Recently, my partner and I moved from rented accommodation to a house of our own. This gave us an opportunity to properly configure the environment in which we work. Like anyone, the choice to customise our new space was a natural one, though the benefits we've seen, well, they were somewhat unexpected.
I'd be stating the obvious if I were to say a pleasant environment makes one more productive, but I'd go so far as to say improving my workspace has, by a good deal, been the best investment in productivity. Beyond research, knowledge or even the tools I use, the place where I get things done is a huge contributing factor to my productivity; it'll allow me to make the best of my tools and experience.
This story starts with an investment in property and ends with a simple learning exercise, a broken computer and a few crows.
From the old
Before we moved, my partner and I had what I imagine would be a setup that a lot of people constrained on space would choose. In our flat, she put her computer in the living room and I took the second bedroom for my office. We'd use her machine for entertainment when she wasn't working. I'd use my machine mainly for work, and then for entertainment after she went to sleep (I have real trouble getting to sleep before midnight, and my partner's an "early to bed; early to rise" kind of person).
My partner's office contained her computer, the open-plan kitchen and a sofa we used for filing, which we'd hastily clean up when the parents would visit. My office contained all my music gear, my computers and objets d'art like a top hat, a Bakelite telephone and a disused ironing board. Both spaces separated us; neither joined the concerns of work and play. Add to this the fact that we were renting so couldn't decorate or put up shelves to contain all this paraphernalia and we had some pretty messy arrangements indeed.
To the new
When we finally bought our own house, we made the decision that this would all change: we'd work together in the same room (but allow ourselves the opportunity to work separately if we wanted); we'd have a space we'd enjoy being in; and we'd have a totally different space for entertainment and relaxing. No top hats, no sofas full of paperwork, all work and all play.
I'm most happy with the fact that my partner suggested I hang my guitars on the wall. I didn't prompt her, or even make hints. She suggested, of her own volition, that after 20 years of waiting I should have my guitars on the wall.
In reality, this was simply a space-saving exercise, but to me it feels like I finally have a place to come to relax, knowing that my instruments are right there, should the muse come to me.
At roughly the same time as my guitars went up, my partner's computer went down. After several years' good service, her Windows XP desktop just refused to connect to the internet, and finally to boot at all. The natural choice was to buy a laptop, and that she did. This not only means she has a nice, new, fast machine, but we can now do work in the office and in bed (where we spend most of our weekend mornings hacking on projects or keeping up to date with the news). This is great for so many reasons, but mainly because we can still work together even if one of us can't be bothered to go to the office.
Then there's the artwork. Another great choice from my partner: while we were in Rome a few years ago, she picked up a print of Michelangelo's Delphic Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel. She (the sibyl, that is) is now hanging on the opposing wall from my guitars. If there ever was an image that represented human inspiration and prophecy of greatness, this is it:
The final touch on the workspace, for me, is my father's old standard-issue office desk, which he brought home from work more than fifteen years ago and gave to me. You can see it in the image at the top of this page. This beat-up old thing has been a workhorse for many years and still supports all my music gear, random paperwork and stationery.
Why write about this now?
Well, just yesterday, I was sat here at my father's old desk with my guitars and a prophet; my partner in the bedroom applying for jobs and me making a start at learning how to create a Django site. I decided that I should really modify my virtual environment as well as the real one I'm sat in. I'd recently downloaded the incredible Monument Valley for iOS and I thought of the impossible, beautiful worlds therein, matching my exploration of the infinite realm of Python web frameworks and my partner's journey into the unknown of a new job. I decided to change the
hostname of my machine and the colourscheme of my terminal to match my mood. My MacBook Air is now called
the-rookery after one of the chapters in the game. Unlike the derogatory term for city slums, 'the rookery' puts me in mind of vast spaces where the flightless can only dream of their possibilities and where those with wings can exploit the skies for pleasure and freedom.
How has this helped?
The rookery seems like a nice place to work. I thought of all the changes my partner and I have made over the last few weeks and how where we are now is equally pleasing and inspirational. I changed iTerm2's colours to a dark Base16 scheme to match the feathers on the Corvidae family of birds. Both the
hostname and the colourscheme are the finishing touches on the work we've put in to our office space. Every time I hit the enter key, there I am at the rookery.
I must admit, since designing this space, I've felt more at ease, more likely to take healthy risks and more focused on working towards a goal. None of the changes we made was specifically designed for this; it just seems that a pleasant working environment really does boost productivity in ways we couldn't have measured until we did it.
So, as I learn Django with a light heart and dreams of flight, and as my partner continues her search for enlightenment, we can be sure that this little office and its tiny pleasures will help us on our way.
Productivity by spacial proxy, I shall call it until someone can tell me otherwise. Go create your own productivity proxy; I guarantee you'll enjoy it.