How to Create an Optimal Workspace at Home

Posted by Michelle Tieu on July 13, 2021

Student Life

A collage of Deea's desk and Michelle's desk with a colourful gradient and grain effect applied.

Hey Lions! Having worked remotely for almost a year now, I’ve come to realize the importance of an efficient workspace. Whether you are taking online courses or working remotely, having a good workspace is essential to your success. To help you create a space that allows you to thrive, we thought it would be helpful to share our best tips and tricks for an optimal workspace at home. Deea and I will also show our personal workspaces and how we optimize them for productivity!

Before we get started with how to optimize your workspace, the first thing to keep in mind is to avoid using your bed as a space for work or study. We’ve all done it and we’ve all fallen asleep in the process! This is because our brain correlates sleeping with a bed. Also, working on your bed will affect your posture and may cause lower-back pain after extended periods of time. Separating your workspace from your sleep space will increase your productivity.

Consider the location of your workspace

Before you go and buy a bunch of expensive stuff for your workspace, think about what YOU need to be efficient. I have two spaces in my home where I work. I am a people person and love working on my kitchen table because I can see my family throughout the day. However, if I have Zoom meetings or classes, I move back into my room, for privacy. If you are like me, remember to keep a small portable bag with all your stationery supplies and notebooks so that you can carry them with you wherever you decide to work!

Deea is completely the opposite. She has her desk set up in her room that houses all her study and work stuff, and she doesn’t have to carry around supplies with her all around her house.

If you are more like her and need more quiet time, having a private space to work would be helpful.

Understanding the location will help you figure out what you need for your workspace. Also, remember that it is not about aesthetics, it is about functionality. You don’t need to go overboard with making things look pretty. Make sure that the layout and space work for you.

Success tip: If you don’t have a private space, wearing headphones and listening to ambient noise can help block out noises in your environment. I personally recommend Coffitivity if you want to be immersed in a café environment, or Marconi Union for ambient noise.

The desk

If you are building a workspace from scratch, it is a good idea to put in some thought towards the type of desk you would need. While some people prefer small desks, others need more surface space to work. Decide which desk you want depending on your needs and not just aesthetics. Consider how much storage space will be good for your desk. Remember that you don’t need to spend too much on a desk. You can always thrift it!

If you already have a desk and spend hours at it using your laptop to work or study, it may be a good idea to invest in a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to connect to your laptop. This will not only prevent you from straining your eyes and neck but also improve your posture.

Personally, I use a lot of different gadgets while working—a laptop charger, phone charger, a lamp, and a headphone charger. It is really helpful to have a multi-port charging station with a surge protector to charge all your electronics in one place on your desk. This way you don’t have to waste time trying to find available sockets!

Don’t forget to add something that motivates you like photos of your loved ones, a plant, inspirational quotes or random aesthetic prints that liven up space.

Success tip: If you find yourself getting distracted by social media or Netflix, I recommend putting your phone away in a drawer, unless you need it for study purposes. For your laptop/computer, you can download extensions that block you from accessing websites: Serene for MacOS and StayFocusd Extension for Chrome. You can also check out these Five Productivity Apps to Stay on Track.

The Chair

As I said before, I can work from anywhere which makes things a bit easier for me. But like Deea, if you live in a university residence, you may already have a built-in desk in your room with standard-issue chairs. These chairs can sometimes be uncomfortable and cause backaches over time.

An easy (and inexpensive) fix to make it more comfortable is to add a good seat cushion and a back cushion for lumbar support.

Keep your work area neat

I am guilty of having a super messy desk (I call it organized chaos 😉), but I find that having a cluttered desk distracts me from work. I have an urge to clean up before starting work, which demotivates me from working. Keeping your desk generally clear of clutter will help you stay focused on work.

Success tip: Deea says that her brain refuses to work at a cluttered desk. So, she clears her desk every day after work so that she can come back to a clean and fresh space the next day without having to worry about cleaning first thing in the morning!

These tips should help you figure out what you need to optimize your workspace, but just in case you need more ideas, here are some pictures of our workspaces!

