What can I do to my office to help keep me calm, focused, and motivated?
September 27, 2011 8:15 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to my office to help keep me calm, focused, and motivated?

I am a computer programmer and I'd like to take advantage of the psychology of perception, objects, and habits to improve my productivity. My productivity's primary foes are procrastination and anxiety, so I'm looking for things which can help keep me calm, focused, and motivated.

What can I do to my office that will encourage me to work longer, more effectively, and with more enjoyment? I'd like to keep this open-ended, but I'm imagining answers to include things as varied as habits, headphones, plants, pets, decorations, kinds of music, pieces of software, certain colors, food items, toys, stress-relievers, appliances, etc. Anything that makes work more productive and/or more enjoyable.

I spend most of my time in an office shared with one person, some time at home, and some time in a computer lab environment, so suggestions that apply to any of those environments are welcome.
posted by callmejay to Work & Money (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
i had a small water fountain on my desk that i found quite soothing. it also made me want to pee a lot but ymmv.

something like this
posted by h0p3y at 8:29 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a picture of John Carmack programming next to my monitor.
posted by michaelh at 8:30 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Podcasts and music are really good for my productivity. A lot of times they'll give the easily-distracted part of my brain something to focus on while the rest of my brain focuses on actually doing productive work. For podcasts, I like stuff like Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, This American Life, Freakonomics, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Planet Money, Thinking Allowed -- interesting nonfiction, but stuff that doesn't go too deeply into any given topic. My music varies depending on what I feel like, but my tastes generally tend towards folk (well, really acoustic music in general) and classical. At my current job (not an office job at all -- I sort and stock freight really early in the morning at a large retail store), I listen to Girl Talk if I'm starting to drag and need to keep my brain alert.

I've recently started experimenting with apps like Quiet to eliminate distractions while writing. Thus far, I've had a lot of luck with it. Something else I'm working on is keeping a record of my work, what I need to do, et cetera. For me, this is taking the form of a blog about my academic work where I talk about what I need to do and how well I'm doing at actually getting it done; I'm thinking about starting to publish the amount I read and write each day to create a greater sense of external accountability. I'm not sure how well this would translate to your job (I'm a grad student in the humanities), but maybe some sort of accountability buddy would be a good idea.

Also, getting up occasionally (half hour or so) to wander around, maybe chat with someone a bit, go to the bathroom, get a snack, refill your water bottle, whatever, can be really good for your productivity. Don't chat with your coworker for too long, but a few minutes of water cooler gossip can be refreshing for both of you.
posted by naturalog at 8:33 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Simply Noise!

I often find myself putting on headphones at work and forgetting to play any music or white noise. Just the act of wearing the headphones helps: it dampens the noise around me just enough, and makes me feel like I'm in my own bubble without actually isolating me.

For things I do at home, I have a fleece Bulbasaur hat that I only wear when I'm working on something. When I wear the Bulbasaur hat, I mean business.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:33 AM on September 27, 2011 [10 favorites]

I actually find that I am most productive when the area around me is *not* full of a lot of visual distractions. This will be highly variable, but if you're like me, it can be useful to have storage stuff set up well so that you can have, for example, easy access to snacks... but not constantly have that box of raisins sitting out on your desk where your brain is constantly thinking, "Oh, raisins! Do I want a raisin? Oh, no, I don't want a raisin. Back to work!" Procrastination, similarly, seems to be easier if games show up on my start menu every time I open it, so I try to hide them a bit more so they're out of sight, out of mind.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:35 AM on September 27, 2011

I'm fond of having something to smell--like lavender or cucumber oils, like the Kiehl's roll-ons. Calming, but not as smelly as a candle.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:42 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

High CRI illumination, for instance expensive halogen bulbs, color temperature around 3500-4000K.

Damping of sound reflections, like in a recording studio. Creates a really pleasant environment.
posted by krilli at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2011

I find that I can't concentrate if there is music with lyrics playing in the background - I end up listening to the lyrics. For serious concentration, I like to listen to baroque chamber music (especially Bach) or Gregorian plainsong.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's my plants that make the difference for me. I look at their leaves or flowers or stems for awhile and feel recharged. I do think they improve the air quality, too.
posted by bearwife at 10:57 AM on September 27, 2011

In my shared office I keep a water cooler fish tank. Just gold fish, but for some reason it seems to make people happy. It's been there for years and yet every day someone tries to get a glass of water from it only to find that they are eye-to-eye with fish.

If you actually try that, there's a trick to it, so Memail me for deets.

Scent has a real calming effect on me too. I keep a car air freshener in one of my desk drawers to keep it very subtle. "Money House Blessing" is pretty cool.

When the weather cools down a bit I'm going to start wearing slippers/house shoes in my office. (I like to wiggle my toes and let my feet scratch each other when I'm mentally working through things.)

Don't forget, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." YMMV depending on where you work and who you work for, but if you're under any kind of pressure with deadlines and whatnot, it's very good to be able to blow off some steam right there at the work place through mild pranks or shooting silly fun things to various printers. "Pranks" are much better when they are things that can make a co-workers day AWESOME!
posted by snsranch at 5:58 PM on September 27, 2011

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