Tips on Creating the Perfect Desk Setup (No Matter Where You Are)

By Guest Post •  Updated: 06/28/16 •  9 min read

Over the years, I’ve worked from a LOT of different places: Cafes in Bali, call centers in the Philippines, 5 star hotels, and $5/night rooms. 

But the reality is, you can be productive anywhere. It’s all about getting in the right mindset, and in some cases, getting your physical space right as well. This post from Kayla Matthews will help you nail that perfect desk setup, regardless of where it is.

Take it away, Kayla!

best desk setupCalling all freelancers and remote workers!

You have the freedom to work anywhere in the world. That’s awesome. However, your workspace and “desk” setup is likely always changing.

Yet, no matter where you work, it’s nice to have your own space to inspire and motivate you.

So, below, I’m sharing some tips on ways you can have an awesomely productive desk setup, even when your desk is always changing.

To be clear, if you plan on doing the coffee shop or free outdoor WiFi thing, this post might not be for you… today. But, if you’re someone who often uses co-working spaces or hotel room desks, then this is is going to be right up your alley.

#1. Bring Personal Items

Have you ever had a bad day at work?

Maybe your boss yelled at you or something in your personal life has you in a bad mood. These are the days you are less productive and lack motivation.

Remember, positivity fuels productivity.

Workers who are less stressed and in a positive mood are far more productive than those who aren’t.

One way you can induce positivity in your desk setup is to bring personal items to your workplace. These can be pictures of family members or friends, or a small gift that was given to you by your child. Seeing these personal items at your desk can lift your mood and make you more productive.

#2. Bring Plants

I’m not suggesting that you build a garden around your workspace. I don’t think your local coffee shop would appreciate that!

Instead, you can buy a small plant that’s easily transportable and take it with you to your desk. It turns out that plants increase productivity by 15 percent. Plants in workplaces lift workers’ moods and make them feel more positively about their job.

A sliver of nature at your desk is comforting and makes you feel less trapped. Sitting inside all day and working is exhausting. Put a plant in the corner of your desk so you have a small connection to the outside world.

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#3. Find Natural Light

The lighting of your workspace affects your productivity. The more well-lit your work area is, the more aware and awake you are. However, no lighting is more beneficial to productivity than natural light.

Our brains are synced with our circadian rhythm. Your mind responds to sunlight. That’s why we wake up when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun sets.

Working close to a window brings you closer our natural circadian cycle. This will help you sleep at night and work harder during the day.

No matter where your desk is, try to work by a window. If you work at a coffee shop, get a table near the front window. If you work at a remote office location, try to get the corner office. If you work from home, station yourself in front of a window.

#4. Plan For Background Color When You Can

Put your paint cans down. I’m sure the owner of your remote location doesn’t want you painting the walls. Unless you’re working from home, in which case, go crazy.

It’s been proven that certain colors affect productivity. Different colors work for different people because each color stimulates a different part of your brain.

Blue is often perceived as the most productive color because it stimulates your mind and lets you concentrate. However, yellow stimulates creativity more than blue.

If you’re working on a book or screenplay, you might want to have yellow in your workplace. Many people say green makes them more productive because it encourages balance in their minds.

Let’s say you work in a public space where you can’t paint the walls. Aim to sit near, or even get a small colored bulletin board or some kind of backdrop to put up against the wall or around your desk.

It doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be in a spot where you can see it. A bulletin board would work great because then you can pin pictures and quotes to it as well.

#5. Clean Your Workspace (Even If It’s Someone Else’s Mess)

The way you set up your desk is entirely up to you. However, a clean and organized desk will make you productive.

Clutter decreases your productivity because it acts as a distraction.

When surrounded by clutter, your brain is trying to focus on everything in sight, which causes your mind to become less concentrated on the task at hand. No matter where you’re working from, you can clean up your workspace so your productive energy is focused on your main task.

#6. Then Again: Maybe Messy Isn’t So Bad…

You know the benefits of a clean workspace. But can a messy workplace also increase your productivity?

Messiness can boost your creativity. The unorganized appearance of your desk promotes an unorganized way of thinking. If your project relies on creativity, then a messy desk could help you come up with your most intriguing ideas yet.

The choice to clean up or leave the clutter will depend on your personal preferences, as well as the kind of project you’re working on.

