Ideal work environment

What’s your ideal work environment? And I don’t mean like the type of company you want to work for. But the desk/chair/office/cubicle/window etc discussion. What makes you productive? What makes you unproductive? What doesn’t matter at all to you?

My ideal environment changes pretty frequently. What will have worked for the past 2 months, or 8 months, will no longer seem quite “right.” Some of the time, I like working in a chair, away from a desk, with my feet up. Other times, I need to be at a desk, facing it “properly”, and other times, I sit at a desk with my fee up on the desk, and laptop in my lap.

There are times when an external monitor is a good thing, but most of the time, I much prefer a 15 inch laptop (I tried smaller, and it was too small) and I have no interest in larger, because that becomes too big and bulky and not good for using on your lap.

I don’t like music. I find music really distracting. And so almost never have it on. On the other hand, I often code with tv shows playing as background noise. I usually do so with shows I’ve seen before, so I can “tune in” during parts I like and ignore the rest. I think why I like it, is that TV shows are pretty much people just talking. So it’s like not being alone, but, not needing to contribute to the conversation (or wanting to).

Which leads to the fact that I prefer to be by myself. I find real people distracting. I want to engage with them when I’m around them. And usually that can lead to interesting conversations, but does not result in my code being written. I can’t seem to code and hold a conversation, which I imagine is pretty normal, because coding is a language, and this would be similar to trying to write an essay while talking to a friend about a different topic.

However, that’s not to say I can’t be productive in front of other people. And when I set my mind to it, I can. I do find, that this is easier when I’m around friends (ironically) then acquaintances. My guess, is that, when I’m around acquaintances, I always feel like someone is watching what I do, and then I get very nervous if I take a break to read the news, or check email or whatever. With friends, I don’t get that same sense of being judged. Which is likely entirely in my mind, but it’s there.

I like being near a window. Or at least being able to easily see out of a window, without much effort (so turning in a chair is okay, but having to move the chair or get out of my seat is not ideal). It’s a combination of natural light, a different scenery, and knowing what the weather is doing. The outdoors is always changing, the wall, not so much.

Of course, meeting all of my “requirements” is difficult as a grad student, except when I work from home. Which is probably why I love to work from home. But, I do have one office that meets most of my needs, and if I’m on campus, it’s where I prefer to work.

However, it’s not my “real” office (the one I’m suppose to work in based on my supervisor) and that one I hate. I’m facing a wall. There’s a filing cabinet near me, that blocks the view to the closest window (I have to move my chair, and/or turn around and get up to see one). And the people near the windows like to keep the blinds almost all the way down anyway. The desk has a stupid metal thing that sticks down from the middle of it, but stops about a foot or so above the ground. But is perfectly placed to attack your shins, should you try to stretch your legs out. And the desk is tiny, so I can’t spread out at all. This is the desk I have to sit at for six weeks each summer, and makes me somewhat resent our high school students.

What’s your office/lab space on campus like (should you have any)? Does it meet your requirements?


2 thoughts on “Ideal work environment

  1. I have the same issues: sometimes I like sitting ergonomically at my desk (with the 90° and back support), other times out at a café or at the library. At the café I have to be with a friend, at the library I prefer to be alone; for both places it comes down to being the least distracted. I need either unintelligible background noise or quiet. My back also can’t be toward a crowd or an empty space. There needs to be a wall or minimal bodies there. If I have a window to look out of, even better Music? Nah. If I do, it only works with classical — some Tchaikovsky ballets, or some turn of the century impressionist composers à la Satie or Debussy. The couch has also been a spot of choice, but never on my bed. Good question! With all the time we spend doing work, knowing our ideals goes a long way at our best attempts at productivity.

    • The only times I’ve been able to work with music, it has to be classical. And I think that’s because there are no lyrics and so I don’t get caught up the same way.

      And yes – never ever every on my bed. That leads to lying down. And lying down leads to a nap…

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