In case you missed it, I narrated my experience of building my dream, productive workspace from scratch after an almost-complete COVID-19-life-as-I-knew-it overhaul. And the experience got me thinking: what exactly makes a productive home office?
What are essential items people, no matter the size of their space, might need in order to design a an efficient, productive home office that works for them?
Inspired by my home workspace redesign, in this post, I'll show you the anatomy of a productive home office—one that you can adapt to your home, budget (including no-buy options, of course), and goals.
Note: This blog post isn't one of those home office essentials checklists that dumps a list of very obvious needs with little explanation (and many an affiliate link). Instead, I opted to make this guide as actionable and practical as possible, so you can design your dream productive home office no matter where you live.
1. A Quiet Place
No, not the John Krasinski movie. The first most important essential for a productive home office is choosing a quiet spot at home where you can dedicate most of your working hours.
If you live alone, finding this quiet spot where you can set up shop might not be difficult. You might even have the luxury of dedicating one entire room as your new home office.
But if you're like me and you're now co-existing and living with four other humans (and a dog) in the premises, then you might not have much options.
You can always work around this limitation as best as you can though. Maybe you can negotiate with your roommates or housemates to have a specific quiet area in your place, so everyone knows not to blast the latest BTS album or play their video games when they're there. Or you can each "claim" a corner of a space.
Pro-Tip: Ideally you'll get to enclose your space with walls or a door for privacy, but if this isn't possible, then that's perfectly fine. You want to work with what you have right now.
In my experience, I simply nested my new workspace inside my room. While it's not the most ideal thing for me, I know that it's the best I can do with the lifestyle I have.
You'll likely have many limitations when designing your home office. That's okay. Strive for the bare minimum and get something to work for you.
2. A Functioning Computer
When you're working from home, chances are you work on a computer. If you're employed, your company probably supplied your work laptop or let you take home the computers you used at the office.
If you're self-employed like me, then you'll want a fully-functioning computer that best suits your needs.
I do a lot of multimedia work in between writing blog posts, recording and editing videos, and working on my programs and courses, so I need something that can handle all that without breaking the bank. I'm more of an Apple girl myself, so I've been fine with my 3-year-old MacBookPro 13" 2017 model. (And yes, I didn't even need the one with the Touchbar, no matter how cool it looked or how much I wanted it.)
But someone who works in, say, animation or design might need something more powerful for the kind of programs and apps they run. It all depends on your needs—I wouldn't recommend buying a brand new MacBook Pro 15" if the "heaviest" app you use is Microsoft Word.
Your home office needs just the right computer, laptop or PC, that suits your needs. You won't always need the latest gadget on the market, and you can always just spend a little money to refresh and upgrade existing tools instead of buying a completely new one altogether.
3. Lots of Light
Any productive home office needs a lot of light. There are actual studies that prove our motivation and drive to work can be affected by how much light we receive, regardless of its source.
Pro-Tip: The most cost-effective thing to do here is choose a spot near a window (without sacrificing Essential #1, of course). Natural light is free, and it's been one of the best productivity boosters I've personally known.
But if you work in a spot that's all walls, has tinted windows, or gets little to no light, there's nothing wrong with artificial light. Rearrange some lamps or light sources from your home and make them part of your productive workspace. If you absolutely must buy new ones, get something that you know will last a long time for the most bang for your buck.
My current home office gets some natural light from the big window in the corner of my room, but I supplement it with a lamp for when I'm writing or reading.
The thing about any workspace or home office is we tend to build up a lot of clutter over time. Be it papers and folders of things we'll need as reference, cables and wires for our many gadgets, and just bits and pieces of work paraphernalia like paper clips and binders.
Of course, you should definitely make like Marie Kondo and declutter some of these items. But in case it isn't possible to hit Desk Space Zero (or my home office version of Inbox Zero which means a relatively empty desktop), then organizers will do just the job.
You might already have some organizers lying around your house, unused! Also check for pouches, purses, and other items you might be able to repurpose.
Currently I only need one to keep my many, many chargers and cables at bay. Depending on your own desk space and work needs, you might be able to use desk-side or under-desk drawers. My other productive home office at my condo has just that, and I love the space it saves me both physically and mentally. Out of sight, out of mind, anyone?
5. Notepads and Notebooks
I'm currently on a personal experiment where I do almost everything I can do on digital note-taking apps and project management software. But candidly, I have to say that even with the best note-taking tools, I still find myself wanting to put pen to paper.
When I jot down my daily task list for the day, when I want to do a brain dump, nothing compares to the feeling of a good pen gliding across scratchy paper.
Keeping even a tiny notepad is always an essential piece of my productive workspace.
Besides, writing things down by hand has an almost-magical effect on us: we feel more committed to what it is we're writing down, we remember things better, and there's just something so calming and relaxing when we choose to slow down and write by hand instead of frantically typing things out.
6. Inspiration Wall
Many home office setups I see have their desk facing a wall—mine being no exception. If this is the case for you, consider using the available space you have for things that bring inspiration. Getting inspired can ultimately help you feel more productive, especially when you aren't feeling motivated.
As you might have seen in my own home office, I chose wall art. They were the easiest to install—I only needed mounting tape.
That even served a double purpose. Because I wanted to be productive, I chose a productive workspace setup that didn't take forever to complete. Putting up wall art took mere minutes versus something more tedious for a solo gal like myself.
Pro-Tip: You can substitute wall art for picture frames, mood and vision boards, or shelves full of plants or tchotchkes. Choose anything that'll keep you motivated and productive, and that can be something very personal to you!
7. An Ergonomic Chair
Don't underestimate the power of a good, comfy seat on your productivity.
While you're designing your productive home office, I find that it's easy to forget about the chair. We sometimes pick aesthetic over function, and we end up with a chair that doesn't help us stay productive all day.
My personal favorite ergonomic chairs are cushioned ones. Of course, if you have a standing desk for your sit-stand work area, then you might need a cushioned standing mat to supplement your chair and keep you on your feet.
Pro-Tip: You don't need to buy a fancy chair. Look for the most comfortable one you might have, then just use a throw pillow to either sit on or rest your back on. This small change can do wonders to add comfort and give you a more productive workspace!
8. Something Green
An interesting thing I stumbled across in my research for the best productivity tips is the case about greenery.
Studies suggest that greenery, like plants, can boost productivity in the long run. You get sick less, you feel more calm, and you're more engaged at your work.
Of course, the studies I read were conducted long, long ago, but I still believe they're relevant even today.
You might ask yourself: what if I can't put in a plant in my home office setup? Valid question, especially if you live in a small space or one that doesn't receive natural sunlight that plants need.
An article I read suggests that even adding just photos of greenery and plants can help stimulate the brain and make you feel calmer. It's not the same thing as having plants physically in your space, sure, but it's still something.
Another alternative you can do is take your work breaks surrounded by nature. I have a yard full of greens around my house, so I can just step to the window or even walk outdoors for a little bit. The nearest tree or green space might just be outside your door.
So while keeping plants in your productive workspace might not be possible, there are still several ways to benefit from the ones around your home.
How are you designing your productive home office?
A well-designed workspace can be a productive workspace. And when so many of us have to create a home office that maximizes our productivity and energy, it can be challenge. Instead of spending a fortune on apps and tools, use what you might already have or can get easy access to.
Leave me a comment! What do you consider an essential for your home office productivity? What are you planning to add?