Photo by Nicole Vaughn
When I looked into how to set up my office to maximize productivity, the principles of feng shui came up often. So, I began researching what feng shui (pronounced fung shway) is about, and why it matters when it comes to office and desk arrangements. The ‘what:’ feng shui is an ancient Chinese thought system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy (qi). The flow of energy and its favorable, or unfavorable, effects are taken into account when siting lots, designing buildings, as well as arranging rooms and placing decor. It may sound silly to you, but this 5,000 year old practice does seem to be valid when creating a comfortable flow inside a home which in turn promotes positive energy while diminishing negative energy. At the least, we can all agree that energy is real…even if you can’t touch it or see energy in wind, gravity, electronic emissions, and even wi-fi, it certainly affects people. So bear with me if the idea of chi (positive energy) and feng shui verges into a bit of woo-woo territory for you. After all, we all need more energy these days so it’s worth trying right?!?
For me, the ‘why’ is most important piece and the gist is that having a good layout increases energy, focus, creativity, comfort and ease.
This is frankly true whether you believe in feng shui or not—a well-designed space frees your mind and boosts your mood. Feng shui followers also believe that prosperity and good luck come to those that design with it and that it provides a strong flow of energy to you personally. Again, the principles below will help you regardless of your belief in it or not, and I’ve found my version of it to be a good mix of minimalism and hygge (feeling of coziness). Depending on your setting and style, you could certainly lean more to pure minimalism or go all out with hygge instead of my blended style where some areas have only 1 item and others featured a few—more on that below.
The ‘how to’ is outlined below but before diving into specifics, it’s important to note that many offices (or desk areas within other rooms) aren’t designed with feng shui in mind, so you need to do a bit of adjusting of furniture and potentially employ a few tricks or work-arounds. The key elements of feng shui are:
- Light. This one is a no-brainer—if you’re in a dark and gloomy place, it kills energy and is a downer. Enhance natural light with minimal window coverings and mirrors, and if there isn’t any, use natural spectrum lighting or a close equivalent. Good hardware and lighting stores can help you choose the best color of LED with a high CRI (90+). Light is a huge part of having a healthy state of mind. One study by Dr. J. Lieberman showed that people working in natural light could concentrate for 8 hours vs. only 2 hours for those in artificial light.
- Command Position. You should always face the door of your office so you can see who is entering. This is an issue in my trailer as there’s no way to move the desk to do this so I positioned a mirror like this on the left side shelf in order to reflect the door. Wall mirrors or free standing mirrors are an easy way to do this in other larger spaces but again, I am limited in my small area.
- Fresh Air. Another no-brainer—it’s key to have clean air for comfort and health, and it allows you to have clear headspace which fosters creativity and productivity.
- Nature. Large leafy green potted plants are ideal positioned behind you if possible, as are mountains. Since most offices don’t have mountains nearby, do the best you can with plants or add a picture of either. Plants will boost your mood and help clean the air (some more than others—a simple internet search will give you a run down on best varieties). Also, consider adding a small water fountain on the east side of your office and position it so water flows toward you, not away from you; gently moving water is considered conducive to success and productivity. Again, if this isn’t possible consider adding a picture of a beautiful water scene. I had a heck of a time finding a nice quality, not cheesy or plastic water fountain that sounded nice and gentle and wasn’t huge or super expensive. I really love the one I
- Declutter. The first rule of feng shui is cleanliness. Literally take everything off your desk and deep clean it, as well as the space around all around your desk and office. Windows must be cleaned too since light is so important, floors need to be vacuumed well and all waste/recycling needs to be emptied often. The next section discusses how to arrange your desk in depth but the short of it is to keep things organized, simple and clean which promotes focus and mental acuity. Paper generally is the biggest challenge in this regard so it’s crucial to come up with a system to keep organized. Properly labeled and organized file folders and a visually pleasing system are very important. And this also applies to your computer desktop and having files backed up regularly. It’s important to place your in box away from your desk top if possible. Unfinished tasks should not be left on your desk unless it’s something you’re actively learning. Last, remove any items that you don’t need or that are not in good condition. Keeping things clean and organized will help you feel energetic, balanced, and open to creative thought.
- Focus. It’s important to have a focal point and your desk or a work table is the obvious place to create this focus. A plant in a beautiful cache pot, a small piece of art or a decorative object that has meaning for you are easy ideas but your focal point can be many things. If you just have a desk space in an larger room, add a focal point to your tablescape. Move desks that face walls without windows – they decrease concentration and creativity so feng shui advises against it. If yours does and and you can’t rearrange furniture, hang a picture that evokes a feeling of open space, openness and light. Note that experts advise against pictures of rough waters or storms because the negative energy will affect your mood and mind. Instead opt for a nature scene like a serene, beautiful lake, ocean scene or waterfall because water represents wealth.
- Careful arrangement. Feng shui layouts are made using a Bagua Map (below) in order to keep things well balanced. You can interpret things literally or figuratively. As an example, I found a cute vintage piggy bank that is shaped like an antique cash register to place in my Wealth & Prosperity section. Depending on your personality and level of minimalism, you can have a tiny single item to represent each area of the map or small vignettes (as I do) provided you keep the above principles in mind and that you’re able to keep your desk clean at all times so that the energy flows well.
The research that I did exposed me to a lot of small variations for Bagua Maps and my summary incorporates the best advice points and combines it with office/work settings:
How To Set Your Office Up with Feng Shui:
Step One: Measure the length and width of your desk area and divide both by 3 and then mark the areas off for easier arrangement.
