My tips for setting up your Home Office

apartment style

home office in the apartment bedroom

During the last couple of months I have made a few changes to my home office setup. Right now, my home office is part of the bedroom. Actually, for most of my life, my desk and my bed have been in the same room. For a couple of years I was also living in an apartment with a designated home office, but I didn’t really notice a difference in productivity or otherwise. In fact, I was very productive in my 12 m² room, living with a roommate and my whole life fitting into that single space, with an okay desk, mediocre tech setup and an ugly planner and cheap note book I sketched out my tasks in.

productivity is a mind game

Which brings me to my first point: Your productivity and motivation are intrinsic things. Having a specific setup is not required. Sure, it can be nice to have a pretty space you feel good about. But that’s not a must. In terms of productivity and motivation I would always say: First comes mindset, then your tools (be it your computer or other tools you might use, like art supplies and software), and then the rest, like the space itself and decorating it. Seeing all those pretty home offices on Pinterest can make you feel like you need that light-filled, clutter-free, carefully decorated area.

Don’t be fooled. Your pretty home office won’t do the work for you. It also won’t magically give you a sense of purpose and direction, even if you have that vision board hung up. Productivity is 90 % in the mind — a commitment, a habit, a daily practice.

That being said, if you want to set up a pretty and functional home office, to squeeze all you can out of those remaining 10 %, there are a couple of things I would suggest keeping in mind.

creating space for work

The first question is, where? When choosing an area that makes sense for you and your home, I would consider the available space and existing layouts, but also the amount of natural light in different rooms and whether or not that’s relevant to your work. For example, if you’re on the computer a lot, having too much direct sunlight in the room can be inconvenient. In addition to that, consider how other people in your household use certain rooms and how that might affect your productivity in that particular room.

With our current apartment layout it was basically a decision between the bedroom and the living room. In the living room we had already combined a lounge and a dining area, so space was limited and fitting a desk in there, too, seemed pretty impractical. We still had a little bit of space in the bedroom though. Also, this setup allows for one person to watch tv or entertain guests while the other person can still get some work done.

envisioning your ideal home office

Now that you’ve decided on a room and/or specific area, start thinking about the general vibe you want your new working space to have. I have two approaches for that:

  1. Think of a time when you felt really productive. What did the space around you look like, feel like, sound like, smell like? Write it all down and then brainstorm on how you could recreate that atmosphere in your home office.

  2. Imagine your ideal, productive self or future self. What kind of working environment would that person create for themselves? How could you setup your home office in a way that reminds you of your ideal self? Take notes and brainstorm.

What’s your workflow?

After having clarified your overall vision, now it’s time to think practically: When setting up your home office, think about how you would actually use it. Are you mostly working on your computer? What do you need for that, in terms of tech for example? Do you take a lot of notes or make sketches by hand which requires you to have some additional desk space? What do you need to have within reach, what can be stored a bit further away? Think about your day to day workflow and what kind of setup would fit that best.

Personally, I mostly work on my computer and enjoy having one relatively big monitor right in front of me. I also switch quite a lot between typing and making notes or sketches by hand, so I chose a keyboard that’s pretty small and can easily be put to the side. In general, I’ve tried to limit the decorative stuff on my desk, so I always have enough space for my notebook and my planner, which I like to keep open on my desk. Also, I’ve noticed that I was referring to my outline quite often so I knew I needed some type of pegboard where I could put that up, as well as other visual reminders and inspirational things.

How much storage space DO YOU ACTUALLY NEED?

Having identified a general workflow and according setup, now it’s time to create some storage space. If you have a lot of office supplies, I highly recommend decluttering first. In our digital day and age, I find that many of the traditional office supplies I used to hoard in the past aren’t really things I use on a regular basis anymore. So if you’re short on office space, you might reconsider which items you truly need to have around.

There is a great variety of storage solutions out there. I opted for a versatile and colourful cart, as I wanted something simple, but pretty that didn’t take up too much space. I find that an open design, compared to a bulky cabinet, is best when your space is limited. Also, I recommend organising things in a way that not only can you easily find them but also quickly put away. Think day to day efficiency. For example, I like having a small basket where I can just throw things in and still keep it organised. Other than that, storage can be a great way to combine functionality and decor. Pretty boxes or small colourful containers can be the finishing touches to your home office.

sitting solutions

One point that sometimes gets lost when planning a home office is the fact that our bodies prefer moving instead of sitting all day. While standing desks have gained some popularity, I for one am not able to concentrate that well when standing up. For smaller periods of standing, a height adjustable desk might be a solution to consider. But of course there is always the question of budget.

My regular office at work confirms with ergonomic guidelines so I’m sitting “in the right position”. But one thing that biomechanist Katy Bowman recommends, as an alternative to standing, is to switch your sitting position up as much as possible.

So I got a chair that lets me sit cross-legged, sideways, however I want. I also added a balancing pad that I keep on my seat which makes it even more dynamic. This sitting solution makes it easy for me to sit in various positions throughout the workday, which I totally prefer compared to my regular office chair at work (where I also fold a leg under from time to time, but overall it just feels much more static).

try it out, see what works

I feel like with spaces that are supposed to be highly functional, it’s hard to get it 100 % right from the get go. So my tip would be to try it out and see what does and doesn’t work for you. Maybe you started with a lot of inspirational quotes and snippets around you, but throughout the course of the week get more distracted than invigorated by all that visual noise. Or you might have noticed that you could use a second screen — perhaps you might add another one or put your laptop on top of a little platform of magazines.

Most of us will be somewhat limited in creating the “perfect” working space. It might be a question of budget, available space, as well as other practical considerations. It doesn’t have to be the very best solution. Sometimes, just playing around with what you have and adding little tweaks here and there can improve things immensely.

My 3 last tips

One way to shake things up very easily is having something like a pegboard or a cork board, where you can swap out pictures and other items without having to deal with framing or putting nails into the wall. An unconventional tip is to have a mirror in sight — I remember reading about some study that found that people who can see themselves in a mirror usually perform better in terms of desired behaviour. So if you can see yourself sitting at your desk, chances are that you will actually work instead of messing around. I think this might also work in terms of tricking your brain into thinking that you’re surrounded by people who are watching you and/or also working — I call this the library effect.

Lastly, I want to end with this little reminder: It’s about functionality. Form follows function. So instead of trying to create that perfect Pinterest-worthy home office, I would focus on what you actually need and what’s actually working for you. It’s okay if the space looks more cluttered or less interesting than your favourite home office photo on social media. It’s not the purpose of that space to look a certain way. Its purpose is to be of service to you and to support whatever it is you do.

What’s your home office experience? Do you have any tips for a functional home office? Let me know in the comments!