Though many of us dream of crafting at-home workspaces fit for Instagram, anyone who’s spent any time working from home knows pretty isn’t everything. We’ve all made the mistake of curating a space so lovely looking we can’t wait to spend all day there. But then when we go to actually spend all day there, we find the furniture uncomfortable, the décor distracting, or the environment generally out of balance. In other rooms, this disconnect can often be glossed over. But a home office is only as strong as its least practical piece of furniture. We humans will accept any reason to procrastinate—so an environment full of distractions is a productivity disaster waiting to happen.
Thankfully, home offices are about as easy to improve as they are to derail. Minor tweaks—like removing a curtain to let more light in, or trading a too-harsh seat for something more enduringly comfortable—can have a major impact. With just a few quick swaps, an at-home workspace can be entirely transformed. And an office that once encouraged only distraction can quickly become a space abounding with creative energy.
The easiest place to start? With the most distracting, irritating corners of your at-home workspace. Is there a too-bright print that just keeps catching your eye? Is there a lamp that’s just so pretty you feel more tempted to take pictures of it than do your actual work? Is there a crisp, minimalist clock you thought would encourage productivity, but that instead leaves you feeling dismayed every time you check it? Rid your space of any and every nuisance you can find—even if they are really cute, and even if they do leave your workspace looking way more photogenic.
And if the line between energizing and distracting has become so blurred you can’t even tell the difference anymore, don’t worry—we have a few ideas for the first steps you can take to transform, renew, and reinvigorate your at-home workspace.
Mistake 1: Your At-Home Workspace Isn’t Well-Lit
Lighting can make or break a workspace, and your home office is no exception. We’ve all had haunting experiences with harsh artificial lighting, and we’ve likely had horrifying run-ins with dim lighting, too. The best lighting is the kind that goes unnoticed, and that tends to be—no surprise here—natural lighting.
Try to position your at-home workspace close to a window that gets plenty of natural light. If that isn’t an option for you, invest in a few lamps you like being around. Experiment with different bulbs until you’ve crafted a set-up that’s as warm and bright as you want it to be. The right balance will likely vary from person to person. But all that matters is that you feel good in your at-home workspace.
Mistake 2: Your Chair Is Too Comfortable—Or Worse, Not Comfortable Enough
The perfect desk chair is comfortable enough to spend all day in, but not so cozy that it invites you to slack off. Ideally, you want something upright and structured—but not rigid or uncomfortable. The exact height, shape, and material will vary based on who you are and how you like to work. But give yourself a little time to experiment and figure out what you want.
And don’t sweat it if you buy a chair you don’t end up loving. Think of it this way: You’ve made it one step closer to finding a chair you will love. Plus, return policies exist for a reason.
Mistake 3: You’ve Cluttered Your Desk With Décor
Many of us get so excited about curating our at-home workspaces that we fill them with cute décor. We cover our desks with plants, candles, and stylish desk supplies. And while these items look undeniably great in photos, they may not feel that great to work around. Maybe they’re hogging precious desk real estate, limiting how much you can move around during the day. Maybe they’re getting in the way of items you need to access with ease. Or maybe they’re just straight-up distracting you.
No matter what’s going on, consider purging the items you don’t need. Remember, your desk is your workspace. It doesn’t need to be thoroughly decorated—in fact, it can be totally empty. And sometimes, crisp, peaceful minimalism can feel even prettier and more inviting than a thoroughly decorated home office.
Mistake 4: Your Desk Isn’t Big Enough
If your desk can’t hold your laptop, your notebook, and anything else you need to access with ease, it might not be big enough. If you’re dealing with space constraints, you may need to get creative on this one; consider storing oft-needed items under your desk to maximize desk space, or favoring a low-décor set-up over a more maximalist one. But if you have the option, consider investing in a bigger desk—or transforming one of the larger surfaces in your house (think: dining room tables, kitchen bars, etc.) into your new at-home workspace.
Mistake 5: Your Desk Isn’t Comfortable to Work On
Many of us obsess about what material our desk chairs are made out of, and we fail to hold our desks to the same standard. I once invested in a concrete desk that looked lovely alongside the rest of my mid-century modern décor. The only problem? It was gritty—and incredibly uncomfortable to work on. Any time I tried to put pen to paper, the result was a bumpy mess. And even worse, I couldn’t move my laptop around on the desk, because I was afraid of scratching it up.
Learn from my mistakes, and invest in a desk you actually like working on. The surface should feel smooth and undistracting, and you should be able to move your things around without giving it much thought.
Mistake 6: Your At-Home Workspace Is Too Close to Your Bedroom
Sleep experts discourage the use of screens in the bedroom and recommend the bedroom to be used for sleep only. Reserving your bedroom for sleep (and sex) only can help you see it as a more relaxing environment, which, they say, can help you get better sleep. The issue? Many of us put our at-home workspaces in our bedrooms—or even worse, we work from our beds.
If you’ve been doing this with no problem, keep doing your thing. But if you’ve noticed a marked decrease in your sleep quality since you started working from home, consider introducing more separation between your bedroom and your workspace. Remember, if there’s no room for a desk anywhere else in your house, you can always try working at your kitchen table or in your living room.
A Good Night's Sleep. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: National Institute on Aging. November 3, 2020