I used a #2 pencil to mark the corners of my map grid but you could mark them with tape too. Most people have rectangular shaped desk but I had to improvise because our travel trailer is my office so I was using the vertically oriented dining table for my desk instead of the horizontal set arrangement normally seen. Note that the perspective in the photo on the right is such that the spaces in the grid overlaid don’t appear symmetrical but they are. Note that if your desk has a hutch or shelf above it, you can include it as part of the grid with the upper left shelf corner being Wealth and then divide up the remaining hutch area and desktop accordingly.
Step Two: Review ideas for what to put in the different Bagua Map areas and pull together items that are meaningful to you or that you find pleasing from a design point of view.
You certainly don’t need all these items listed for each area—just 1-3 items per area. However, if there is one area that’s most important for you, or is in the most need of help, you can emphasize this sector by adding a few extra items, shapes or color. The number legend that follows corresponds to the adjacent photo:
- Wealth & Prosperity: items symbolizing wealth, good fortune, luck or are connected to the kind of prosperity that you want in your life. I used meaningful vintage jewelry sitting on a wishbone theme dish, a cash register piggy bank with coins inside & an antique mini champagne bottle that I found while traveling. Other items are: a small water fountain or picture of water, a green, smooth-leafed plant (no jagged leaves or ferns), something purple (also can be a piece of paper taped to the bottom of your desk) or with the Chi symbol (I have a purple circle glued to the bottom of my planter with a Chi symbol on it). Also place expensive mementos, rectangular items, money (often Chinese coins tied together with red or purple ribbon), and phones for those who have clients calling often. Lamps or candles are placed here if you want to “light up” this area.
- Fame & Reputation: things related to who you are to the world, your character and image. Something red (like my Lamps Plus light because I want to “light up” my reputation and expert advice status since my website is focused on providing quality content); name plates, lamps or candles, awards are great here as well as business cards or branding elements framed. I also have a bracelet here with charms on it that symbolize different organizations that I’ve led plus I used Target’s placecard holder designed by Joanna Gaines to frame a business card.
- Relationships: things symbolizing existing and inviting new, successful relationships both personal and business. Things like framed photos of your husband &/or business partner, something pink (paper and post it notes are easy options), cut flowers or flowering plant in pink tones. Also use rose quartz items, square shapes, metal items and pairs of things. If seeking love, add a symbol of the love you want to have or a list of qualities your soul mate would have. My choice is another Target/Joanna Gaines frame with a photo in a fall garden (showing Earth) from my elopement.
- Family, Growth & Teamwork: items symbolizing family, growth and new beginnings plus anything connected to promotion of a new project. Also a family photo, reminders of key priorities or roots, or anything green or wood—which connect to growth concept. Things connected to team building, unity bonds like 3 links of a chain, a key ring with skeleton keys on it, a trio of connected bands, a knot paperweight. Really anything symbolizing family to you like gift(s) from family member or an item that belonged to an ancestor. Last, photos of mountains or trees with visible roots. I have my grandfather’s pocket watch, a photo of my kids and a bird tape dispenser that my older daughter gave me sitting on top of a lovely wood cutting board from Etsy.
- Health: this is the most important area to keep super clean and clear; something yellow (I put this pretty yellow water bottle here); earthen elements like rock crystals (I found my crystals on Etsy), smooth rocks, shells; and caduceus symbols or intertwined snakes (which symbolize medicine and healing).
- Productivity & Creativity: items representing creativity (like the Ikea wooden drawing model I have), notebooks to journal or jot ideas into, sketch pads, silver scissors, pencils and pens in a metal cup; white, silver, gold or other metal items; something that symbolizes and a-ha moment or sparks inspiration for you; circular, round or spherical shaped items; anything related to children especially if you want to get pregnant (like a baby name book or silver diaper pin). Tip: check out these awesome personalized notebooks on Etsy. I ordered a white “concepts” one for this area and 2 others for the knowledge-oriented space.
- Knowledge & Skill Building: things connected to learning past, present and future like reference books, notebooks with training notes or facts you want to keep connected to your business (like my personalized “NQM” notebook). Also quote books and anything blue, wood, or related to energy.
- Career & Business Journey: items connected to your career, immediate work, and daily to-do’s; your laptop or computer monitor and keyboard whose desktop screen is clean and organized; anything black (I have a black piece of construction paper under my laptop) with or without accents of green to promote new opportunities and red for motivation. Also things related to water (one woman I saw lined her desk drawer with dark blue wavy designed paper). Note on your desktop: set your lock screen to a calming nature oriented screen and be sure to keep your files very organized.
- Travel & Helpful People: things connected to travel, strong networking connections and helpful people in your life or that you want in your life. Grey, silver, black or white items and items showing maps, water, or a globe. Your phone or address book, other people’s business cards, a black & white picture of you and your mentor, business development lists plus client lists and files all work well here. Travel souvenirs from meaningful trips, metal items like a box holding affirmations or places you want to travel, and last, travel books or black & white photos/postcards of places you want to visit. I place my cell phone here, keep a lovely travel journal from Etsy as well as a an little pad with the Eiffel Tour on it, a British coin featuring Queen Elizabeth and a silver travel memento from Germany where I lived for 4 years.
Step Three: Be consistent with keeping your office and especially your desk tidy and clean! Leaving piles of work is so depressing to come back to right? Have an in-progress file that you can stash your unfinished items in. I use a metal expanding file holder with pretty color coordinated files sporting motivational quotes but any good filing system will do.
I do realize that I went a little nuts when designing my office space. For (mostly) better and (occasionally) worse, I’m one of those ‘all in’ kind of folks. You don’t have to go to the extreme that I did, but do try the system out as I’m confident you’ll find that your productivity will improve and you’ll enjoy your space much more!
If you want customized coaching on how to do this, check out Gates Interior Design—I liked her website quite a lot. And for more reading, go to Spruce to see another example plus read about office success and feng shui.