This is a lengthy article, but I’d like you to do something for me: take the 15 minutes out of your day to read it. When’s the last time you took time for yourself? I’m not talking about the last time that you shut yourself in your office to work. I’m talking about the last time you took some time out for self care. Self care isn’t always bubble baths and sinfully expensive face masks, it’s taking time out of your day to recenter, refocus, and reevaluate. Let’s take a look at your home office space.
Tip #5: Set Your Space
If you’re anything like me, you didn’t really have a dedicated home office at the start of this whole Coronavirus thing. I mean, I had a space with a desk but the room is no larger than a walk-in closet, and the space seemed to have turned into the dumping ground for all the junk in the house that didn’t seem to have its own place. In fact, my husband uses the walk-in closet of this space that I’ve since converted into my “office” into his darkroom for photography. Since we don’t have a garage or shed, one wall is covered with a metal pegboard on which we keep all of our tools. The wall behind my desk has adjustable shelving that I keep all my craft supplies on and where my husband stores his camera collection. All-in-all, I have a 4-foot by 4-foot space that I have been working in since mid-March.
Yes, that’s right. This website, my YouTube channel, and my Patreon have all been managed from this teeny tiny space. Furthermore, I also occasionally (albeit less so these days) interpret via phone or video from this space. I know I’m not the only person out here struggling with their home office setup. I found this very entertaining article (with pictures!) of folks creating makeshift home workspaces from liquor cabinets, ironing boards, high chairs, clothes hampers… the list goes on.
Small Spaces: Good or Bad?
So are these oftentimes tiny, impromptu spaces many of us find ourselves working in bad for us, or are they really a blessing in disguise? There’s research coming from all sides.
- Small Spaces Detrimental to Mental Health
Jacoba Urist argues in a column in the Atlantic that small spaces, especially small living spaces are detrimental to our mental health.
- Feelings on Space Size Largely Subjective
Others posit that our feelings on small spaces are largely subjective; that is to say if you like small spaces, your small office may actually increase feelings of happiness. Of course, if you feel the space you have is insufficient (I’m going to raise my hand, here), your small office likely increases feelings of unhappiness. People who stand on this side of the space debate believe there’s no universal “right” amount of space for a home office.
- Small isn’t the problem: Crowded is.
There is some research that supports the assertion that it’s not the size of the space that matters. It could very well be how crowded the space is that is detrimental. Children’s well-being can be negatively affected if they are raised in a crowded home, and these effects can last well into adulthood. Does your current situation feel crowded?
- Small Spaces OK if Aesthetically Pleasing
Other folks argue that size doesn’t really matter if a space is aesthetically pleasing. Using tiny homes as an example, one researcher says that having a room with a view, no matter the size, positively impacts mood.
So as I said, there’s no real consensus. Given my experience in my god-awful tiny office, I have to say I’m inclined to say that I am certainly not a fan of small spaces, so my mental health is negatively impacted, which I try my very best to mitigate with the creature comforts I have incorporated into my office.
I am certainly not a fan of small spaces, so my mental health is negatively impacted, which I try my very best to mitigate with the creature comforts I have incorporated into my office.
Making Your Office More Pleasant
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology came to the conclusion that minimalist office spaces ultimately make people less happy, and that something as simple as plants can increase happiness and therefore productivity. It’s not rocket science: if you’re happier in your space, you’ll be less stressed, less anxious, happier, and more productive. This is why those seemingly unimportant creature comforts really matter!
Disclaimer: I decided to include a stock photo of an office instead of my own so as not to depress anyone. My teeny tiny closet of an office is anything but ideal. Nevertheless, I’ve made sure to add a few personal touches to lift my spirits. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing mishmash of random personal effects, but it’s surprisingly effective and makes my office feel less like a jail cell and more like a cozy hobbit hole.
As I stated previously, adding something as simple as greenery can boost your mood. Better yet, it can increase the air quality of your space which I’ll discuss in more detail later on. If you’re anything like me and have a black thumb, you’re laughing at the idea of putting plants in your office. If plants could sprout legs and run away from me, they would if they knew what was good for them. That’s why I try to stick with fool-proof low maintenance plants like air plants and succulents!
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to invest in expensive, fancy wall art to make your office feel more at home. Find some things that make you happy, like family photos, mementos, or even get creative and make your own. Here’s what I have on my teeny tiny wall:
- An old sign from a demonstration I participated in. I could write an entire post on this protest, but it was for an issue that is central to the reason why I interpret. It was also one of my first attempts at signage that had gender-inclusive language in Spanish, but I’ve since moved away from using that particular grammar structure since it still adheres to the gender binary. It’s a reminder of what I fought for, what I continue to fight for, and how we all have room to grow.
