There’s no doubt that architects spend a lot of time in front of a desktop, be it virtual or three-dimensional. In fact, although this statistic is not exclusive to architects, the average time a person now spends sitting down per day is 7.7 hours; in the United States the average is an unbelievable 13 hours. Of course this includes time spent on the train, watching a movie on the sofa, or a whole range of other seated activities, but the vast proportion of this time is likely to be spent working by a desk or laptop.
How can you improve the quality of that time, so it’s both well spent and, ideally, minimized? To have a more efficient, productive—and most importantly, more pleasant—time at work, here are 13 ways to improve your physical and digital workspace.
1. Secure Seating
What’s most important to remember about chairs is that they are different for everyone. In other words, unless you can get a chair specially customized for your body, investing in the most adjustable chair you can find is your best bet. Seeing as architects spend a lot of time at a computer, there are some specifics to keep in mind: firstly, reasonably broad armrests with adjustable heights will provide your arms with more than enough support to get them through a day of typing and clicking.
Another essential factor is being able to vary your seat height, allowing you to align your eyes with your screen; ideally, the screen should be 2-3 inches (5-8 centimeters) above eye level to keep you from hunching forwards. To further prevent that hunch, make sure you have a movable backrest in the vertical as well as horizontal direction. And remember to use it! You don’t want to be sitting on the edge of your seat.
2. Reduced Eyestrain
When working late, the harsh glare of a computer screen can seriously mess up your circadian cycle, making the next day an even tougher one. This is almost certainly due to two main causes: the brightness of your screen and its color temperature. Your screen should be about as bright as the rest of your surrounding environment, so if it currently looks like a source of light, turn the brightness down. If, on the contrary, it’s looking a little gray, you may need to turn the brightness up. This is something that most people notice and adjust quite instinctively; the color temperature of a screen, however, is more often overlooked.
Blue wavelengths are generally associated with eyestrain, whereas longer wavelength colors such as orange and red are more pleasant for long-term usage. Your computer screen emits a lot of blue wavelengths, which can be okay during the day, but during the night it can get pretty tiring (while still preventing you from falling asleep). Try downloading f.lux, an application that automatically adjusts the color temperature of your screen depending on your personal daily rhythm. Just remember that colors will vary when your computer is under f.lux, so if you’re working with color in your drawings, you may want to take that into consideration.
3. Comfortable Keyboard
If you’re using a laptop instead of a desktop computer, try to get hold of a laptop stand; it will make the screen-to-eye-level alignment feel less awkward. However contrary to popular belief, a stand that tilts the keyboard away from you is far better than one that tilts towards you. A forward tilt puts unnecessary strain on your wrists, as they have to stay tight and upright. Placing your keyboard at arm's-length and centered in front of you will improve this even further. If you haven’t already, look into buying an external keyboard and mouse. They will add more flexibility and comfort to your workspace.
4. Warm Lighting
Unfortunately, workplaces around the world seem to use harsh florescent lighting that is often way too bright and feels very cold. Ambient and indirect low lighting is both cozier and much better for your eyes. Again, as with the color temperature of a computer screen, warm “yellow” light tends to be better than “white” light. Whether this light is artificial or natural makes little difference, but even sunlight can be too harsh in certain situations. Adding a curtain to diffuse the light may be a good idea if you’re sitting by a window. Adjusting your desk so that it is adjacent to a window, as opposed to being in front of one, will also help to reduce light intensity and screen glare.
5. Feng Shui
We’re mostly discussing the items on and by your desk, but what about the desk itself? How does it fit into its context? Often a desk is assigned to you, but if you’re lucky enough to have the liberty to choose, here are some things to consider. As creative people, it’s necessary for architects to brainstorm and review ideas with others. Sitting next to or across from someone you can critically discuss with is crucial to squeezing the most out of a concept.
