When I was in college, I loved working in the Student Union. On paper, it was not a great place to study—loud, bustling, full of interruptions. But I loved it. On any given afternoon, you could find me with my stack of books, a notebook (I preferred—and still prefer—to take notes by hand), and a big plastic cup of Diet Coke.
Business school, with its approximately one million group projects, was spent holed up in study rooms; crowding around a table with three other classmates as we pored over case studies, parsed out Excel files, and built PowerPoint slides.
In the early days of my career, I worked from a cubicle that I decorated with photos and quotes. When the cramped little corner got to be too much, I would spread out on a big table in the middle of the marketing area (which I’m sure was not at all distracting to my colleagues…).
When I pivoted to full-time remote work in 2016, I learned to make my own spaces: coffee shops, coworking desks, and my dining room table all turned into offices. To this day, if you give me a city and five minutes, I can find you a cafe where you can hunker down and work.
And now, I spend most of my time in my home office with the big blue bookcase, rainbow-woven rug, and windows overlooking my mini-forest.
All of which is to say: where we work matters.
I recently read a Harvard Business Review article that talked about how our physical surroundings shape our work—and coming out of the pandemic, when office life looks way more flexible than ever before, this type of research feels particularly relevant. Many of us now get to choose where we work.
And if I have a tip for you today it’s this: why not change it up?
Because as much as I love my home office (and I do, because I’ve created it to hit all of my sensory needs—candle, ergonomic keyboard, a specific spot for my coffee, etc.), there is magic in going somewhere else.
The Harvard research agrees.
First, it says, “Engage in placemaking to shape your place to better reflect who you are and who you want to be.” (I’m looking at you, Trader Joe’s Peony Blossom candle.)
But then, it continues, “If you’re stuck on a problem or feeling lethargic and uninspired, it may be a signal that you need to work in a different place for a few hours a day. Research suggests that subtle shifts in environment such as ceiling height or natural elements can often stimulate a different type of thinking and influence your well-being. Sometimes we need more than one place to address the needs of the multiple hats we wear at work.”
Which is why you can find me at my favorite coffee shop at least once a week.
When I need to shake out the cobwebs, or find some new inspiration, or finish a very specific deliverable, I change locations. I physically get up and go. And it always helps.
For me, a change in scenery is particularly useful when I have a set of tasks I think I can complete in their entirety in 2-3 hours. I head to the coffee shop, spread out at my favorite big table, and do not leave until my list is done. It is incredibly motivating and one of my best productivity hacks. I’m not only time-boxing, I’m place-boxing, too.
In fact, I might be due for a coffee shop visit this afternoon…
As you think about place for yourself, here are my two questions for you:
- What can you do to make your “typical” workplace feel more like “you”?
- Where could you go to change it up?