As you know, I'm all about setting spaces, doing more with less, and focusing on meaning rather than things. These are ideas that I love talking about with my friends and colleagues and I am so excited that some of these awesome people are open to me sharing with you. We can learn so much about each other and from each other as we set up spaces for work time.
This week we are going to visit the space of the Zen Teacher himself, Dan Tricarico! I had the privilege of chatting with Dan a couple of weeks ago on his podcast, "The Zen Professional Moment" regarding space and how we use it, so of course I asked him if we could have a peek into his workspaces as a successful high school teacher and educational consultant.
Me: How do you feel in your workspace? What creates this feeling?
D: "Let’s start with my classroom: I’ve been in the same classroom for 30 years, so it’s really my home away from home. Overall I feel very comfortable and safe there. But being in the same space for that long certainly has some pros and cons. It’s super easy, for example, to let clutter accumulate and easy to hang on to things that you’ve had for years. While I do try to change things up, I often tell my students that there are things on my classroom walls that are older than they are. It is important, though, to personalize things for your own emotional comfort and to express who you are and I have many artifacts and keepsakes on my desk and throughout the classroom, everything from photographs I’ve taken, pictures my daughters drew when they were kids, and pictures of my former students. These always make me smile and help me know I’m “home.”
About two years ago, though, I made a conscious decision to straighten up my desk every day before I leave. Takes less than ten minutes. And in the morning I come in and can face the day with a clean and organized space. Before I started that ritual, I would come in and sit down among the flotsam and jetsam from the previous day—papers, books, and all manner of detritus—strewn about my desk. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it made me very anxious and it wasn’t a good head space. My current reality is MUCH nicer and I’m sure my students appreciate it."
Me: You spend a lot of time in your home work space - teaching, writing, podcasting etc. How is your space set up to maximize its efficiency when you have all these different things to do?
D: "I’ll tell you about one key choice I made that maximized my efficiency: I’ve been teaching from home for over a year now and I just moved into a new apartment. In the old place, I was using the kitchen table to do my Zoom class calls (like most families, we each had our own spots for our calls). We had these old wooden chairs that were very hard to sit on. I ended up putting throw pillows down to sit on because on some days I was sitting there for hours. But when I moved into the new apartment and had to buy a new dining room table, I was specifically on the lookout for a table with soft chairs and that’s what I have now because I knew it would be doubling as my desk. And that's what I have now and it's been fantastic. I do have a second room for when my daughters come over to visit and they often have to do their own college classes online so I did actually get them a desk. So that's where I do my podcasting because when my daughters aren't here I pretend it's a recording studio and I'm Tim Ferriss or Marc Maron. :) "
Me: As someone who also seeks to simplify and find Zen, what advice would you give to someone setting up a new work area?
1. You don’t need all the things right off the bat.
2. You don’t need all the things at all.
3. After setting up, keep an eye on what you use. If you find that you don’t use it, get rid of it. For example, I had the same inbox with the same five papers in it on my desk for probably a decade. Why? For what? It just became part of my desk reality and I stopped noticing it. When I finally threw it away, I facepalmed like “Why didn’t I do that, I don’t know, like maybe some time during the Clinton Administration? So now I keep my eyes open."
I love these tidbits Dan has shared with us! Being thoughtful about our spaces is really essential for so many reasons. Let's be intentional about what we put in them.
What happens when you have too much on your mind?
Do you feel irritated? Do you freeze? Are you forgetful?
For me ... I freeze and I start dropping my plates. This week I had a real issue with my calendar. Time zones are a challenge on any given day, but this week I couldn't get my days or dates straight - causing me to forget my own Twitter chat - something I look forward each month!
When this omission was brought to my attention, I knew I had to change something. So I took my own advice. I had a look at how I planned my day - made sure the dates were correct - then I chunked the little tasks together. Not all of them, because I knew that this would cause more plates to drop! So I spread them out for the rest of the week. Thinking about their importance for when they should be done.
Today seemed to be a smoother day, but still didn't quite get my list completed, so before I close things down for the night, I'll revisit those few things and re-prioritize again. This makes me confident that I will have those things off my list by the end of the week.
Need help with your to-do's? Get a toolkit here to get control of that list!
