Wellness the Series: LIVEli'hoods

Enjoy the second article in a series on wellness and the built environment I am writing for Urban Times.

How much thought did you put into the d├ęcor of your living room? How much time choosing just the right paint color, furniture, accents, lighting, window treatment, electronics? Now think about how many hours of the average week you actually spend in this carefully designed oasis. If you averaged as much as 4 hours a day, that would be 28 hours. Let’s move now to a space where you likely spend upwards of 40 hours per week- the office. Chances are, you had very little to say about the design of this space and are doing your best to cope with the situation given to you. You don’t have to tolerate life in the cubicle ‘hood. Whether your problem is too little space (and resulting clutter), poor lighting, no views, poor location or any of a host of other environmental ills, there’s a fix that can immediately upgrade you to a more restorative work environment.
What’s the problem?
As in any effort, step one is to define the problem: your current work environment and how it affects you. I challenge all of you to photograph your current workspace and then spend a week logging the following:
  1. Work activity
  2. Location of work activity (ie. at your desk, in a conference room , off site)
  3. Why the activity was performed in the location it was
  4. How well the location supported the activity
  5. Your physical condition (mood, any aches, pains, colds, etc.)
Why should I care?
We’ve all rolled our eyes at the co-worker who brings in lumbar pillows, space heaters and a host of other paraphernalia, and yet is no more productive for all this gear. While, such “oversensitivity” seems self-indulgent, you may never have realized the toll taken by your work environment. Refer to your list to see just how much or how little you have to develop work-arounds related to spatial deficiencies. You will never be your productive and creative best in an environment that isn’t supportive of your well-being as well as your work activities. Long hours spent in an unsupportive environment leads to stress, physical illness, and negative thinking. No paycheck is worth that.
What do I do?
The good news is that you don’t need to quit your job to realize a life-affirming workspace. Not only do you have more control than you may think over your own workspace, but by offering up some suggestions to your boss and co-workers, you may find that there has been a silent majority longing for some upgrades and willing to make changes. A complete remodel may not be in the cards – it doesn’t have to be. Here are some basic suggestions to make your workplace a livable community:
  1. Clean and clear – The biggest drain on energy and productivity is disorganized space. Take some time to clear your desk as well as common work areas. This will save everyone time and frustration as well as remove the nagging stress of visual clutter.
  2. Fix what’s broken – Whether it’s that wobbly desk chair, a need for a keyboard tray, or a fluorescent light that keeps blinking, these “broken” environmental elements affect you both physically and mentally. Repetitive stress injuries, tension headaches and muscle aches often originate in the work environment.
  3. Introduce ease – You may have heard of Lean Design, a process for analyzing work patterns and eliminating things that waste time, money or energy. Are you constantly walking back and forth to the same destinations? Create a mini supply kit at your desk. Do you repeatedly spill your coffee because it’s in your way? Consider rearranging your desk to provide better placement of your phone and computer. Collaborate with your fellow staff to rearrange what isn’t working and perhaps to create areas like informal collaborative spaces.
  4. Let the sun shine in – Access to natural light and views is critical to well-being. Studies show that workers exposed to natural light are healthier, have fewer workplace errors and fewer workplace injuries. No windows in your workspace? Choose a screen saver that depicts natural elements, place images of nature at your desk, bring in a plant, fresh flowers or a desktop fountain. Make it a point to get outside every day to spend time in nature. Counteract the often gloomy effect of fluorescent lights by placing floor lamps or table lamps at desks and common areas.
  5. Balance and energise – You may be surprised to learn that all of the above steps, rooted in evidence based design are also staring points for feng shui. These steps will help you clear and balance energy in general and also help you set a clearer intention for what you want to achieve in the space.
However, after you have completed all of the above steps, you may find yourself with certain environmental circumstances that are less than favorable. Or, you may find that there are aspects of your career that you want to enhance. While you should consult with a feng shui practitioner for an in-depth review of your personal space energy, there are some simple remedies and enhancements that you can implement right now:
  • Sit in the power position - Your back should never be towards a door or main circulation path because then you cannot see opportunities or threats approaching. If you cannot reposition your desk, purchase a self-adhesive mirror from an auto-supply store and place it so that you can see activity behind you.
  • Regulate the energy - If your desk is at the end of a circulation path or corridor, you may often feel overwhelmed by the energy constantly flowing at you. If you sit facing a sharp corner or under an exposed beam, you may have negative or fragmented energy flowing towards you. This can be remedied by hanging a crystal or a plant at your desk to regulate the flow of energy.
  • Balance the elements – make sure that there is a variety of textures, colors and materials to represent a balance of the five feng shui elements (water, fire, earth, metal and wood) as well as to introduce more warm colors and natural materials if your work environment is too yin (lots of bright light, sharp angles, metal and white surfaces).
  • Activate - Feng shui uses a nine-square grid called the ba gua, which represents all of the different areas of our lives. By overlaying this grid on your desk, you can place objects strategically to enhance or mitigate energy in each area of your life. The bagua is always aligned with the edge of your desk where you sit (see diagram). If you have an L shaped desk, place the bagua map over the leg that is your primary work area. Then, divide your work surface into nine equal rectangles. If you are struggling in a certain area, look at what is placed here – is your trash can directly under your creativity area? Do you have a pile of unfinished projects dragging down your family and health area? If you wish to enhance a certain area, look at the diagram for some ideas. Don’t forget to use your own intuition as well, to create positive symbols that will inspire you and draw positive energy. For example, what do you want to be known or recognized for? Place a representation of that in your fame and reputation area.
Take the time to enhance your work environment as carefully as you would your home. Please experiment with these recommendations and let me know how your work life has changed. Remember – you’re making a living.