Let’s get one thing out of the way: Having the perfect, Instagrammable workspace won’t make you a better writer. You don’t need a hip, aspirational home office to get your best work done, but there are some ways in which you can design a workspace — and a work process — that can help make your job easier.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of having a separate office just for our work and writing, so it can be a challenge to find the perfect nook in your home or apartment to get stuff done. In choosing your ideal writing space and process, there are a few factors you want to keep in mind.
Find your most productive writing hours.
Many writers say they work best in the morning and can crank out 1,000 words with ease before the sun rises. Other writers prefer to get their writing done at night after the kids have gone to bed and the house is quiet. Not all writers have the luxury of being able to write around their best hours, of course — sometimes you have to squeeze in your writing around a full-time job.
But it can still help to get in touch with your body’s circadian rhythm — its internal clock — to know when your ideal working hours are. From there, you can design your writing schedule around that time as best you can. If you’re most productive in the morning, for example, save less creative tasks, like checking email, for later in the day, or try to catch up on them before you go to bed the night before.
There’s a good chance you already have a hunch when your most productive hours are, but apps like RescueTime can help you track your work tasks and tell you how long you spend on certain types of work throughout the day. You can also experiment with writing during different times of day to see when the words seem to flow the easiest.
Set the mood with the right sounds.
If you find it hard to work in complete silence, you’re not alone. A 2012 study found that ambient noise can actually “lead to higher creativity.” If you can’t make it to the coffee shop to get your writing done — hello, 2020 — there are sound apps that can help. For instance, Coffivity plays soundtracks like “lunchtime lounge” and “university undertones.” The website Rainy Mood plays lovely rain sounds if that’s your preferred type of ambient noise. The background noise of television might also do the trick.
As the New York Times reports, total silence can be more helpful for tasks that require extreme focus, but that level of focus can keep you from thinking in the abstract. “The benefits of moderate noise, however, apply only to creative tasks. Projects that require paying close attention to detail, like proofreading a paper or doing your taxes, Dr. Mehta said, are performed better in quiet environments,” they reported.
Lighting matters, too. A 2013 study found that dim lighting can also be good for creativity. According to the abstract, “darkness elicits a feeling of being free from constraints and triggers a risky, explorative processing style.”
Follow some basic ergonomics rules.
Your workspace should also be physically comfortable, and that doesn’t mean typing from your laptop in bed (okay, maybe sometimes).
But long-term comfort matters, too, which is why an ergonomic workspace is important. A recent paper published in the journal Ergonomics in Design outlined a few best practices:
- The top of your computer screen should be at eye level. If you don’t have an adjustable chair or a high enough surface to set up your writing space, you can boost the height of your screen with books. If you’re using your laptop on your lap, boost its height with a pillow.
- If you’re using dual monitors, the primary monitor should be directly in front of you.
- Resting your arms on a hard surface while you type, like a kitchen table, can cause contact stress. You can counteract this by placing a small towel over the edge of the table.
- Reduce glare by placing your laptop or computer in front of a window.
- Every 30 minutes, get up and walk around for two minutes.
You can read more of the paper’s recommendations here. And speaking of breaks, we highly recommend the Pomodoro technique to find the perfect balance of writing and taking breaks. The idea is simple: You set a timer to do extremely focused work for 20 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Repeat this step three times and then take a longer, one-hour break. The Tomato Timer app can help you keep track.