Second of a two-part series
Whether you work in a traditional office setting or otherwise, understanding how your surroundings at work impact your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health will help to set you up for success.
Last month we outlined five key categories to consider when evaluating your work environment. What are some things you have found that you like about your current space? What are some things you have decided you would like to change? Have you reassessed to determine how the changes you’ve made are working for you? What have you discovered that you like or don’t like?
This month, let’s explore some more specific ideas within each of the categories.
Our environment impacts our personal energy, mood and overall health. Wherever you work, making small changes to what you see, hear, smell and feel will impact your work performance. Of the five categories, these recommendations might be some of the simplest.
• Notice the air quality. Can you open a window occasionally for fresh air? Limiting exposure to harmful chemicals or other toxins is ideal, but if that’s not possible would an air purifier or an air purifying respirator be a good option for you? Plants can be a healthy addition to your workspace, eliminating toxins and purifying the air.
• Aromatherapy can help to increase energy or provide a feeling of calm. Select essential oils that support your goals, and you can inhale them or apply them topically on your skin (some oils do need to be diluted to avoid skin irritation).
• Take advantage of natural lighting as much as possible. Warmer lighting (orange or yellow) tends to promote relaxation, while cooler lighting (white or blue) tends to enhance alertness and concentration.
• Depending on the resource, the ideal temperature for comfort and productivity ranges dramatically from the mid 60s to mid 70s. Wear layers, and be aware of how temperature impacts how you feel.
• Choosing the right background music will definitely set the mood, so choose based on your goals for the level of focus and energy for you and your customer. From soft nature sounds or instrumentals to today’s upbeat hits, find the playlists that speak to you.
• Include personal items, but keep your work space clean and tidy. Clutter tends to interrupt our focus and level of concentration.
• Experiment with the principles of feng shui in your work environment for a greater sense of balance and harmony. From how you arrange your furnishings to colors and decor, learning the basics of feng shui and how to apply them will be worth the time and effort.
Posture and mobility
The type of work you do might dictate whether you spend more time sitting, standing or moving on the job. If you have options, experiment to find a healthy balance and change positions often. If you don’t have options, experiment with ways to optimize your comfort and health in any position or in motion.
• Sitting: Today there is a wide selection of adjustable chairs to fit every body size and support correct alignment. If possible, consider other options such as a stability ball, standing desk or even an exercise desk. Arrange your desk to keep everything easily accessible and to support ideal posture for your head, neck, shoulder and back.
• Standing: Arrange your work station to keep everything easily accessible, support ideal standing posture, and limit spinal bending or twisting. Wear supportive, shock absorbing shoes and consider special mats that are available to reduce fatigue.
• On the move: Comfortable, functional clothing and footwear is a must when you’re on the move. Take time to think about the movements you go through, especially repetitive movements, and consider how you can optimize both safety and efficiency. Consider having a physical therapist or someone who specializes in ergonomics perform an evaluation and make recommendations.
• If a majority of your time is spent sitting or standing, take short breaks throughout the day to stretch and move. If you always are on the move, take short breaks to rest, hydrate and note any areas of your body that tend to become stiff or sore. Consider regular chiropractic visits or massage therapy to take care of your body just as you would a machine that gets frequent use.
Whether you have a desk job or a highly active job, today we tend to be distracted even just by cellphones. All of the ringers, pop-ups and notifications can be distracting, decreasing focus and efficiency at work.
• Declutter. Delete unused apps and keep your home screen clear. Limit the number of items you have open.
• Take advantage of the “do not disturb” features on you phone, iPad, laptop or desktop.
• Noise canceling headphones can help to block out unnecessary distractions.
• Set clear boundaries with voicemail and autoresponders, letting others know how often or when during the day you check messages. Be consistent in following the boundaries you set.
• Protect your eyes, reduce fatigue and improve sleep by using blue light filters.
For some of us, work can be a great social outlet through interactions with colleagues and/or customers. For others, work can be very isolating. As human beings, though, we all need contact with others and healthy relationships.
• Schedule time to be in-person with others. Virtual interactions can be more convenient and even more efficient sometimes, but in-person connection better fills our need for human contact.
• Be selective in who you spend time with. For those relationships that are not as healthy, those individuals that maybe drain your energy or increase your stress, limit the time you spend with them. I’m not able to go in-depth about setting healthy boundaries or developing clear communication skills in this column, but if you struggle in these areas consider seeking support with a coach or mental health counselor.
• Intermittent, short breaks throughout the day are important but truly schedule and take a break away for your work at lunch. Take time to move, get some fresh air and sunshine, fuel and hydrate your body, pray or meditate, and if possible spend some time with others.
• If a majority of your time is spent alone, having a pet might be a healthy solution.
Taking time to be mindful in our lives is so very important to our health and well-being. Bringing mindfulness to the workplace will help you to stay grounded and present, increasing your effectiveness and leaving you feeling less drained and more fulfilled at the end of the day.
• Establish clear boundaries around work time vs. personal time, and be consistent in those boundaries. Flexibility is important, but keep certain boundaries sacred to protect your limited time and resources.
• Set intermittent reminders for yourself to take time to be mindful. Notice everything around you and within you. Acknowledge what you may need in that moment and honor what you need. Return to work refreshed and refocused.
• Find what helps you feel grounded. It might be an object or photo that you can easily see during your day, something that you can carry in your pocket or a ritual that you can practice regularly. I once had a friend share that every time they walk through a doorway they say a short prayer of gratitude.
Even small changes to your work environment to make it more comfortable and supportive of your health and wellness can make a significant difference in your work performance and productivity. Just as important, though, you will improve your overall health and quality of life. You spend a lot of time at work — create a space you love to be in.