- My graduation cap. I did a hilarious Grumpy Cat (RIP) design on my cap and a really good friend of mine also borrowed this cap for her graduation as well. It fills me with warm fuzzy feelings!
- A mini art project I did with my stepson. My stepson was obsessed with these little bits of rainbow scratch paper and I decided to do a little portrait of Grumpy Cat. It honestly bears little resemblance which makes it that much funnier.
- A paint-by-number snowy owl. Turn artwork for your office into a calming activity! I did this paint-by-number of a snowy owl while my stepson tried his hand at one of a panda. My husband also started his own paint-by-number around the same time. Eventually they gave up but I stuck with it. The end result was quite pretty and it serves as no small reminder that my perseverance is one of my best qualities.
- A custom painting a friend did for me. Ok, whatever I saved by not purchasing expensive wall art, I admittedly spent on this painting. It’s supposed to compliment my collection of Domo-kun plushies that I just don’t have space to put up and is a mash-up of Domo and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” It’s pretty ridiculous but I love it and I was able to support a friend of mine by commissioning it.
This is something I’m guilty of not doing because there is no way I could ever get enough crap out of this office to do it, but painting your walls is a simple way to improve your atmosphere. In a previous article about call flow charts, I briefly mentioned the psychology of color. This is something I firmly believe can positively (or negatively) affect your mood. Pick a color that will be conducive to how you’d like to feel in your office. Want to boost your energy? Go with something bold. Want to reduce stress and anxiety? Cooler colors are the way to go.
My office has zero built-in lighting aside from a window. But hey, guess what? That window overlooks my neighbor’s yard! If I want privacy (hello, HIPAA) I have to keep the window covered, but if I want light I have to keep the window uncovered. After all, taking advantage of natural light is simply better for you.
My simple solution was to purchase some (non-adhesive) window film that looks like rice paper. I made the mistake of purchasing a very inexpensive version but it was sticky, messy, peeled off at the corners, and was just worthless. I went with a higher-quality film and it adheres well, filters light, but gives me the required privacy I need for video interpreting. It also looks really nice and goes with the zen aesthetic I dream of.
If you don’t have adequate lighting, you really need to invest in a decent lighting solution. It’s common knowledge that inadequate lighting can cause eye strain and other eye problems, but did you know that dimly-lit spaces can actually have a negative effect on your mental/emotional health? Keeping this in mind, these are my suggested features for lighting:
- Adjustable Brightness
Especially if you are supplementing your indoor lighting with natural lighting from a window, this is an absolutely essential feature if you’re interpreting via video. You want to have decent lighting any time of day or night and if you’re super pale like me, lighting intensity can be the difference between being difficult to see and glowing so much you break the white balance. LED lights are almost always adjustable!
- Adjustable Positioning
Different tasks require different lighting in different places. If you’re reading something on a desk next to your computer, you need that spot to be well illuminated. If you’re doing VRI, you’ll want to make sure the light hits you evenly but not directly. Lights that you are able to position, such as track lights, can help.
Don’t get lights that are simply battery-powered, make sure you can plug them in. There is nothing worse than having your lights suddenly cut off while interpreting. It’s startling and if you’re interpreting via video, this can result in suddenly having to disconnect to fix your setup. Actually, there is something worse: having to constantly buy batteries to keep your lights powered!
Lighting as a Deterrent
I’m never alone at home anymore. Even if my door is shut and my headset is on, even though my husband knows he should text me if he needs something, he’ll sometimes try opening the office door. We’ve gotten into arguments. I’m on my third generation of signs that I’ve posted on my office door to keep people from disturbing me. They do very little.
This has led me to consider lighting outside of my office door as a deterrent. Similar to an “ON AIR” light, I have a whole plan for an annoyingly bright red pendant light hanging outside of my office door. The cord will run into my office and plug in to a wall outlet that has a switch so I can turn it on and off from the inside. If the light is on, the entire area will take on an eerie red hue that screams, “Danger, wife is working and only certain death awaits you if you bother her!” Modern problems require modern solutions.
Air Quality and Temperature
Did you know that poor air quality can actually affect cognitive performance? My office is stuffy and sometimes even gives me problems with my allergies. Unfortunately my window is painted shut (thanks previous tenants) and due to HIPAA I can’t really leave it open while interpreting anyways. An inexpensive standalone air filter goes a long way in making you more comfortable and productive in your office! As long as I have my air filter on, I don’t run the risk of randomly having a sneezing attack.
|I just discovered that they make a miniature desktop version of the air filter I have in my office! This looks like it would be perfect for a small space and is a whole $20 cheaper than the one I bought a few years ago.
