How to Create the Perfect Multipotentialite Environment
Photo courtesy of Chris Schrier.

How to Create the Perfect Multipotentialite Environment

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Productivity

What’s your ideal environment? If I’m honest, mine would probably include a hot tub, a beautiful mountain view, and a ready supply of cocktails. And a fast internet connection.

Although… if I’m being truly honest, I couldn’t spend every day like that. (I am, however, willing to try, if anyone is in a position to make such a thing happen.)

Our environment is super important for our happiness, which makes our regular working/playing/relaxing space a huge factor in our daily mood. It’s worth making it just right for us.

Now, clearly, there’s no such thing as the perfect environment – that is, a place that would be ideal for all multipotentialites.

But we can take inspiration from what works for others, and use it to create our ideal environment, whether it’s an art studio, a computer workstation, a meditation area, or a place to binge-watch TV shows.

First, a Warning…

At the risk of rendering this entire article pointless, I want to remind you that while our space matters, it isn’t everything.

If we’re supposed to be working on a project, it’s more important to make progress than to spend days worrying over the exact feng shui alignment of our desk ornaments. Don’t let your environment be an excuse for not getting anything done!

Perhaps the best balance is to see our environment as a project in itself – something we work on long term. This way we can gradually develop the space over time while also moving forward on “real” projects.

What are the things we need to consider when creating our environment?

The Obvious Advice

Clearly, there are a few things that are banal but still important, so let’s just make a checklist without talking about them in great detail. Have you considered:

  • Furnishing
  • Colors
  • Plants
  • Decoration/personalization
  • Light (natural and artificial)

Okay, so now you’ve thought about those (and taken advantage of the great advice elsewhere on the internet regarding these basics), let’s think about the more interesting stuff.

Sounds

I used to believe I could only work in absolute silence. Silence is great… except that it’s almost impossible to control, which meant my ability to work relied on the peaceful cooperation of the rest of the universe.

And the rest of the universe stubbornly refuses to just automatically do whatever I want, so I had to learn to work without requiring silence.

I’ve found it’s useful to work with some controlled noise. Obviously, music is a popular option here (I personally favor electronic or instrumental sounds with no distracting vocals).

There are also some useful apps and websites that provide ambient noise. If you haven’t tried these before, I recommend checking out Noisli, which drowns out irritating noise from the real world with relaxing background sounds.

Comfort and Health

I’m not in a position to advertize specific and comfortable pieces of furniture to you, but this is a factor you shouldn’t neglect.

Spending a significant portion of your time in one place means you should invest in being both comfortable and healthy. I used to have terrible back/neck pain, but buying both a super-comfortable office chair and a (cheap) standing desk has helped tremendously.

Taking a moment to do something as simple as changing the height of your monitor can reduce pain and effort massively. Don’t neglect this!

Smells

Until recently, it had honestly not occurred to me that it was possible to consciously control the smell of my environment. (I am proud that I’m resisting the urge to make any of the obvious jokes here.)

But then I was introduced to the concept of diffusers, and now everything smells wonderful all the time. It turns out that this is an easy and common thing to a) think about and b) improve. So if you’re like me, maybe you could consider this too!

Messiness

So far everything has been a matter of taste, but messiness is a matter of self-knowledge.

For some, it’s impossible to work in a messy environment, whereas others feel uneasy when a space is too tidy; a bit of organized chaos is required.

We generally know this instinctively, but it’s common to let things slide and get away from how we’d like them to be. Is it worth spending a few minutes to tidy up, clean, or organize your chaos?

People

You might require constant social contact, absolute isolation, or anything in between.

Again, this might seem like one of those things you can’t change. While it’s harder to get more isolation (colleagues, family members, and neighbors aren’t too easy to get rid of!), you can mix more people into an isolated working environment.

Are you scheduling enough meetings? Enough quiet time? Can you enforce a period of solitude, even if only for an hour? Would an online co-working huddle help with those isolated working-from-home days?

If you’re getting too much or too little social contact, that may be something that’s in your power change.

Your Turn

I’m sure there are many ideas I’ve missed here, so I’d love to hear what is or isn’t important to others. I’m hoping to find some great inspiration for areas to improve in my own space!

What do you need to feel comfortable in your environment? Is there anything that makes it impossible for you to work? Share your ideas in the comments.

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

20 Comments

  1. Anna Weisend says:

    I find that if I have a lot of computer work that it helps me if I change locations every couple of hours. I work from home so I have the advantage to do so. I usually work a couple hours at my desk, a couple standing at the kitchen island, and then a couple in a comfy chair or sofa. It keeps my bones from hurting!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      That sounds like a good plan. I may borrow that idea and see how it works, I tend to stay in one place and get stagnant, and only notice at the end of the day that I “should” have moved. Thank you :)

  2. J'aime says:

    Now I really want to make that standing desk! :)

    In my dream environment, I have enough space to leave projects in progress without putting them away:

    sewing table
    drawing table
    writing desk
    etc.

    But currently, the dining room table has to do multiple jobs.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      It’s amazing how simple our wishes can be, isn’t it? Just a bigger space can be enough.

      Sounds like the dining room table’s doing a great job for now, but hope you get that dream environment someday :)

    • Doug says:

      J’aime,

      I understand what you mean. Being able to switch effortlessly between projects is a multipod’s dream.

      Based on your current setup, though, do you have your supplies packaged together? For instance, I’ve got my art supplies in one portfolio. That means I can pull them out any time, or take them with me when I’m traveling. If you were able to do that with your writing and drawing supplies especially, you could just unfold and start working.

      Sewing might be a little harder to package, given the sewing machine. Can it be transferred easily back and forth to a sideboard or other table so you can have the whole dining table clear? If you can’t put it away somewhere, could you have a cozy of some sort to camouflage it?

