It’s that time of year again – back to school season! With all of the challenges, old and new, that returning to school brings to families, it is more important than ever to set yourself up in a smart, stress-minimizing environment to ensure maximum production, whether that be at school, work, or home. Now is the time to consider the spaces you will be spending the majority of your time in over the coming months, and to make those small tweaks so that you’ll be comfortable and productive throughout. Stress levels seem to be at an all-time high, and reducing stresses big and small is as important now as ever. It doesn’t take much to spruce up your space or routine, and seemingly small changes can have immense benefits over the long term. 

Whether you’re working/learning from home or in an office, creating an ergonomic workstation is the first key to maximizing productivity and comfort. You must truly mold your work station to fit your own unique needs. Many find themselves working in an area they were forced to throw together on short notice, without having access to a traditional desk, desk chair or other office comforts. Something as simple as upgrading your chair can reduce muscle tension, especially during long and/or demanding workdays. Spine-health.com notes that “low back support in the office chair is essential to minimize the load (strain) on your back.” This load reduction on the back muscles can vastly improve not only the quality of the workday, but also the quality of the leisure time that follows as you should feel less physically-stressed at the end of the day with a proper chair as opposed to with an improper one. One of the most often overlooked areas of setting up your workspace is to adjust any screens you use to your resting eye level, so that your eyes, as well as your neck and back muscles, aren’t constantly straining for the proper view. Adjusting the height of your desk has never been easier as the popularity of adjustable desks grows. 

Whether you’re adding to an existing desk or table, or totally retooling your workspace there are many options available to ensure the screens that you must look at all day are easily viewable from your natural sitting position. Furthermore, alternating between sitting and standing during the workday is also gaining popularity within health communities, and healthline.com recommends spending an hour standing for every 1-2 hours sitting during the workday to optimize comfort and energy levels without affecting productivity. This combination of sitting and standing will assist in spreading out the muscular load/stress which is proving to be beneficial to comfort and energy levels in both the short and long term. 

 The changes in your workspace don’t have to be all business, either. Don’t hesitate to include some cozy touches to your workspace to keep yourself at ease while you work. Consider a fun ottoman/footstool to place under your desk, to serve a dual purpose of assisting your posture while making your space a bit more interesting. Consider a stylized or personalized mouse pad, which is another simple way to make your space uniquely yours. If you’re feeling creative, try to coordinate your personalized mouse pad you’re your keyboard wrist support or other knick-knacks around your station. This will hopefully help you to be a bit more relaxed during your time at your desk. 

 If you are sharing a workspace, make sure to discuss the expectations as early as possible, so that everyone can manage them. Consider who will be actively participating in calls, meetings, and/or classes, and ensure the volume of one will not disturb the other. It is good to have a conversation about music style and volume prior to putting on the playlist, and to use headphones or headsets for calls/music if possible. Consider personal lighting options rather than whole-room lamps if you are accustomed to more light than the others sharing your space. Communication will be key here, and you’ll want to do as much as you can to set up a successful workspace for all involved to avoid potential differences in expectations down the line. 

 Aside from the obvious things that you may associate with the workday, the smaller joys/rituals should still be preserved, even if you’re doing your work from home. If you are accustomed to a certain breakfast or coffee that you don’t typically have at home, treat yourself to it once in a while, either by finding an at-home recipe and stocking up, or waking up early to pick it up before work when you can. Make sure to take advantage of your allotted break time, and to take a few minutes away from the screens a few times during the day, whether you are at home or in an office/school to give your eyes some rest. If you typically order lunch on Fridays, continue the tradition at home to give yourself some stability and consistency between working from home or back at the office. If you keep a water bottle on your desk in the office, try to do the same at home. Staying hydrated has numerous health benefits, as does trying to maintain a consistent and productive routine. If you enjoyed having music playing in the background in the office, you will likely also enjoy similar music in the background at home. Many people have accumulated these small comforts slowly over time, so replicating them all at once at home can prove to be more difficult than expected. Always be sure to take a look at your own needs in addition to the needs of your workspace to maximize efficiency while minimizing stress. Reducing not only the physical, but also the mental stresses that come about during the workday is essential to creating an ergonomic work area. This improvement will be reflected in both your work or leisure time, and the benefits will be immediate and long-lasting. It only takes a few small touches to take an area that may have been thrown together on the fly into one that you can actually be proud of and truly enjoy.