Managing To-Do's

Your Work Environment: Tips from Other Working Women & Me about Your Physical Space

February 18, 2024

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One thing I don’t talk enough about is the importance of our physical environment when we’re trying to get stuff done.

Whether you work in an office, at home, or both, our surroundings can make or break our ability to focus.

So, below, I’ll share some of my work environment strategies and then tips that others shared in response to my email newsletter and on Instagram. Here we go!

Three of My Work Environment Strategies

(1) Have a dedicated primary workspace – but also move around if somewhere else is a better energy fit

When I practiced law, I had my own office where most of my non-meeting work happened. BUT when I had to edit documents like briefs, I took a printout of the draft and edited it by hand in any empty conference room I could find. The change in scene helped me see the document with fresh eyes, upping my editing game.

Similarly, now that I run my business and moved to MN where we have more space, I’m fortunate enough to have an office in my house where the bulk of my work happens (in San Diego, I worked in my bedroom, but I did have my own desk and devoted office area squeezed in).

While I love working in my home office, when I’m drafting my weekly email to women on my list or Instagram posts, 50+% of the time, I prefer to sit on the living room couch, cozied up with coffee or tea on my laptop (assuming the house is quiet). It’s a weirdly more creative space for me, and it feels like the ideas flow more easily.

All this to say: Have a primary spot where all your work stuff lives and your brain transitions into work mode – AND remain open to moving around if you need fresh or creative energy if the task requires it.

Side note from a woman who wrote in: “I have a dedicated office space in a closet under our stairs. It doesn’t have windows, which at first I thought would bother me, but it is SO QUIET and I can get so much done now that I have this tucked away, dedicated space.”

(2) Make yourself comfortable

When I worked in an office, I had a Mary Poppins drawer of stuff that I loved having at my fingertips. It included everything from a jar of peanut butter (so I could grab a banana or apple off the fruit tray but make it more delicious) to another set of makeup, a brush, and deodorant to even a blanket if the office was freezing (it was a huge, file-folder drawer). I also had a small box with a lid that contained the true essentials – chapstick, eye drops, a glasses cloth, and the like. Having all of this helped me be more comfortable while I worked, saved me from the hassle of having to go out and search for the random things I needed, and helped me stay focused.

In my home office now, I need less stuff as my whole house is here, but I still love having the basics – chapstick, lip color, hand moisturizer, kleenex, and a few water bottles by me at all times. I now even have a little ceramic bowl my mom made so that I can bring tea up and have somewhere to put the tea bag while it dries out before I throw it away in my office.

Think about things you want on/near your office and/or home desks to allow you to have comfort at your fingertips and prevent you from needing to wander around to get the things you need. Even if it requires buying, e.g., a few extra chapstick, hair ties, etc., it can be well worth it.

Below, see a list of things people shared that live near their desks to make their lives easier.

(3) Declutter in a realistic way – have a place for the clutter to land

I need my desk to be somewhat clear to really focus. As I type this, it’s candidly too cluttered, and it’s giving me the heebie-jeebies. BUT I also don’t always have time to process the scraps of paper, notes, etc. that I want to clean up – which used to make me leave the stuff on my desk until I could process them… which rarely happened… which led to piles of paper that overwhelmed me even more.

Here’s how I’ve solved this for me: In short, I have a 3-tiered paper sorter tray that lives on another piece of furniture in my office (i.e., not on my desk), and the top tray is my “need to process” tray. I also have my weekly Clean Slate planning session, at which time I process the tray. The combo of this tray + planning session allows me throughout the week to grab paper and other stuff off my desk, skim it, see if anything needs to be dealt with before Friday, and if not (which is most of the time), throw the material on that top tray, knowing I’ll process it on Friday. It’s a nice balance that allows me to have a clean desk in about 5 minutes when I need it – in a realistic way.

If you struggle with a cluttered desk and paper piles but (1) don’t have time to process the paper, and (2) have a fear that moving them off your desk will cause you to forget about the papers, establish one place where you’ll move the clutter to AND calendar time once a week when you’ll process the paper.

Random bonus tip: Air out your house

I have not fact-checked this, but I heard this from Sharon McMahon (“sharonsaysso” on Instagram), who basically personifies fact-checking in my head, so I’ll take it as true. She shared that indoor residential air quality is often worse than that of a smoggy city, especially during the winter when we typically don’t leave windows open. Because of that, she follows the European tradition of opening up doors and windows for five minutes a day to air out your home and improve the air quality. I’ve followed suit, and I love it (and sidenote: Sharon and I both live in chilly Minnesota, so no excuses! haha). Take it or leave it, but I feel like it adds to the quality of my home and work environment, so why not share?

Crowdsourced Work Environment Tips

Below are the tips shared by other working women.

Room / Desk Orientation

  • “Don’t face the door. My old office was awkward in shape, and my desk could go in only one spot, and it was where it faced the door. I HATED this. I’m in a small suite of offices and have an executive assistant. Anyone walking in should first talk to the assistant. Instead, they’d catch my eye and somehow I’d be caught. In my new office, I’m not facing the door, and I fake being hard of hearing so that the assistant can act as gatekeeper.”
  • “My walking pad helps with ADHD and staying focused on admin tasks I’d usually procrastinate. Now, I look forward to those tasks because I get to move my body while doing them!”
  • “Adjustable desk! Double screens at eye height. Flexible camera. Happy smelling candle.”
  • “I like to have a screen I can plug my laptop into, so if I need a lot of data or info on the screen I can have it all there. And then if I just need to do emails I can work from the sofa or a cafe and that’s okay too.”
  • “My Peloton is in the room with my office… When my Peloton faced my computer, I would think of all the work during my work out. Now, it’s faced toward the fall, and it’s SO much better.”