      Sorry, a bunch of questions. But sometimes applying a few organizational ideas can help solve a space issue. (“Organizing from the Inside Out,” Julie Morganstern – great book if you’re interested.)

  3. cathwrynn says:

    I often feel the desire for some kind of visual “thinking” space. Visual aids to plotting out or laying out all the stuff going on in my head. I need this more than i need a tidy space.

    although im very visual, and a visual thinker I feel like im a bit blocked in how this process or methodology or solution could actually work- its like its on the tip of my tongue mentally- I know there are visual solutions for organising (even planning) somewhere out there but they are out of focus.

    So for me, I wish I could have a whole wall that gave itself up for visual brainstorming and ideas generation…

    sigh. that one wall oppsite the floor to celing glass window with the forever view, the hot tub, the trees and birds, river sounds etc etc. etc.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Wow… floor-to-ceiling glass with a forever view and a hot tub… I’m SOLD.

      (I may never be happy until I achieve this.)

      (I will be.)

      (But still, it sounds incredible!)

    • Doug says:

      Hey Cathwrynn,

      So do you have a decent sized blank wall where you’re living now? Looking down a few comments at Susan’s green blackboard, I thought you possibly could use white board paint either from https://www.ideapaint.com or https://www.remarkablecoating.com, or something similar.

      As for the forever view, you can play some tricks with the eye by layering some kind of window covering (translucent blinds? Frosted panels?) with some foreground elements (a narrow rock garden? plants?)

      You’ll have to work on installing your own hot tub. But for the trees, birds, and river sounds, check out Noili.com that Neil mentioned. They’ve got all of those on tap!

      Just some thoughts – hope you’re able to create the space of your dreams someday!

  4. Valentina says:

    My work environment can change pretty easily. Sometimes a busy café in a big city (I loved doing this in Paris last July), when I have to work as translator. While preparing the literature lessons for my students my bed is a pretty comfortable place. While working as fitness instructor, of course, the gym. Let’s say that my working environments are quite variable and I love that ?

    • Neil Hughes says:

      That’s impressive. Sometimes I get distracted too easily in an imperfect environment – this is inspiring me to try to learn to focus more no matter what! Thank you!

  5. George says:

    My best environment is my bed, with my laptop, my phone and couple of my notebooks and few pens. My main help is a whiteboard and some coloured markers.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I love how many multipods seem to love whiteboards! They’re just so full of possibility, maybe that’s why they appeal?!

  6. Linda Ursin says:

    I need to have access to my materials and at least some space to myself. I live in a relatively messy house because I don’t enjoy housework and I have joint issues. So it’s far down the list of priorities, and I’m the only one doing it here.

  7. Julie says:

    When I am absorbed in a project I have a tendency to stay in one position (hunched over a desk) for 2 or more hours at a time. Last year at work, I got a stand up desk with a motor that adjusts the height of the desktop AND I moved my desk so I could get natural sunlight. I never imagined how much changing both of these things would improve my mood. Alas, that job is no more but I am in the process of setting up a standing desk (fixed height) in one room of my house in addition to my conventional sit down desk in my bedroom. I can grab my laptop and change locals based on how antsy I am feeling at the moment.

  8. tulpoeid says:

    Personal fun fact: The *only* music I can listen to while working is Never Mind the Bollocks. Everything else was tried and failed. As a result I’ve listened to this one-of-a-kind album more than a thousand times.

  9. Susan says:

    I recently painted up an old piece of board in green blackboard paint (like old school blackboard colour) and bought some cheap as chalk… and it has transformed my space – I put it in my old run down plastic greenhouse and since then my old run down plastic greenhouse has been cleaned, tidied up and not only utilised for seedlings and plants but also has a nice chair and has become the zone for some fun chalked up ideas and projects and drawings and notes … oh and also has a cool solar light that just flicks on when anybody walks in … it’s the warm outside zone for any smokers that call around too :)

  10. My environment needs to be free of social media, specifically Facebook… it is the black hole of productivity for me. I log out for days and sometimes weeks at a time now, and I get more done. I’m trying to implement a schedule that will allow me to network without getting sucked in…

    I finally have a studio, and it’s pretty organized, but works in progress stay out and I like to work on multiple projects every day. Switching projects frees my subconscious to come up with solutions and new ideas so that each time I approach a task I can look at it with fresh eyes.

    I have a desk treadmill too, which helped me lose nearly 30 lbs while I worked! I confess I’ve been avoiding it for the past couple of months, though… new laptop makes it too easy to be lazy on the couch.

    Work spaces are ever-evolving, especially for multipotenialites!

  11. Tom Vaughan-Mountford says:

    My workspace is scrupulously tidy and organised – I simply can’t have anything left on the desk that’s not related to the task at hand, I’m far too easily distracted. Everything has to be kept aligned at right-angles to each other. I also find music distracting, but can’t bear silence – so I found the ideal solution in a website named Ambient Mixer to play ambient background sounds. The mix that makes me most productive is the sound of Tony Stark’s lab from the Ironman/Avengers films – a gentle hum of servers and air-con.

    Some of my colleague’s working areas are piled with mountains of obsolete paperwork, crumbs, filth, dirty coffee mugs – makes me so frustrated!! :-)

  12. Doug says:

    Hey Neil – Great article. Funny, I saw the title and didn’t think a thing about it for a few days. Now that I read it, this is really important stuff that I spend a lot of time thinking about!

    I’m not quite up and running over at RoominessTV.com. I’ve got more videos on YouTube (just search for “roominessTV,” all one word). Mostly it’s going to cover your “obvious advice” section above, but hopefully I will get into some organizational and functionality issues as well. Cheers! (Congratulations on not making the obvious smell jokes!)