Michelle’s desk

An image of Michelle's desk with a legend of the items. Her desk is in front of a big window, with a set of desk drawers on the lefthand side of the desk. A ball chair is tucked under her desk. Against the window, there is a whiteboard. There is a standing desk riser with various items on it, including a glass greenhouse with plants, a laptop and a desk lamp on the upper shelf and a keyboard and mouse on the lower shelf of the desk riser. Items in the legend include: a whiteboard, plants, pens, water, lamp, mug, pencil pouch, laptop, headphones, an iPad for a second screen, a storage drive, sticky notes, a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, a desk riser a ball chair and a surge protector.
My workspace in my room is where I like to go for Zoom meetings!
An image of Michelle's flex workspace along with a legend of the items. An image of a surge protector is overlayed on top of the desk. An iPad is to the left, the laptop is on a laptop stand in the middle, with a mug on the righthand of the stand. A keyboard is in front of the stand. The items on the legend are: a surge protector, a laptop, a laptop stand, a mug, iPad for a secondary screen, keyboard, breakfast and a pen and paper for quick notes. Michelle's note: "When I am in a rush, I just use my laptop and iPad without the stand, which I have to set up."
My workspace in my kitchen, which lets me see my family throughout the day!

I am sharing photos of both my workspaces to give you an idea of how it changes.

I suffer from chronic back pain. So, to help me improve my posture, I personally invested in a standing desk riser. This desk helps me switch postures between sitting and standing. I also have a ball chair to help improve my posture while sitting. But this is definitely a splurge, so don’t buy them unless you think they’ll help you. A budget-friendly option would be a laptop stand that props up your laptop to your eye level (like the one I use at my kitchen table).

Natural light is my biggest motivator. I have a lamp that simulates sunlight at night and has different light settings from cold to warm. This helps me stay focused longer.

I also like to have a lot of storage space to help keep my desk decluttered. These IKEA Alex drawers are a perfect fit for me. If you don’t have an IKEA close by or want something more budget-friendly, check out some furniture thrift stores!

Success tip: For all of your digital storage needs, while you can use Google Drive or similar cloud storage platforms, it is also a good idea to invest in a good external drive. As a design student, I have so many projects that an external drive is essential to back up all my high-resolution files.

My whiteboard helps me organize my to-do lists and keep track of multiple projects. If you are someone who needs to see their to-do lists or daily schedule all the time, this is a great hack! And it is super satisfying to erase everything after a productive day!

Deea’s desk

An image of Deea's desk with a legend indicating every item on her desk. Her desk includes a shelf above her desk, a monitor stand with shelves for items on the lefthand of the desk and a printer to the right of the desk. A corkboard is on the wall behind the desk. The items in her workspace are: a yellow light lamp, electronic pouch, something Deea painted, books on her shelf, a pen stand, water bottle, charging station behind her monitor, a monitor, her current reading pile, a corkboard, a laptop, a printer, lip balm and hand cream, a snack, a monitor stand, iPad and earphones, keyboard and mouse and a planner and pen pouch.
Deea’s desk in her dorm at York!

Deea doesn’t like cords and electronics running wild on her desk which is why she has hidden a multi-port charging station behind the monitor. She also keeps all of her electronics like power banks, hard drives, adapters, and smaller cords in a pouch. This way, they are not scattered everywhere!

Her corkboard holds assignment guidelines, important dates, and some photos.

If you are wondering why she has so many books, that’s because Deea is an English Literature student, she doesn’t like reading digitally, and books inspire her!

While I use a whiteboard, Deea keeps a planner on her desk for all her commitments and to stay on top of everything that she needs to do. If you have never used a planner before, here is Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Planner.

Deea keeps her desk light on the shelf because it spreads more light across her desk and creates a little more space on the desk.

And let’s face it, everyone needs snacks at their desk!

Success tip: This may sound obvious but keeping a waste bin next to your workspace is a gamechanger! This is a must-have especially if you take notes on paper or love using post-its. You can easily throw all unwanted paper into the waste bin without cluttering your desk!

Let us know in the comments below how you optimize your workspace!

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Graphics by Michelle Tieu

Michelle Tieu
Michelle Tieu

Michelle Tieu is a first-year Design major at York University that provides the illustrations and graphics for the YUBlog. She loves longboarding, crocheting and listening to pop music. Michelle hopes her work at the YUBlog will help current and future students of York learn more about York and the great student culture!

See other posts by Michelle Tieu