Office organization

  • “I just got a bunch of acrylic drawers and shelves from Target’s Brightroom line yesterday. It looks like Container Store quality but much less cost.  I spent $100 and got a lot of storage, and it helps me feel more organized, too.”

Items to have near your desk

  • Timer – e.g., “PowerPom or BeFocused. He’s me race the clock and stay motivated.”
    • Note: Some women I work with prefer to use timers that aren’t on their phones. Traditional sand timers, visual timers, or cube-like timers you can find on Amazon are popular (note: I’ve not used any of those linked timers and am just providing them as examples).
  • A work-specific water bottle that lives at the office
    • One person shared that she tries to finish 40 oz. of water by 10am before her second cup of water
  • Snacks (e.g., a “key for me is the pick me up dark chocolate – always helpful in an afternoon slump!”; jar of peanut butter with some disposable knifes)
  • A fleece jacket
  • “I also have a camping cot and an eye sleep mask in my office. I get migraines which often are manageable with my various treatments, but sometimes just being able to lay down and close my eyes for 20 minutes saves the day. (A power nap also helps a lot of people it seems, and for those of us with small offices without room for a couch or lacking the company supplied “sleep pods” of Silicon Valley, the camping cot is a pretty good alternative I think, and cost effective too for about $70).”
  • Nail clippers / file:“I also keep a nail file handy for long global calls where I don’t have to take notes or have my camera on.”
  • Chapstick,
  • Head phones / ear plugs to help with sound,
  • Sound machine,
  • Bandaids,
  • Makeup,
  • Brush,
  • Deodorant,
  • Blanket,
  • Extra contacts,
  • Kleenex,
  • Lip color,
  • Small bowl for tea bags, if you drink tea,
  • Eye drops,
  • Readers,
  • Glasses cleaner kit,
  • “A small sunlamp for cloudy dreary days from Amazon,”
  • “Cards in case I need to write a note to someone on my lunch to toss into the mail,”
  • Hand cream,
  • Small post-it notes with reminders (little quotes I love),
  • “A few random cards or notes from my kids so I come upon them while going through the drawer occasionally and they perk me up,”
  • “I always keep a fork, knife, and spoon,”
  • “A small airplane token gift of a salt/pepper shaker for work lunches,”
  • “A spare charger for my phone,”
  • A phone cradle,
  • “An extra set of ear-buds for walks,”
  • “A pair of comfy shoes under my desk for those tough feet days,”
  • Hair elastics,
  • “All my FAVE pens”
    • “in my office – we use ‘DECOY’ pens for the edge of our desk for the crew and customers who steal our pens!” [brilliant!]
  • “Extra shoes/business suit (My work involves interacting with elected officials, and certain times of year I may not have notice that I need to be formal that day)”
    • Note from Kelly: I also did this; I kept a full suit in my office for days I had to go to court or meet clients when I hadn’t dressed for anything that formal. I also left most of my heels at work so I could wear boots/flats for my public transportation commute and have heels already at the office.
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine products (e.g., tampons, pads)
  • Extra umbrella
  • “Desktop calendar – I like one that shows the month at a glance, so I’m not constantly going back and forth into my digital calendar when I’m on the phone and want to confirm what day is next Thursday, etc.”
  • If pumping, a dedicated pump for work
  • “Having live plants in my home office always brightens my day” (I personally agree with this too, and if I can keep them alive, you can, too! Just calendar when you water them haha)

Item NOT on the desk: Phone

  • “Keeping my phone not on my desk. Ideally in another room.”

For people who move work locations (office, home, coworking space)

“I have a little pouch that has all my chargers + cords in it (phone charger, computer charger, headphones, BT mouse) that always lives in my backpack so that I’m never without the technology I need.”


  • “I use one of the focus songs from Headspace when I really need to get in the zone”
  • White/pink/brown noise sound
  • “Noise-cancelling headphones have been a game-changer for me. Even if there’s not a ton of noise around me that I’m trying to tune out, just putting them on helps me to get in the zone.” What the woman who wrote in uses: Sony’s Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones | WH-1000XM3
    • Someone else shared, “Noise-cancelling headphones are well worth the purchase price. When my kids are home from school (either on a holiday or just after school gets out in the afternoon) and I need to finish up work but don’t want to go back to my office, I just love putting my noise-cancelling headphones on, turning focus music on, and finishing up work while sitting on the couch and snuggling one (or both!) of our dogs. It’s so nice to not feel forced back into my office but also be able to concentrate as I wrap up the workday.”

Temperature Control

“I am lucky enough to have an office with its own thermostat, though they’re locked and not able to be adjusted from the unit. However, I was recently able to get a friendly maintenance person in our building to raise the temperature set point in my office to 73, and it has been amazing. You may find this article to be interesting as it shows actual data to support higher ambient temps for women to be more productive.”

Another woman keeps a “heated footrest near my desk for cold days.”

That wraps it for now!

I hope you found a few ideas to help make your workspace(s) a little more enjoyable and cozy. Feel free to share more suggestions in the comments below or email them to me & I can add them in anonymously. Thank you for being here and part of this wonderful community of smart, kind women!

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