We've got access to another successful educational consultant's space this week! Allie Rodman, founder of The Learning Loop, brings us into her home office! She gives us some of her strategies for staying organized whether she's broadcasting to educators from home, or she's traveling and presenting at schools!
ME: You have a dedicated office space at home- describe how you feel in that space and why you set it up the way you did.
A: I have only had my own office for the past year and half. Prior to that, my desk was situated in the middle of our living room, and I utilized co-working spaces as needed. When I had the opportunity to setup my own space, I spent a lot of time thinking it through. I have windows on three sides which lets in lots of natural sunlight, but also allow me to look out at our garden and kids playing in the side yard even when I am working. What many of my clients and partners do not know is that our kids are often smiling or making silly faces at me through the off-camera windows when I am presenting live, and I would not trade those moments for the world.
Collaboration and connection are extremely important to me – even when we are in virtual spaces – so I have been intentional about setting up lights, screens, and microphones that enable me to communicate clearly and build strong and lasting connections through screens. I really miss handshakes, fist bumps, and hugs though.
A fair amount of my office space is currently taken up by books. I am slowly transitioning these to my Kindle to open things up a bit and minimize clutter.
Finally, I was careful to include a large cozy chair – perfect for writing when I want to get away from my desk, cuddling up with a good book and cup of tea on a Sunday morning, or providing an inviting space for our kids to come in and chat or do homework. Our dog, Scout, is also a big fan and spends many hours there.
ME: Did you have a similar system / set up as a school admin when you had an office in the school? Give some comparisons.
A: I have found it important – in all my office spaces – to set them up as “plug and play.” I do not want to waste time plugging in chargers and setting up a bunch of peripherals. I want to sit down and get right to work. Similarly, I want to walk away at the end of the day without lots to pack up. I purchase extra chargers and have them plugged in and ready to go along with wireless keyboards and mice already paired.
If possible, I keep headphones, a coffee mug, blue light glasses, pens, highlighters, scissors, and post-its in each office space as well. My goal is to minimize as much friction as possible when it comes to tackling my action plan.
ME: Do you work in any other areas of your house? Why or why not?
A: I work a fair amount in airports, in-flight, and in hotels to maximize this “dead” time and reduce my volume of work when I am home.
At home, I try to set clear boundaries between my blocks of professional and personal time even if the time blocks are not concurrent. As a result, 90% of my work is completed in my office. There are two exceptions: (1) When I have writer’s block, I will relocate to our living room couch with a lap desk, and (2) When the weather allows, I journal each morning on our back patio.
ME: Your kids have watched you work from home this year. What structures/space set-ups have they learned from you?
A: My husband, Doug, and I are self-proclaimed tech geeks so our kids have always gotten to see that side of us, but it amplified this past year as we experimented with new tech equipment, software, and facilitation approaches. Our kids were often the ones crawling around on the floor helping us setup and run AV checks.
They have slowly learned that “working” does not only mean one is actively presenting, in a meeting, or on a phone call. Our kids did not always get to see my creation and production processes in the way they do now, and I have seen that have an impact on their own work products.
It is not uncommon for me to find post-its on the fridge or back door when they don’t want to forget items for school. We use "Todoist" [on organizer app] as a family for everything from chore lists, to packing lists, to home improvement projects.
Our daughter has tried multiple planners, including kid versions of the ones she has seen me use, but is still searching for one that is the best match for her.
ME: Do you follow similar routines, structures and set-ups when you travel? How do you set up a space on the road - and will you change your set up as you start heading back out?
A: I keep a carry-on suitcase always half-packed with toiletries, makeup, chargers, nondescript jewelry, and a laundry bag. This allows me to quickly add clothes and shoes and get going with minimal prep. My work backpack is similarly half-packed with sunglasses, hand sanitizer, chapstick, adaptors, pens, portable charger, and noise-cancelling earbuds.
When I arrive at a hotel, I have a regimented routine of what gets unpacked and where to allow for the quickest morning prep and pack up.
As I start heading back out, I am continuing to tweak how much I pack, finding the right balance between being fully prepared should I get stuck somewhere and overpacking. I am also even more cognizant of high contact points, and wipes are now a regular item on my packing list.
For high-level productivity tips, find Allie on Twitter @thelearningloop