Workspaces will usually also contain livelier spaces (such as by an entrance or busy walkway) as well as calmer corners. As a general rule, quiet spaces allow for more concentration and productivity, however if you end up in a more animated space, take the opportunity to observe the people around you; as architects, paying attention to the way people interact with their surroundings is an invaluable tool. If the noise ends up getting too distracting after all, plug in some headphones to drown out the chatter. When you need to focus, it's best to listen to instrumental music, as the lack of human voices will reduce distraction. Alternatively you can use white noise generators to avoid distracting noise altogether; websites like Noisli even allow you to create custom white noise, with a number of different sounds you can mix together to your liking.
6. Healthy Snacking
Snacks can be the most attractive way of procrastinating when you have important work to get done. Yet if done right, they can be the key to sustaining your creativity and happiness. Having a well-stocked snack box with healthy foods such as almonds or fruits close by or on your desktop will make it easier for you to avoid the desire to get up and wander around in the search for an unhealthy snack. Furthermore, you will probably end up having several small “meals” over the course of the day, instead of the standard three large meals usually consumed. This helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels, instead of causing sugar highs and lows that lead to unexpected mood swings and sudden fatigue.
7. Creative Messiness
Studies have shown that messy spaces foster creativity, contrary to the Nordic minimalist interior visions of many architecture firms nowadays. And before you think, “productivity,” that has been covered as well: participants of a creative challenge produced about the same number of solutions in a tidy space as in a messy space—except the ideas generated in a messy space were measured to be 28% more creative (and yes, apparently you can reliably measure creativity). Needless to say, there are exceptions to every rule, but when in doubt, don’t be afraid to make a mess.
8. Organized Files
Despite the scientific endorsement of messiness, there are still certain things that are best kept under strict organization—more specifically, all the files on your desktop and hard drive. If not properly named, finding files and folders on your computer can become quite difficult to say the least. Taking that extra effort to give your file a proper title, including any important dates and specifications, can save you enormous amounts of time when those files need resurfacing in the future. Backing them all up on an external hard drive or cloud storage is another good investment that will save you a lot of heartbreak in the unfortunate event of a malfunctioning computer.
9. Shelves vs Drawers
Storage space isn’t limited to the virtual desktop; we still catalog and store many objects and files in our physical space, most often on shelves or in drawers. Although both have their advantages, open shelves are more in line with our visual profession, as everything can be easily seen and located. This also follows the theory that messiness provokes creativity; having an abundance of visual stimuli can evoke inspiration from unexpected places.
10. Interaction Between Virtual and Physical
As architects, an understanding of the relationship between virtual and physical materials is imperative. Therefore, having something as simple as a pinup board, where digital drawings and visualizations can be hung up and reviewed by hand, can make a world of difference. More futuristic tools such as the Smart Writing Set make the transition between virtual and physical even more fluid. What’s important is not to leave an idea in one form, but to set up an effective transfer system between materials.
11. Dual Screens
Having two screens can be a great advantage if you don’t have a large display, showcasing a digital drawing up on one screen, and specifications on another. The disadvantage of this is that it quickly gets distracting; having that second screen will be a constant fight for your attention, guiding it away from that visualization you should really be focusing on. An alternative could be to have a large screen for your computer or laptop, accompanied by a smaller tablet used in emergency situations, or when you’d really prefer not to constantly be shifting between tabs. The benefit of the tablet is that it can be locked away when you’re done with that task, reducing the likelihood of distractions.
12. Controlled Notifications
Notifications can be great when they’re relevant, and frustrating when they’re not. Filtering your notifications between “need to know,” “nice to know,” and “useless” will help you stay focused on what you’re doing, while still keeping you updated on information you need. Altering which notifications alert with a vibration, and which with a silent pop-up (or nothing at all), can easily be done through notification settings.
13. Synced Calendar
Set up a calendar system that works on all your devices, across all your necessary activities and appointments. Minimizing your calendar to one platform will, firstly, save a lot of time as everything is in one place, and secondly, prevent you from worrying about your memory. Getting into the habit of putting all your events and deadlines onto one system will significantly reduce the chances of forgetting something, instead directing full focus towards your work.
Now, enjoy your new and improved creative space.
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Note: The images used in this article were submitted to our "Sketch Your Workspace" reader challenge. This article was originally published on September 27, 2016, and updated on March 25, 2020.
We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.