Just take the time to consider both options.

#7. Get a Wireless Router

You can’t be productive without the service needed to work.

The Wi-Fi in public places isn’t always reliable. Add a wireless router to your desk setup so you have an optimal internet connection. Even if there’s a strong Wi-Fi signal where you’re working, the network might not be secure. Additionally, it’s possible to have problems with international signals.

Whether you use your own router or someone else’s, using a Virtual Private Network is often another feature to consider. VPNs can protect your personal information, but also cut down on time spent working around geographic restrictions online.

For freelancers, they tend to be most helpful if you do a lot of your work overseas.

#8. Try Inspirational Quotes

Productivity can come from an extra boost of inspiration. Make sure you’re motivated at any remote location by displaying inspirational quotes at your desk.

The best way to do this is to buy an “Inspirational Quote of the Day” calendar. The calendar can fit in your bag, and you can use it to write down your daily tasks.

This is a great example of an item that keeps you organized, doesn’t take up too much space and gives you that extra ounce of productive energy.

Sometimes your workplace location isn’t enough to make you more productive. A calendar full of inspirational quotes tucked away on your desk’s corner will motivate you to complete your work.

You could also grab the Momentum Chrome extension for a motivational photo and quote each day.

#9. Use An Online Clock

If you have more than one task to complete then chances are you’ve set different times you want them done by. When you’re working on something, you might lose track of time and accidentally spend too much time on one thing.

This is where a digital clock comes in handy.

Yes, I’m aware that you can check your phone for the time. What happens when you look at the lock screen for the time? You see all the notifications waiting for you…texts from friends, notifications from Facebook and twenty unread emails.

Checking your phone for a second can open a Pandora’s Box of distractions.

However, there are all kinds of browser extensions and Pomodoro timers to help you stay on track. I personally prefer these when I need to get a lot of work done.

#10. Put Heavy Items on the Left

You can have many items at your desk to boost your productivity. However, these items don’t mean anything if they aren’t placed in the right spots.

One productivity trick is to put the larger, heavier items to the left of smaller items. These larger items include your desktop and books. The smaller items should go to the right, in order from larger to smaller.

Why does this trick work?

Because your mind is trained to look from left to right. You read from left to right, so you’re already used to analyzing everything from this perspective.

What does this have to do with productivity?

You’re more productive when you’re less stressed. Stress weighs heavily on your mind and minimizes your focus on the task at hand. One of the causes of stress is knowing that a lot of work is in the near future.

After you place lighter items that have little to do with your work on the right side of your desk, your brain will register them last. This will reduce stress and make you more productive.

Be Productive Anywhere

Traveling to new locations for work doesn’t mean your productivity has to suffer. Take the time to organize each workspace so you can get your work done.

Kayla Matthews is a productivity blogger based out of Pittsburgh, PA. You can read her latest posts by following her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews

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4 comments on "Tips on Creating the Perfect Desk Setup (No Matter Where You Are)"

  1. Paul Florance says:

    Enjoyed this! Thank you.

  2. Alp says:

    Hey Kayla, great post! Thanks for inviting her again, Sean.

    The tip about yellow is fascinating.

    I’m curious: Have you read anything about the effects of white? I checked the article you linked to, but it only discusses blue, yellow, green and red.

    Bright white works wonders for me. But then again, I’m a sucker for minimalist design in spacious offices with lots of sunlight. I really like Nordic aesthetics.

    What’s your favourite style?

  3. Corey Tat says:

    Hey Kayla,

    I really enjoyed this post. We spend so much of our time at our desk, and it never really occurred to me how we can optimize our work space. Especially using a desk set up for working anywhere.

    I personally have motivation work quotes around my work space, especially if I’m putting in really long hours and I need the extra motivation to put in some more work.

    As for a messy work desk, it’s funny you mentioned this. I’ve heard two sides of the coin as well. I remember hearing that a messy desks boosts productivity. So I tried that. I’m a very unorganized person as it is, so it creates chaos for me.

    I found the more clean my work space is, the less anxious I would feel. Again, like you mentioned, it’s all based on personal preference.

    I like to keep my desk very basic with motivational quotes. I find this is the best for me. What works well for you?

  4. Very useful post- we are going to share with other followers at Flip! (Btw if you ever need short term housing while working on the road, check us out)

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