Workspace Optimization vs. Workspace Agnosticism

As it is with most personal development topics I think about, I'm finding myself wrestling with somewhat of a paradox. 

What's better, identifying and creating the optimal workspace for the way you work or cultivating the ability to work anywhere? Basically, focus on creating the best environment in which to do your work or focus on being comfortably location agnostic?


If you have a lot of control over where and how you work (indie workers, I'm looking at you) then you've likely invested some time thinking about what your optimal workspace looks like (and if you haven't then now is a good time to start). From the tools you use to the chair you sit in to the color of your walls and the soundtrack (or lack thereof) of your office -- you have a lot of control over crafting it around your personality and needs. With systematic experimentation and an eye for what helps or hinders your productivity, you can create a veritable productivity haven built specifically to your whims. 

This is why my home "office" always has a large white board with my weekly calendar and major due dates within easy line of sight from where I sit, why I keep a very minimal desk with just my computer and whatever I'm currently working on on its surface, and why I am always listening to some kind of instrumental music. I know what I like, I know what I need, and I create my space to reflect that as much as possible.


On the other hand, perhaps our time is better spent developing the abilities that makes our environment unimportant to how we work? If you're location independent in your work then it makes sense to be able to pack up and work from anywhere. Instead of spending time energy and money on creating the perfect home office, you can instead work from your kitchen table, the park, a coffee shop, and the library with equal productivity and happiness. How location independent can you really be if you can only work in a perfectly laid out office? 

If this sounds like the way to go, then you need to develop your ability to block out distractions and truly concentrate. You need to be able to work with only a minimal amount of tools as you aren't likely to be trucking around your complete arsenal of productivity materials. You need to be comfortable working from unknown locations and low strung enough that the occasional wi-fi outage or noisy cafe neighbor doesn't send your day into a complete tailspin.


As with many dichotomies conveniently created for blog articles, this one is false. At least, to a large extent. While I can definitely see people falling more into one camp than the other, there's no reason you can't both create an awesome home base completely designed to your specifications and develop the ability to work productively from anywhere. 

The most important factor that cuts across both of these options, however, is self-knowledge. It's not about having one strategy that you stick to come hell or high water. It's about knowing yourself and what you need to work well to make good decisions about how you're going to work each day. If you know you need burning incense, instrumental music at precisely 45 decibels and a fuzzy cat in your lab to successfully write, then maybe it's best if you worked from home on those days. If you know your corporate office is a good place to knock out relatively menial and easy tasks but the worst place ever to sit down and think deeply about a problem, then it behooves you to find a better environment. At the same time, cultivating the concentration and focus necessary to be location agnostic in your work gives you the flexibility and peace of mind to work anywhere, under any conditions. It's up to you to know what your day demands, to know how you work best, and then take action to make that happen.

Do what you can to make your home base as productive as possible but don't forget that very rarely in the knowledge worker economy does work take anything more than a computer and an internet connection. Strive to be the master of your productivity kingdom and the slave to nothing.

Photos by Jared Schmidt and Onyx Mirror