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10 Tricks for Setting Up the Most Productive Workspace

Having a hard time starting new projects at work? Maximize your time at the office with these simple tips to success.

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Cut the clutter

Rid your immediate workspace of anything unrelated to projects you’re currently working on. Clutter and stress often go hand-in-hand, so pitch whatever you don’t need to keep your spirits high at work. Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers, says this rule applies to any projects older than three months. “Most companies have clear policies when it comes to old stuff that might be important,” she says. “So if you’re not sure whether you should hang on to something, just ask your boss, ‘Is it OK to get rid of this, or can I send it to the archives? Do we have this electronically, or do I need to keep a paper copy?’ It’s important to feel like you have room to work. Physical comfort reduces stress.” Here are 37 other proven ways to reduce stress.

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Follow a daily to-do list

And write that list with both intention and optimism—which is very healthy for you. “I plan my day using a concept I call ‘segment intending,'” Carmen Croonquist, career coach and president of Intentionality Coaching and Consulting Services, says. “I break my day up into a series of segments and visually determine the best case scenario and/or outcome in each segment. I put tasks on my calendar and I follow them. When I write my to-do list, I list a couple of things I’ve already accomplished. This method gives the brain a win. It pushes people toward goal achievement because it creates positive energy and a sense of accomplishment.” Monotasking over multitasking is key. Keep these additional tips for finishing your to-do list in mind.

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Color-code your materials

Zaslow says the benefits of color-coding can be invisible to people at first, but this strategy is central to effective organization. Colors tell stories, evoke perceptions, and have the power to make or break your mood—which, in turn, can affect your outlook and drive to perform at the office. “A recent client of mine was having a particularly tough time with her filing cabinet,” Zaslow says. “She had just switched careers and told me she hated the army green color of her folders. We switched them to purple, and that simple change made all the difference.”

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Buy a timer

And use it to track your progress and time management with certain tasks throughout the day. “It’s hard to have a sense of lapsed time when you’re in the office. A timer keeps you on track,” Zaslow says. “Tell yourself ‘I want to spend 10 minutes researching this’ and then measure that time with a timer. It will give you a sense of how long it actually takes you to do things.” Here are some other time management tips to keep in mind.

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Put your phone within arm’s reach

Zaslow says this alone can change people’s lives. “Most offices are designed for people who are right-handed,” she says. “So if you’re a lefty, move your phone. Especially if you talk on the phone a lot, your phone should be easy to reach.” Check out these tips that can help you make better decisions at work.

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Stand your file folders up

“File folders take up a lot of room when they’re laying flat,” Zaslow says. “Stand them up.” She also recommends a desktop file box for those who work with paper more frequently. “It’s like a mini file cabinet, about the size of a cereal box. It’s just four inches and takes up very little desk space.” Here’s a colorful example that could brighten your desk and help you stay organized.

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Adjust your computer screen

“You shouldn’t be craning your neck to look at your monitor—that impacts productivity,” Zaslow says. Neck pain is a given for people who work at a computer all day, so it’s important to make the small, deliberate changes you can to reduce that pain as much as possible. Even if you’re not suffering from a stiff neck, a weird viewing angle can fatigue you faster, ruining your concentration.

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Think vertical

“A desk is a horizontal surface, but there’s a lot of vertical space above and below it. Maximize that vertical space,” Zaslow says. “If you have a cubicle, it’s especially important to take advantage of that vertical space beneath you. Monitor risers are great. You can put your pens, pencils, and other writing utensils right underneath your desk.”

Zaslow also recommends corner shelves for cubicles. “The far corners of cubicles are normally pretty empty. A corner shelf is another great way to stack things and save space.”

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Prop up a family photo or two

A positive, encouraging environment is crucial to putting your best foot forward at the office. When your stress peaks, it’s important to see the bigger picture and quickly remind yourself to stay positive despite the circumstances. So make space on your desk for who (or what) brings you joy and inspires you to succeed. “Hang on to a few things that make you happy and display those as reminders for why you get up and go to work in the first place,” Zaslow says. Here’s how you can develop a positive attitude in no time.

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Lighten up your space

It’s no secret that light affects our emotional state, mental health and overall well-being, but its therapeutic properties are often overlooked. Keep this in mind as you set up your workspace. “My office has great energy. It’s light, open, and free of clutter (most of the time!). It’s important to have a workspace that inspires creativity and innovation,” Croonquist says.

Lauren Bettenga
Lauren Bettenga is a contributing writer for Reader’s Digest covering Culture, Advice, Travel and Home Improvement. Her work has also been published in Country Living, The Pioneer Woman and Business Insider, among other outlets. She earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.