I did some remodeling on my home recently. To be specific, I remodeled a lower-level half bathroom (I live in a tri-level) and added a shower so I would have two full bathrooms in my home. Adjacent to that bathroom was my office. I really hated this office. I have no idea why. It was perfectly functional, but I have always hated it. During the pandemic, I completely rearranged it… three times. I tried my desk facing north, south, and west, and none of it felt right. I just couldn’t make it feel good no matter how hard I tried. I told myself that I was rearranging it because I needed better light for my Zoom calls. Ultimately, though, I ended up spending a good portion of my time sitting on a very uncomfortable bar stool at my kitchen counter for my calls instead of on my nice comfy office chair because, well… that’s just it, I have no idea why. I even tried repainting and redecorating it to absolutely no avail. I simply was not productive in that room, no matter what I tried.
So, I moved my guest bedroom to the office and moved my office to where my guest bedroom had been. I had long hesitated to do this because I had just remodeled my guest room in the past year with all new furnishings specific to that room and fresh paint on the walls. It was genuinely lovely. But I talked myself into it, convincing myself that even though the new guest room was small, it made more sense since it was next to my newly remodeled bathroom. I must have measured the space at least 10 times to make sure the recently purchased furnishings would fit appropriately. I bought more paint, repainted the room a second time to match the other guest room that I had just repainted to complement my pretty new guest room decor, finished out the closet that I had just torn out during the remodel since I didn’t need it for my office, and moved my lovely guest room to my former office. I was prepared to dislike my new guest room just as much as I had disliked my office when it was in that space, but, lo and behold I loved it! It was cozy and inviting and just as lovely as my previous guest room.
Meanwhile, I moved my office upstairs. Mildly disappointed in the paint scheme (after all, it looked like a lovely guest room and definitely not like I wanted my office space to look), I simply didn’t have it in me to repaint a room yet again. I decided to just leave the walls in their lovely guest room colors. I moved my very heavy office furniture up the stairs with the assistance of my ever-helpful son and spent a week or two arranging and rearranging the room. Much to my shock, I loved the space. I still don’t really know why; perhaps a practitioner of feng shui might have some ideas around that. It looks a bit mismatched and haphazard. But somehow, swapping those two spaces made a world of difference in my productivity. On the days I work from home, I happily sit in my nice comfy office chair for hours on end, fully engaged in my Zoom calls. I wouldn’t dream of sitting at the kitchen counter again. I can concentrate on my online classes, do my homework, write, study, even pay my bills and do my taxes in a better frame of mind. I was completely stunned by the change in my energy. It was crazy the difference it made to swap the two rooms.
All of this really got me thinking about our environment and just how much it affects our productivity. There are the obvious distractors such as noise, clutter, the dishes in the sink, etc. But then there are also less obvious ones. In my case, I still don’t really know what made the difference. But there was absolutely a huge difference. In Atomic Habits, James Clear offers us numerous examples of the relationship between environment and our behaviors. One thing that he points out is, “Our behavior is not defined by the objects in the environment but by our relationship to them. Stop thinking about your environment as filled with objects. Start thinking about it as filled with relationships… You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.”
While we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make, we can foster an environment that makes it easier to make better, and in my situation more productive, choices. At the end of the day, it isn’t even necessary to understand why something is the way it is. I don’t think I will ever understand why I was so unable to focus in the space that had previously been my office, but I do know, without doubt, that moving to a different space has made a world of difference for my productivity! Oh, and incidentally just in case you’re curious, my desk currently faces west, just like I had it in my old office.
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