If you’re like me, you secretly LOVED quarantine. Like a lot of highly sensitive people, I get overwhelmed in crowds, emotionally exhausted at networking events, and come down with a case of decision fatigue when I have too many options for how to spend my time.
Having no choice but to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary was fantastic for my creativity, productivity and business development. Over time, I made a number of adaptations to my home office setup which help me manage my mood, energy levels and ability to focus.
Yes, Your Space Influences Your Mood
Highly sensitive people soak up the emotions of those around us, and if our family members are stressed, so are we. And the daily news has many of us reaching for the alcohol, carbohydrates and Netflix binges.
But such things as the amount of natural light we are exposed to, the air quality, ambient noise, textures, visual clutter and smells can help us manage our stress. Taking some time to align our workspaces can have a big payoff in terms of our mental and emotional resilience.
7 Simple Tweaks to Align Your Home Office
You don’t have to remodel your home, fire your family, or spend a ton of money you don’t have on office furniture in order to radically improve your working and living space in a short time. Most of what you need is already available; it’s just a question of fitting the puzzle pieces together.
1. Follow the Light
When half our days are taken up with Zoom meetings, conference calls, note-taking and brainstorming, there’s no reason to stay in the same place all day. Our circadian rhythms attune to natural light, and when we don’t get enough of it, we can become depressed, fatigued and be unable to sleep at night.
So analyze which parts of your home get the most light at various times of day, and set up mini-offices to take advantage of the best rays. I created a comfy corner by an east window for morning Zoom meetings, set up my main desk by a shaded window, and have a perch in the west-facing kitchen to soak up late afternoon sun.
2. Reduce Visual Clutter
The great thing about working from home is that we get total control over the aesthetics of our space. The tough thing about it is the potential for DISTRACTION. Even more than most people, the sight of piles of unpaid bills, half-finished projects, kids’ toys, dirty dishes, bags of recycling, and overloaded bookshelves can drain our energy. Taking half a day to declutter our space may seem like we’re avoiding ‘important work,’ but it may very well skyrocket productivity for weeks afterward. If your office is tidy but uninspiring, re-organizing your shelves, swapping out artwork, and curating your space so that every object is either necessary or beautiful can give you a daily dose of grounding and inspiration.
3. Reduce Ambient Noise
If you have family members at home and no door on your office, invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. For highly sound sensitive people, consider installing acoustic paneling in problem areas, which can mute sound from other rooms, neighbors and street noise.
4. Clean Your Air
Highly sensitive people can be seriously affected by allergies, chemical off-gassing, and bad smells; a good air filter can drastically improve your air quality. A single-room HEPA filter not only filters allergens, germs and dust, but it can also kill germs with UV light.
If you are lucky enough to live in a temperate climate with good cross-ventilation, open your windows and use fans to improve air flow. This can reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission.
And remember that plants are the best air purifiers ever created.
5. Set Up For Movement
Taking short movement and stretching breaks during your work day can improve your ability to focus, significantly elevate your mood, and reduce aches and pains from desk work. If your space is cramped and cluttered, or you have to move furniture in order to stretch, you’re less likely to actually DO it.
Recently a client came for help with ergonomics; he was working from a small bedroom which contained his office, wardrobe, filing cabinets and multiple bookshelves. He said it was ‘impossible’ to find enough space to stretch.
With a tape measure, a digital space planner and some ingenuity, we proved him wrong. He now has a dedicated yoga zone right next to his desk.
Consider using a yoga ball as a desk chair, or a standing desk adapter which allows you to move up and down during the day.
6. Evoke Positive Emotions
If your moods are influenced by scent, invest in a diffuser with energizing and calming aromatherapy blends, tailored according to your needs. Woody scents (sage, rosewood, cedar) can be grounding and focusing; herbal scents (mint, juniper) can be inspiring; lavender and vanilla can be relaxing. You can even have designated aromas for each different space.
7. Use Decluttering Time to Process
Our brains work on solving problems when we are doing mundane tasks; the activity allows our subconscious minds to make connections while our conscious minds are occupied. If you’re struggling with a task, take a break and do some dishes, vacuum, sort or otherwise organize your space.
When you’re done, you may find that not only is your workspace more pleasant, but your highly sensitive brain has delivered some brilliant insights.