Did you ever notice that while the entire house is yours (at least, you’re the one who signs the checks), there’s no place you can call your own. And no, the boxes in the corner of the dining room don’t count. Nor does the overstuffed file and crammed-full binder that live on a miniscule portion of the kitchen counter, either. As parents, as multitaskers, and as people who “work at home” we often find ourselves working more “mobile” than not…even when we’re “at home.” And while the ability to work on-the-go is critical for us multitaskers, it’s important to recognize the significance of why the Other Half lives how it lives, too. So where’s your office space?

An Office In My Pocket

“Oh, I’m all digital,” you say. “Everything’s on my phone/ipad/laptop/this little indestructible cocktail napkin.”

I’m all for going to a paperless society to save the trees (hey, I’m epublished, remember?), but any office system, before being nifty or cutting-edge or high-tech, has to first do its job. Are you futzing around with the AppStore for ten minutes before you can find those notes on that call in that app you bought just to organize your calls? Instead of the Black Hole of the “file it later” box, does your Black Hole live on your Android? Or a folder on your hard drive?

Tech is great. It’s wonderful. It’s freed up all sorts of time for us to focus on what really matters (like cat macros and internet memes). But if it isn’t doing its job, then it’s just another toy taking away from what really matters.

Paperless Is Not Borderless

Even if you are 100% digital, don’t discount the need for an office space. Space does more than just provide us with flat surfaces to clutter up while we work–it provides cues that help us focus on the tasks we need to do while in that space.

Did you ever notice how your voice goes down when you walk into the sanctuary in a church? Or how your heart lifts when you enter a large area like a train station or an airport. They don’t do that by mistake–transportation hubs are often a city’s gateway and the best way to impress your visitors is to go big, so that when they go home, they talk.

These are visual cues that define your space. Office spaces tend to be blues and grays, beiges, soft mid-toned greens, or occasionally stately dark reds. These colors all project the idea that Very Important Things are happening here, and Very Serious People are doing them. And you, too feel Very Serious when you’re working in one. Ah, the smell and lighting of Corporate America…

For many of us, it takes a lot of practice and a determined mindset to be able to shift our brains to “in the office” mode without seeing that hearty visual cue (and smelling the industrial cleaning solutions, paper and toner ink, and burned commercial-grade coffee, plus the tuna salad that person in Marketing brings in every day, and the banana your cube mate keeps trying to prank you with, but the joke’s on him this time because you locked it in his bottom drawer and just wait until he gets back from traveling…)

Define Your Space

In interior decorating, you define your spaces not just through walls, windows, and doors, but through boundaries. Your Office Space isn’t just a room (if you’re lucky enough to have a whole one dedicated to such), it’s a space where you define what you do when you are in the office. Very few of us will be able to claim entire rooms for offices, but I know writers who have resorted to renting out office space for this very purpose. Even if you don’t have an extra room (in your house, or in your checking account for rent in an office park with good access to the freeway and a Big Boy right around the corner), you can still define what little space you have.

Every house has nooks and crannies that aren’t being used frequently. Can you fit your work into one of these spaces? First, you have to figure out what you need to do. Do you need a desk? Files? Quiet? Perpetually fresh coffee and a supply of rainbow-colored ink pens and a pad of Post-Its the height of a tween child? Where can those things fit in your house? And do they help you do your work? Far be it from me to deny the usefulness of Post-Its, but if you’re making grass skirts for paper dolls out of them…

When I say need, I really do mean need. I’d love to have a mahogany desk and a supercomfy executive chair and a great view of all the little people (and by little people, I mean my kids–preferably through soundproof glass because I do need quiet)…but I don’t need them to do my job. I need a flat surface, a chair or ball that won’t kill my back (or a flat surface on the handles of the treadmill desk), and space enough for my paper notebook/calendar or a binder with whatever WIP I’m revising in it.

Pick your space carefully. Try not to make your work space in the kitchen. Working in the food place means that you’ll have food on the brain all day, and you’ll be taking food cues along with work cues. Ditto with the bedroom. Bedrooms are for sleeping (and other fun activities…that can also happen in other places…). If you conflate sleepy time with work time you may find yourself dozing off while you’re supposed to be working, or worse, unable to sleep when the work for the day is done.

And lastly, the other way we define our spaces is by what we do in them. If you have clawed out a quarter of the kitchen table for work space, then when you’re in that space…do your work. All the space in the world won’t help you unless the space in your head is ready to do.

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She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…

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But he’s still going to prove her wrong.


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