use a chair from Room & Board made by Humanscale that I absolutely love. It was expensive, but it's important and something I use every day.
6. The Desk
A nice desk can make an enormous difference. My desk was handcrafted in Vermont by my grandfather-in-law, and it’s the best. It’s made of rock-solid curly maple from Maine and sealed with polyurethane. Before this, I used a $50 tabletop from Ikea rested on top of two simple wood bookshelves I picked up from Christmas Tree Shop for about $20 each. You don’t need to break the bank to build a great work desk.
7. Plants & Greenery
Having plants in the office helps drive creativity. Combining wood tones and greens has really brought a lot of personality to my office, and I highly recommend it. Green plants have also been shown to keep office workers happier and make a home office space healthier by improving air quality.
8. Design Your Space
Your office is an area where you can work at your best; it’s important to make it your own. I suggest planning what you want before you begin sliding that credit card. If you need inspiration:
My office is a constant work in progress. It's a very important part of working for yourself and deserves a lot of attention. Above all else, be constantly aware of the things that are making you more or less productive. When you tune your office to optimize these things, it can make all the difference.