Why My Work Space Works and How Yours Can Too!

When you sit at your work space and look around, what do you see?  Are you surrounded by the materials and motivation you need to get stuff done?

Whether it's a desk, the kitchen table, or a in a corner of your bedroom, an effective work space is one where you want to be, and also where you have easy access to what you need. I'm going to share my four work space features and tell you how you can use them, too.

Tools

Need a pen, pencil, ruler, scissors, glue stick, notepaper? I do, all the time.  So I keep those tools handy.  I am one of those very easily distracted people, so if I have to get up and move to a different location in order to find the tool I need, chances are that I will take myself totally off task.  I will forget that I went into the kitchen to get a pair of scissors, and the next thing I know, I'll be cooking stew instead of cutting out phonics game pieces.  

Here's another trick about having your own tools in your work space.  If you have tools that you want to use -- a favorite pen, desk organizers that reflect your style, or a full-on rainbow of highlighter colors -- you will be more drawn to your work space.  It will be a place that feels like your own.  This is a huge motivation to sitting down in your work space, and as you'll see in the the next section, just sitting down there is half the battle!  

Tasks

I have two dry erase surfaces right by my desk.  Above my desk, in easy view as I'm sitting at my computer, wasting time looking up recipes, is my task list.  This is divided into two columns: short-term and long-term. In the short-term column go tasks like returning emails, reading a certain part of a book, writing a blog post with an up-coming deadline, or giving feedback on a writing submission.  

On the long-term side are tasks that are big projects and that will have to be broken down into smaller steps.  If I want to make a new page for my website or create a new writing resource, I write it on my long-term side.  Both sides have check boxes so that when I finish a task I get a jolly dose of happy brain chemicals as I both check off and erase it.  Seriously, do not underestimate the power of the endorphin release that accompanies a physical acknowledgement of completing a task! 

The other dry-erase surface is a monthly calendar.  This is not my full calendar with all my appointments -- that is on my computer and synched to my phone so that I have no shortage of beeps, boops, and annoying dings to remind me to get ready for my next appointment, whether it's working with a student or returning library books before I rack up a huge overdue bill.

My dry-erase calendar is for planning.  I put in when I think I will work on tasks.  I write in deadlines and work backward to see how many days I really have.  Because it's dry erase, it's the perfect spot to plan my planning.  Once I put a project on the calendar, I can transfer its component parts to my long- and short-term checklists.

Being able to see your task lists easily is key!  You want your check lists to seep into your consciousness as you are working on other things.  Just sitting down in your work space should be like a mini meeting that reminds you of what you need to get done.

References

Right next to my desk are my bookshelves.  Dictionary? Check! Thesaurus? Check! A copy of Write Source? Check!  When I'm working on a novel with a student, I take it out of its alphabetical order and stick it in a spot on the shelf within arm's reach of my computer.

Surrounding yourself with the references that will help you with a specific project or task is also a very smart idea.  Here's an example. When I was in college, I had to learn Attic Greek.  Well, I guess I chose to learn Attic Greek by virtue of the fact that I chose to attend a college with a classical liberal arts curriculum that involved translating Sophocles...

It turns out Greek is a pretty complex language, and each verb has numerous forms to be memorized.  I turned my college dorm room into a Greek Verb Wall of Words.  (Thank goodness my roommate also had to learn them and didn't mind my unique decorating!) I put the verb forms I needed to memorize on 3 x 5 cards and taped them up in every free inch of space.  Upshot? Whenever I looked up from working on an assignment to let my mind wander, it wandered to the words I needed to learn!  I had a built-in procrastination maximizer!  Instead of daydreaming about what I would do over the weekend, I would involuntarily find myself committing verbs to memory.

Inspiration

I like being in my work space.  Yes, in part it's because I've spent too much time and energy collecting desk accessories in my favorite obnoxiously bright colors.  But it's also because I've surrounded my desk with items that motivate and inspire me.  I have little figurines that were gifts from students to remind me about the impact of the work I do.  I have inspirational quotes, such as this great one from a physicist in the documentary Fever Particle

Jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm is the big secret to success.

I also have a mini shrine to me!  I took some cards and letters from close friends and mentors and framed them.  These notes have advice, thanks, and encouragement.  As I'm struggling through a particularly difficult or frustrating task, these mementos keep me motivated and in a positive frame of mind.    

Your Turn!

How can you make some changes in your work space so that you have tools, tasks, references, and inspiration?  Try gathering these resources.  Make a work space that invites you to sit down, dig in, and work effectively and efficiently.

Tools

  • good lighting
  • pens
  • pencils
  • paper -- note paper, lined paper, graph paper
  • ruler
  • protractor
  • compass
  • computer with comfortable keyboard height

Tasks

  • dry-erase board and markers (go for a magnetic one so you can keep track of important slips of paper!)
  • chalkboard
  • big piece of plain paper taped to the wall
  • assignment book
  • dry-erase wall calendar

References

  • text books
  • school binder
  • dictionary (physical or online)
  • assignment sheet or description
  • your Whole Education virtual binder in Google Drive
  • Write Source 8 (seriously, you need a copy of this book!)
  • vocab flash cards
  • SAT words
  • Science terms (especially for AP classes that are packed full of info!)
  • History people, places, and events (especially for AP classes that are packed full of info!)

Inspiration

  • a favorite picture of you and your friends
  • a favorite quote
  • a pennant from the college you really want to attend
  • your awards or trophies
  • a test or assignment that you totally rocked (forget the fridge and put it up on the wall near your work space!)
  • a picture of your professional idol
  • a picture related to your dream job