Temperature is also something important to consider. Too hot, your productivity suffers and you often feel more tired. Too cold, and not only is your productivity negatively impacted, but it can also make you feel sad or lonely. My office is poorly insulated and I tend to sweat when I get nervous, which has created some uncomfortable situations when phone interpreting gets tense. Fortunately my trusty air filter doubles as a fan that I can turn up as needed.
I’ve always loved the smell of lavender. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. We all like different smells because we associate them with our past experiences of them, in a process called associative learning. The fact is, people are actually better at creative problem-solving when exposed to smells they like. In addition, smells that are good to us can improve our mood and therefore increase our productivity. Candles, oil diffusers, and wax warmers are just a few of many different ways you can incorporate the scents you like into your office. But be advised that if you’re using an air filter, it will likely also filter out good smells as well.
Even if you’re using an air filter, there are ways to incorporate pleasant smells into your office outside of candles or oil diffusers including scented lip balms and perfumes. My mom bought me this amazing lavender and orange lip balm from a local farmer’s market and whenever I put it on, I have the aroma sticking around for around an hour. It’s a nice little pick-me-up! You can also put scented body oil on your wrists (make sure they’re not pure essential oils, this will irritate your skin!) and occasionally smell your wrist(s). It may seem strange, but it works well if your air purifier is sucking all your good smells out too! Lavender is my absolute favorite and has the extra-added benefit of being calming.
Don’t Forget the Essentials!
I saved the most important part for last. Why? Well I wanted you to read through the whole article! Many of you would have read about these office essentials and stopped there. In order to get the most out of this article, I really highly recommend going through the whole thing.
You’ve done a great job reading up until this point, so I’m not going to bore you with the finer points of some essential supplies for your office. Here’s a run-down of the items I must have in my office:
- Pens. Lots of them.
- Highlighters in assorted colors
- Notebook(s) or paper
- Lip balm
- 2 glasses of water (or something hydrating that can last you for a while)
- Essential reference materials, such as call flow charts
- My cell phone
- Cell phone charging cable and charging brick
(Don’t plug into your computer, can slow it down)
- Tissues (you never know!)
- Nail or cuticle clippers
(I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck in the middle of a call with a surprise hangnail)
A Grounding Object
The happier we are in our space that we set our office up in, the less stressed or anxious we’re likely to feel. However, as we know the best-laid plans often go awry. There will be moments you’ll probably be overwhelmed with anxiety or stress, and in those moments it’s a good idea to have a grounding object to turn to.
A grounding object is something with which you can self-soothe by bringing your attention to the present moment.
A grounding object is something with which you can self-soothe by bringing your attention to the present moment. Oftentimes when we become anxious or stressed, our thoughts snowball and our minds begin racing. I personally find grounding exercises to be difficult unless I have something to focus on, whether it be my grounding object, a visualization, or a mental image that I can recall with vivid detail. The nice thing about a grounding object is you can focus on it without putting forth a lot of imaginative effort.
My grounding object is a shadow box with a wood carving of a Chinese country scene that belonged to my husband’s paternal grandmother. I never met her, but she was a prolific and successful woman who was the former president of the American Orthopsychiatric Association. I know she had this in her home office where she would often see patients, so it seems right at home on the desk next to my computer. It’s beautifully detailed and whenever I get overwhelmed, even if I can’t remove myself from the situation (i.e. a tense phone interpretation), I focus on the details of the carving. I feel like I notice something new every time and it immediately fills me with peace. I feel like she would approve of how her shadow box was being used to promote her beloved grandson’s wife’s mindfulness.
Your grounding object doesn’t have to be something visual. It can be something tactile like a fidget cube or even something as simple as a smooth stone. Your grounding object is unique to you and the most important thing is that it makes you feel good when you look at it or handle it.
Stay Tuned for the Last Part of My Series!
It’s been a long ride, but we’re almost to the final part of my series on managing stress and anxiety while interpreting remotely during COVID-19. The last part of the series will be an extensive roundup of some of the best techniques I’ve found to manage stress and anxiety when they just seem to be overwhelming. Be sure to subscribe to my site’s articles or follow the KGH Interpretation Facebook page to stay informed of new updates!
Missed the first four articles? You can check them out here:
- Reducing OPI/VRI Anxiety During COVID-19, Part 1: Reference Materials
- Reducing OPI/VRI Anxiety During COVID-19, Part 2: Call Flow Charts
- Reducing OPI/VRI Anxiety During COVID-19, Part 3: Track Your Time
- Reducing OPI/VRI Anxiety During COVID-19, Part 4: Change Your Ringtone
- Reducing OPI/VRI Anxiety During COVID-19, Part 5: Set Your Space
- Reducing OPI/VRI Anxiety During COVID-19, Part 6: Relaxation Techniques
[Cover photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels]
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