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How to stage your office for improved productivity

Is clutter slowing down productivity in your practice?

Clutter is a major distraction and eats up time, says Pat Heydlauff of Energy Design, a productive-focused environment company. “Nobody can concentrate or work efficiently amidst disorganization,” she says, pointing out that getting rid of office clutter can significantly improve the atmosphere and speed up the work flow.

But don’t take it to the point of sterility, she cautions. “When an office gets too cleared out and too organized, there’s a sense that nothing is happening in there.”

Heydlauff, who designs workplace environments to increase focus, engagement, and maximize productivity, shares these recommendations for getting your staff to hit a good middle ground.

Recommendation #1: Aim for 80% free space

Boxes on the floor, stacks of paper on the desk, pictures all over the walls—all that junk “screams for attention”—and gets it, says Heydlauff.

Looking at this clutter all day, people can’t stay focused. They also feel defeated “Nobody wants to start off the day in a sea of clutter,” says Heydlauff. “It’s suffocating.”

How much stuff is too much stuff? As a rule of thumb, every surface, whether wall, desktop, or floor, should be 80% clear. “There’s something about clean space that allows the creativity to pour forth.”

Recommendation #2: Choose photos that work with you, not distract you

Even the choice of pictures on the walls and desk affects productivity. And it’s not just how many pictures you have that’s a distraction; their content can divert your attention, too.  Surprisingly, the most distracting of all are pictures of family and friends.

“All those eyes conjure up memories and thoughts,” says Heydlauff. They can cause your attention to wander to the weekend’s activities or to the sink that needs fixing.

Heydlauff’s advice is to have no more than two personal photos in any one office.

Fill the rest of the space with pictures that relate to the work. She gives the example of a Florida attorney who specializes in wetlands-related work. The pictures on his wall are of wetlands and nature scenes—pleasant enough to look at, but focused enough to keep his mind on the business and client relationships.

Recommendation #3: Position yourself for productivity

Your desk and chair placement also affect productivity. No one can work successfully with their back to the door, because there’s an underlying and pervasive sense that somebody might sneak in behind.

Heydlauff recommends you sit in the gunfighter position. It’s secure and more comfortable to face the door and see everybody who approaches.

What about a cubicle that doesn’t allow for that arrangement? Put a framed mirror on the far wall. “Or set a picture on the desk so the glass catches any motion from behind.”

Recommendation #4: Arrange items on your desk for efficiency

Put things where they can be reached without interrupting the concentration.

For example, put the pens and paper within arm’s reach. Position the phone so it can be answered without the disruption of turning around or moving away from the computer. For a right-handed person, the phone needs to go on the left side, and vice versa.

Heydlauff cites the worst of all phone placement victims—a client of hers who had to make a half turn in his chair to answer the phone. And making matters worse, he was deaf in one ear and the phone was on the deaf side.

Active files (if you still use paper files) need to be close at hand as well as near the phone, as it’s likely that most calls will require you to pull a file.

The files also need to be kept where passersby can’t look into them. You can achieve both convenience and security by keeping these items in a desktop sorter or in a cabinet under the desk. This way, they are always private but also within reach.

Recommendation #5: Pull out the paint swatches

Now look at the colors on the walls.

Colors such as garnet and emerald green have long been tradition for professional service firms, stemming from the belief that dark colors portray wealth and power. And in the past, that’s impressed many office visitors.

No more, Heydlauff says. “People no longer follow the train of thought that a wealthy professional is, by virtue of the wealth, a good professional.”

Instead, they see the dark colors as standoffish, intimidating, and, with money short, as in-your-face flaunting of the practice’s wealth.

On the other end of the spectrum, white is an equally poor choice. It’s too high tech and cold to engender warmth and trust.

Today’s best colors are soft—light green, peach, and terracotta.

Soothing colors are a good palate for relationship building. They are also calming and therefore make it easy to focus on the work.

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