Is your academic office a pit of despair?

When I started this job a huge perk was that I finally got my own office. While there are often limitations on what you can physically do to your office, I spent a bit of time thinking about my office set-up in an attempt to make it a pleasant place to work in so that I could be as efficient and productive as possible. Given how much time we faculty members spend in our offices I think that this is a good long term investment and is worth thinking about. My office is still a work in progress, but recently several colleagues have commented on how dynamic my office space is compared to theirs. I’m taking this as a compliment and as a sign that I must be doing something right!

Without further ado here are some suggestions on how to make your office more comfortable and less sterile:

Wall surfaces: A new coat of paint can do wonders, but that isn’t always possible. The next best thing is to hide scuffs and holes as best you can. I’ve done this by hanging up a small bulletin board, a white dry-ease board, an awesome poster of a photosynthetic sea slug, my academic degrees, and a cool frog calendar.

Floor: My office has generic brown/grey carpet that’s in great shape. It gets vacuumed regularly by the custodial staff, so I’m happy. I added a plastic runner under my desk chair so that I can wheel around freely.

Lighting: I’m very lucky that my office has a huge window and receives a lot of light. I also have the ability to open parts of the window which is awesome. One handy tip is that it is a good idea to set your computer monitor up perpendicularly to the window in order to avoid constant glare. If you don’t have a window in your office and don’t do well with fluorescent lighting it’s worth the investment to get a task lamp or two to avoid headaches.

Furniture: I inherited serviceable furniture with my office that included two tall bookshelves, a gigantic horizontal filing cabinet, an L-shaped desk, a small under-desk filing cabinet, and a blue fabric task chair on wheels. Most universities have a storage depot for used furniture that you can raid, or if you are negotiating a new position see if you can get some money to purchase office furniture. Two years into my job I decided to spend some of my professional funds on a more supportive office chair; it’s been money well spent given the amount of time I spend seated in my office.

Living Things: Plants look awesome, add life to an office, and require very little upkeep. Several of my colleagues have aquariums in their offices that are pretty neat.

Computer set-up: Take a little time to learn about ergonomics; your wrists and back will thank you years later. I use a laptop with a docking station which makes coming and going considerably easier. If you use a laptop invest in a separate large monitor in order to prevent neck strain and hunched shoulder syndrome. I switched to a dual screen display this morning; it’s been a revelation!

Personal items: Bring in and display items that make you happy and that are useful. I display photos of my kids, some colleagues have Tassimo or Keurig coffee machines in their offices. Maybe your office gets cold and it would be a good idea to bring in a big sweater so that you can be comfortable.

My office is a work in progress and I’m continually looking for ways to liven the space up a bit.

How have you made your office space your own?

(Bonus points if you caught “The Princess Bride” reference in the title of this post!)

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