Tag Archives: work

The Perfect Office Design — How Does Your Office Measure Up?

I’m a huge fan of the work of Christopher Alexander, and yesterday, for the hundredth time, I found myself urging someone to read his book, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction.

This strange, brilliant, fascinating book uses architecture, sociology, psychology, and anthropology to describe the most satisfying environments.

Instead of talking about familiar architectural styles and elements, it focuses on “patterns,” such as the Sitting Wall, the Front Door Bench, Child Caves, the Sequence of Sitting Spaces, Sleeping to the East. I love these! I want them for my own apartment!

Ever since I read this book, I’ve been working my way through everything written by Christopher Alexander. As Huckleberry Finn said of Pilgrim’s Progress, I would say, “The statements was interesting, but tough.”

A Pattern Language discusses houses, but it also covers commercial spaces and offices.

It offers insights about why certain offices are more or less satisfying to work in. Take this quiz to see how your office measures up.

I put a “yes” or “no” after each element, as it applies to my own office.

-there’s a wall behind you (so no one can sneak up behind you). Yes.

-there’s a wall to one side (too much openness makes you feel exposed). Yes.

-there’s no blank wall within 8 feet in front of you (or you have no place to rest your eyes). No, I sit right in front of a wall with a window.

-you work in at least 60 square feet (or you feel cramped). No; my office is tiny.

-your workspace is 50-75% enclosed by walls or windows (so you have a feeling of openness). Not exactly sure what this one means’ wouldn’t that give me a feeling of closedness?

-you have a view to the outside (no matter how large your office, you will feel confined in a room without a view). Yes—no nice view, but I can see outside. Having a window is enormously important to me.

-you are aware of at least 2 other people, but not more than 8 people, around you (less than 2, you feel isolated and ignored; more than 8, you feel like a cog in a machine). No, I’m all alone.

-you can’t hear workplaces noises that are very different from the kind of noises you make at work (you concentrate better when the people around you are engaged in similar tasks, not very different tasks). Yes.

-no one is sitting directly opposite you and facing you. No.

-you can face in different directions at different times. No.

-you can see at least 2 other people, but not more than 4. No.

-you have at least one co-worker within talking distance. No.

Most of us can’t change much about the design of our offices, but these elements at least furnish a few ideas.

My office is very, very small. If I had more room and space, I would love to have a horseshoe-shaped desk, with enormous amounts of surface space, as well as a treadmill desk. Oh, how I long for a treadmill desk! In Better Than Before, I describe how I did the next best thing: I bought a treadmill desk for my sister. She sometimes walks seven miles — during a work day!

I have to admit, that of all the habits that I changed, or that I helped other people to change, as part of writing that book, getting my sister that treadmill desk was one of the very most satisfying.

How does the design of your workplace measure up? Do you agree with these points? What would you add?

To state the obvious: this list sheds light on why many people don’t like the current trends in office design.

Secrets of Adulthood: Nothing Is More Exhausting Than the Task That’s Never Started.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

Agree, disagree?

For the research for my forthcoming book about habit change, Better Than Before, I asked people about the habits they most wanted to change. I found that most habits fall into the “Essential Seven“:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)
2. Exercise regularly
3. Save, spend, and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, stick to a budget)
4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (stop watching TV in bed, turn off a cell phone, spend time in nature, cultivate silence, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car)
5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating (practice an instrument, work without interruption, learn a language, maintain a blog)
6. Simplify, clear, clean, and organize (make the bed, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle)
7. Engage more deeply in relationships—with other people, with God, with the world (call friends, volunteer, spend more time with family, attend religious services)

Note #5. Finding habits that help fight procrastination can be very, very helpful. Because as exhausting as it may be to start that key project, it’s even more exhausting to keep putting off starting that key project.

Do you agree with the Essential Seven? Did I overlook anything important?

Better Than Before is now ready for pre-order. If you’re inclined to buy the book, pre-ordering is a big help to me. Pre-orders create real buzz among booksellers, librarians, the media, and publishers. Buy early, buy often!

