This is a guest article contributed by Steven Harowitz. Here’s Steven:
Space has a tremendous influence on our level of creativity, despite our often lack of awareness of its impact.
There is no perfect way to form a space that provides you instantaneous creativity, of course. There is an ebb and flow to our environment and its impact on our ability to think creatively, just as there is an ebb and flow to our creativity itself. Some days one space provides creative inspiration and the next day it proves to be a hinderance.
Work spaces have evolved tremendously over the last few decades alone — from cubicle villages to massive, open offices. The effectiveness of these spaces is still being debated, where these debates fail is in trying to define a space philosophy as “perfect.”
There will never be a victory in the argument of what makes the perfect workspace, mainly because there can be no clear-cut winner. It all depends on what an individual needs in a moment.
You need work spaces, plural.
There is no such thing as a perfect space because your mood and mental state play a huge part in how you interact with a space. For example, writer/artist Austin Kleon sets up different types of work spaces at home to facilitate his creativity. Kleon uses a digital, analog, and reading desk to separate out his needs and keep himself from wandering off topic too often. The co-working space TechArtista, in St. Louis, has phone booth style spaces to facilitate more private requirements such as phone calls or a quick moment of reflection.
The trick here is to look at the entire space you work in as an opportunity for creative output and input. The space you consider to be your work environment shouldn’t be limited to your office either, because there will be days where laying in bed in pajamas is the best format for your creativity. Other days you might want to stand at the kitchen counter and work. Having spaces prepared for when you’re ready to create is what makes them ideal, or not. What matters is that you have options.
Make your own “Rage Cage”
Ben Roche, Pastry Chef at famed Chicago restaurant Moto, wrote a fascinating piece for the book “Make Space” by Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft about his workspace. Tool accessibility is a main focus for Roche, based of the belief that the quicker one can get to a necessary tool, the better the outcome will be (and completed faster).
“In my corner of the kitchen I’m surrounded by my ‘rage cage’ – a network of work surfaces, tools, and equipment meticulously arranged so that everything I need is a step, a reach, a sweet spin-move, or a quick pivot away.”
If you know you want to keep any random insights that come your way, then make sure you have open ideation space in the form of blank paper, white boards, or sticky notes. The name of the game is tool prep, so you are prepared to dive deeply into your project and not worry about where your tools are. If you have to go searching, then you will lose the insight.
Remove opportunities for resistance
Even though it may seem like it, the universe doesn’t give up insight easily. There’s a loud TV, the buzzing phone, the ding of the laundry machine. These distractions can often serve as an army of resistance to you pushing forward with focused, creative output. Luckily for you, these are all things that can (usually) be adjusted so creativity can flow.
Simple fixes, like placing your phone in another room, putting it on airplane mode, or–if you are worried about an emergency–setting up specific alerts for only specific things. If it’s the TV or a clock that’s distracting you, it might be helpful to move those to another space or readjust your workspace to face away.
This isn’t to say that all distractions are bad. A bad distraction can keep you focused, just on a different item. A good distraction means you’re not heavily focused at all. Things like daydreaming or general mind wandering have been found to be highly useful for giving your brain a break and therefore encouraging new insight.
So, when you think about adjusting your space, worry about the getting rid of the bad distractions so you can allow for more focus or good distractions.
About the author
During the day, Steven is an advisor and leadership coach for student organizations at Washington University in St. Louis. On week nights and weekends Steven is an Improviser at The Improv Shop and the President of the Compass Improv Festival, a local 501©3 non-profit that hosts St. Louis’ only Improv Festival. He started Creative Weekend, a 3.5-day retreat built on creativity and productivity science and designed to help individuals renew their creativity again.