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A Workplace That Works: How to Create a Workspace That Improves Productivity

Creating a productive workspace
Credit: mavo/Shutterstock

Every day, businesses encourage their employees to be more productive. But in an office setting, what exactly does that mean?

"Workplace productivity isn't about getting from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time, but, rather, getting the job done in the most efficient manner possible while still maintaining a level of happiness and well-being," said Jamie Fertsch, director and co-founder of XDesk, a U.S.-based company that creates customized, ergonomic desks out of environmentally friendly materials.

In the process of designing the firm's signature desks, Fertsch learned how much of an impact an individual's space can have on their work. "Your personal workspace is one of the most overlooked factors that affect productivity," she said. "Whether it's rummaging through your drawers to locate an important document or having too many knick-knacks, a clean and efficient desk setup is key to your success."

Wondering how to create a productive work environment? Fertsch shared her tips for creating a workspace that promotes productivity and keeps you focused on the task at hand.

"The best way that I stay focused during a long day of work is to acknowledge when I've hit a productivity wall and to take lots of short, quick breaks to gain a new perspective on what I'm working on," says Fertsch.

Research bears her out; multiple studies show that breaking up your work time with mental rest periods improves your productivity while moving around in small bursts throughout the day can lower stress levels and improve your health.

Fertsch's company makes a stand-to-sit desk that encourages changing positions and moving throughout the work day. But you can build other opportunities for movement into your workspace. Putting the copy machine or phone on the opposite side of the room from the computer, for example, or having a central water cooler creates reasons to stand and move.

"Productivity is not directly correlated with time spent on a task," Fertsch added. "So it's important to make sure that you're recalibrating and refueling every once and a while."

Sometimes unexpected changes have a big effect on productivity, said Fertsch, like keeping a small plant on your desk or in your office. "I like to make my space feel a little more alive," she explained.

Fertsch stated that houseplants are not a traditional method of creating a productive workspace, but that doesn't mean their impact is imaginary. In 2014, a research team in the United Kingdom found that having plants in the office boosted productivity by up to 15 percent, along with increasing workplace satisfaction and how engaged employees felt with their work.

Smartphones, tablets and other gadgets can help you stay organized and efficient. But they can also lead to a lot of wasted time. Studies have found that smartphones negatively affect daily productivity. A survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam found that, on average, office workers spend nearly five hours a week doing tasks on their mobile devices unrelated to work. That's more than half a work day.

For Fertsch, the best way to avoid this wasted time is to find a home for gadgets and leave them there. "These days, we all have so many screens competing for our attention, so create a 'home' for your smartphone, smartwatch, and other potentially distracting gadgets," Fertsch recommended. "Keep them in a dedicated place while you do your work so you won't be sidelined by a constant stream of notifications."

Clear out a drawer and use it to store your phone and other gadgets. If they're out of sight, you won't be as tempted to check them throughout the day.

Common wisdom might say that a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind. But Fertsch finds that staying tidy is key to staying productive.

"Take a few minutes every day to tidy up your workspace," she recommended. "You can do this by throwing out unnecessary items and maintaining whatever organization system suits your style so those extra distractions and clutter don't bog."

Messy workspaces are more likely to create problems that new ideas. According to research done by Brother International Corporation, office employees spend the equivalent of 38 hours – nearly an entire workweek – looking for lost or misplaced items every year. The cost of that disorganization is close to $89 billion annually.

In addition cleaning and organizing her workspace every day, Fertsch organizes her to-do list so she doesn't waste time at the beginning of her workday. At the end of the day, she sits down and writes out what she needs to get done tomorrow. "[This] helps me reflect on what I accomplished for the day and how I can move forward to produce great work tomorrow."  

Personalizing your space can increase your emotional connection to your work, but keeping your workspace organized also means limiting clutter. To strike the right balance, Fertsch recommends limiting personal items to ones that are particularly meaningful or useful.

"While items that you don't frequently use shouldn't take up valuable desk real estate, I still like to tailor my space to appeal to my visual side," Fertsch said. In addition to a productivity-boosting plant, she keeps a personal desktop calendar, which helps her stay on track throughout the workweek.

She also recommends choosing personal items that inspire you to be productive. "I like to keep a framed photo of my kids on my desk," Fertsch said. "They're the ones that really keep me motivated throughout the day."

Whether you have dozens of employees or work from home by yourself, setting up an efficient, personal workspace is one of the best things you can do for your productivity and mental well-being. "There will always be objective goals set in a workplace," added Fertsch. "But productivity can also be personal, which is why it's important to foster an office culture where employees want to give it their 100 percent at all times." 

Katharine Paljug

Katharine Paljug is a freelance content creator and editor who writes for and about small businesses. In addition to Business News Daily, her articles can be found on Your Care Everywhere, She Knows, and YFS Magazine. Visit her website to access her free library of resources for small business owners, or follow her on Twitter as @kpaljug.