Secret of Adulthood: Working Is One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Procrastination.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

Agree, disagree? I know some people practice “constructive procrastination,” but in my experience, it’s usually not very constructive.

I write a bit more about this Secret of Adulthood, here, and I discuss it at some length in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about how we make and break habits. (To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

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10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice, From Me, About Fostering Healthier Eating Habits at Work

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Quiz Day, or Tip Day.

This Wednesday: My 10 pieces of unsolicited advice for how to foster healthier eating habits in the workplace

In law school, we took “issue-spotter” exams, which were actually kind of fun (as law-school exams go). An issue-spotter exam presents a long tale of legal woes, and students must spot every issue that arises—the law-school version of a child’s “find the hidden pictures” puzzle.

A while back, I was speaking at a big company, and as I was shown around the corporate campus, I did a mental issue-spotter.

What steps would make it easier for employees to eat more healthfully without even thinking about it? I amused myself by writing an imaginary ten-point memo.

1. At the reception desk, put all the candy in an opaque container with a lid, with a small sign that says “Candy.”

2. Don’t provide “health bars” or “energy bars” that are really candy bars in disguise. (Just because the label says it’s “healthy” doesn’t mean it is healthy.)

3. Put doors on the office kitchens. The slightest big of inconvenience shapes our habits; plus, if we don’t see food cues, we’re less likely to eat.

4. Set up a partition to divide each kitchen in two. Dedicate the section closer to the door to healthy selections; put less-healthy food in the back section, further from the door, so people would have to make a special effort to get there. Ideally, they’d have to pass another partition or cross an actual red line painted on the floor—and they wouldn’t be able to see those tempting foods unless they were in that area.

5. On the posters that promote healthy foods, stop conflating “fruits” and “vegetables.”

6. Don’t put candies and nuts in bins that pour out their contents in a stream. Instead, provide containers that dispense one small serving at a time. Or better, serve those items in small, pre-packaged bags. That helps people monitor how much they’re eating.

7. Hang mirrors near food stations.

8. Offer fewer varieties of unhealthy foods.

9. Provide a tracking system to allow people to note their daily snack intake (voluntary).

10. Don’t provide trays in the cafeteria. Many colleges have eliminated cafeteria trays; when students can’t easily load up on food and must make multiple trips, they take less. One study found that going trayless cut food waste by as much as 25-30 %, and I bet people eat less, too.

If you could offer some unsolicited advice about your workplace — about how to make it healther — what would you say?

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The Most Unconventional Writing Advice I’ve Ever Read.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of my favorite novels, so I’ve been working my way through everything that Muriel Spark wrote. As I was reading A Far Cry From Kensington, I came across some highly unusual advice for writing which actually sounds like it might be pretty effective, for the right person.

The narrator of the novel, Mrs. Hawkins, works at a publishing house, and a retired Brigadier General tells her that he wants to write a book but he “can’t concentrate.” (A common problem, right?)

Mrs. Hawkins recounts:

I passed him some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk-lamp.  The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.

I can’t test this proposition, because I’m allergic to cats and don’t want any pets, but it really struck my imagination. Oddly, I’ve found, a burning candle helps me to concentrate. Or snow or rain falling outside the window. There’s something about the presence of  spark of life and movement that gives a sense of focus. I imagine that a living creature would provide that much more powerfully.

In my forthcoming book about habits, I write about the strategies we can use to shape our habits, and one of the most powerful strategies is the Strategy of Other People. But in fact, animals, like people, can have a profound effect on our habits — as anyone who regularly walks a dog can attest. And so a cat can help with writing! (If you want to know when my habits book goes on sale,  sign up here.)

Another unorthodox writing strategy was used by novelist Victor Hugo. According to legend, Hugo forced himself to work by ordering his servant to take away all his clothing for the day. Left naked in his study, with only paper and pen, he had nothing to do but write.

Have your habits been affected by a pet? Or have you found an unconventional way to help yourself concentrate?

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