Doing deep work, like writing, requires focus. And with the right setup, you can make your writing space feel more productive and inspiring, thereby enabling that kind of focus. You just have to know where to begin.
According to four business leaders, the most common must-have for getting started is knowing your personal work style and using that understanding to optimize your workspace. Here’s a breakdown of how these leaders keep their physical and virtual workspaces productive, and how you can translate that to your own workspace.
“Your physical space around you impacts your mood and your mindset in general,” says Alexandra Cavoulacos, founder of The Muse. For her, a sunny, uncluttered space does the trick. Physical space can easily feel like mental space, so removing excessive clutter can be helpful to make room for doing the work you need to focus on.
Comfort is a factor, too. As Jason Bradwell, marketing director at sports and entertainment technology company Deltatre, says, “When you spend so much time in a given week sitting down doing work, you’d be mad not to invest in making the experience comfortable.” The key is striking a balance between what feels good and not making it so comfy that you risk becoming unproductive. That will vary from person to person.
Music is another aspect to consider, with most citing instrumental audio as the best option, whether that’s lofi hip-hop, classical music, or white noise. Everyone seemed to have a particular preference for different tasks throughout their workday.
Guard against negative distractions
You probably have a good idea about what your personal vices and distractions are at work. If so, you can use that information to stay on track.
“Sometimes, when I’m working on deadline and have to research things, I need to be in the zone and stay there. That means not logging into Facebook and a few of my favorite shopping sites,” says Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster, who uses social media for work.
For some, guarding against roadblocks and distractions may be as simple as closing a door.
“Just having my own space helps a lot when it comes to focus. We have a young toddler…and being able to just close a door is a gift,” says Bradwell, adding, “I’m one of those writers that just can’t concentrate if there’s noise…That’s why I bunch my meetings into a couple of days when I go into the office and use home exclusively to write.”
But keep in mind that not all “distractions” are counterproductive. For example, Brady Donaldson, people manager at Grammarly, has a pumpkin stress ball and a “squigz” (a suction-cup toy) on her desk, which she says helps her be “productively distracted.”
Get into a flow state, and protect that time
The flow state happens when you’re in the zone. But sometimes you have to work at getting into that state. Again, guarding against distractions is vital here, too, and scheduling time for deep work is vital. You’ll also want to consider having a line-up of work ready to go so you don’t hit a snag.
“My role requires a lot of information processing across various levels of the business, and my to-do list can quickly spiral out of control if I don’t keep on top of it. I’ve just started using Notion to manage my thoughts and priorities and, I have to say, it’s a game-changer,” says Bradwell.
If you’re having trouble getting into the flow state, Donaldson has a simple method for getting there: “I’ll set a timer on my phone. I tell myself, ‘You only have to work on this thing for 15 minutes.’ But what you find is that once you’re 15 minutes into it, you’ve already done the hard part,” she says.
>>READ MORE: How the Grammarly Team Stays Focused on Their Goals
Work and writing often happen in the digital sphere these days, but changing things up can be a useful way to increase your productivity.
“I always have a pen next to me for taking down quick thoughts or writing a list of things to get done. Having the visual reminder is very powerful,” says Cavoulacos. “So much on your computer screen is vying for your attention that having the one to five things that you need to get done that day is really powerful.”
She uses two key questions to help her create a more effective space:
1 Do I have a really clear to-do list?
2 Do I have easy access to things I need to get done?
“I’m also a big fan of crossing things off the list—there’s power in writing things down and also crossing things off once you’ve accomplished a task. You’ll always find a pad and a pen in my office space,” adds Salemi.
Consider out-of-the-box ideas
Having an open mind can prove extremely useful when creating a productive workspace. Cavoulacos offers a simple framework for doing so: “At a high level, I look for three things: the ability to focus, inspiration and productivity,” she says. Some factors to consider during this time of experimentation include location, comfort, personality quirks, and general priorities.
“I find there’s some work I do much better at my desk, and changing locations can be powerful . . . Two types of spaces can be really helpful because, as an extrovert, I tend to be distracted by the people around me,” says Cavoulacos.
Again, this is not universal. It’s about what works for you, given your surroundings and circumstances. For example, Donaldson noted that she does prefer to work at her desk, in part because she likes to have the mental separation between work and relaxing at home. The point isn’t to break all of the rules, it’s to figure out what makes the most sense for you.