5 Ways Recent Grads Can Make Their Brand-New Cubicle a Happier Place

Editor-in-Chief, Carnegie Communications

What’s your happy place? The beach? Disney World? For me, it’s a toss-up between Maine and the cheese counter at Whole Foods. Wherever yours is, I’m guessing it’s not your place of work. (And if it is, more power to you, you lucky professional lifeguard/Disney character actor.)

Unless you work in an ultramodern open office (not as awesome as they seem, BTW), you’ll probably find yourself in a traditional cubicle or office at some point. And you’ll probably spend a lot of time there. But just because your cube isn’t your favorite spot doesn’t mean you can’t make it a nice place to be.

Wherever you work, it’s worth making your space as peaceful and productive as possible. Here are five tips for doing just that.

So fresh, so clean

Did you know that having a clean, organized workspace can impact the way you work and the way you feel at work? It can. A lot.

All that junk doesn’t just clutter your space; it clutters your mind. So says science. Researchers at Princeton’s Neuroscience Institute found people surrounded by extraneous stuff were distracted, less able to process information, less productive, even more irritable.

Unclutterer explains it this way: “The clutter competes for your attention in the same way a toddler might stand next to you annoyingly repeating, ‘candy, candy, candy, candy’ . . . Even though you might be able to focus a little, you’re still aware that a screaming toddler is also vying for your attention. The annoyance also wears down your mental resources and you’re more likely to become frustrated.” Not only that, but a 2012 Adecco survey showed that 73% of workers felt they were more productive when their workspace was clean—and 57% judge their coworkers on how clean or messy they are.

So, how do you maintain order amongst the chaos? Take a look at your immediate workspace: anything within reach should be essential (more or less) to your workday. If it’s not, it’s in the way. Store nonessentials in a desk drawer, or get rid of them entirely. Make your life easier by bringing in tools that will help keep you honest, like hooks for your coat and bag, desktop organizers, file cabinets, corkboards/chalkboards/whiteboards, etc.

Take time to hose down your office (and by “hose” I mean “wipe down gently”) every few weeks using actual cleaning products too, even if your workspace is otherwise neat and tidy. It’s easy to keep a pack of disinfecting wipes in your desk. You can also set a reminder on your calendar every few months to take a cleaning break.

Finally, once you’ve been at your job for a while, you’re sure to amass more stuff than you need. Take stock of everything in your workspace each year and chuck anything you don’t need. I like to do this the last day in the office before New Year’s Eve—nothing like starting fresh!

Now, all this being said, if messy really is your thing—and if it’s not encroaching on your coworkers—then that’s okay. You do you. But at least give a clean cube a try for a week. You might like it and find you’re more calm, clear, and focused. Also, if you’ve never felt the rush of organizing brand-new office supplies, well, you just haven’t lived. (Why, yes, I am Type A; why do you ask?)

All of the plants

Plants do more than you think: they can make the dullest cubicle more appealing, they help eliminate air pollutants and mold, and they just might boost your mood. Plus, they make you look super sophisticated. 

There are plenty of houseplants that work well in an office setting, even if you don’t have a ton of space or you’re not close to a light source:

  • Pothos are super adaptable and do well in low light.
  • Snake plants (a.k.a. mother-in-law’s tongue) are hardy and unique.
  • Peace lilies are also especially known for improving the quality of the air.
  • African violets are small, easy to care for, and oh so pretty.
  • And if all else fails, there’s always a cute little cactus.

These plants are easy to find, hard to kill, and generally inexpensive; check your local home and garden store or even grocery store. You’ll find more details on these office plants and a bunch of other suggestions here.

Office orchid

Even fancy-pants orchids can do well in an office. I call this little guy Fred.

Let’s get personal

Personal things like pictures and mementos do more than infuse your cubicle with personality; they help keep you sane by fending off “emotional exhaustion” at work.

“Individuals may consciously or subconsciously take comfort from the items with which they surround themselves at work, and these items may help employees to maintain emotional energy in the face of the stresses that come from their work and the distractions and difficulties inherent in working in a low privacy environment (noise, interruptions, being observed by others, etc.),” researchers say.           

Personally, I’m all for going as wacky as you want in your cube, as long as you’re not venturing into cluttered territory (see above), being offensive, or bombarding your coworkers with, I dunno, scary clown posters. After all, these are some of the coolest damned workspaces in the world (my favorite is #7).

Though a cubicle full of action figures may not be an option in more formal offices (e.g., law firms), hopefully you work in a chill place open to personalization. And to Disney princesses.

Disney cubicle

This is a real cube in our office. And it’s awesome.

Ergonomically speaking

It’s in your employer’s best interests that you be comfortable in your workspace; if you’re distracted by discomfort, you’ll be distracted in your work. So speak up if you need something like a more ergonomical keyboard, better lighting, a standing desk, or—the big one—a new chair. We’re not talking about La-Z-Boys here, but if you have a reasonable request, there’s no reason why they should turn you down. Of course, just because you have a boss chair doesn’t mean you should spend your entire day sitting; in fact, you need to stand up and take breaks. Because your chair is trying to KILL YOU.

Shady chair

That's a shady chair . . .

Online organization

Having a productive workspace doesn’t stop at the physical area around you. If you use a computer in your work (and who doesn’t, honestly), your digital workspace should be uncluttered too.

Investigate Dropbox, Google Drive, Trello, browser plugins, productivity apps, and other tools until you find the right one(s) for you. (I am addicted to the Pomodoro Technique and its super simple apps, like this one.) Keep exploring too; new products and upgrades are rolling out all the time.

Now that your cubicle or desk is a business-savvy happy place, don’t forget to take a break from it! Stepping away from your desk is good for you. And that’s what this is all about, really: a happier, healthier you—at work and well after you get home.

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