Getting Prolific, Day 16: Office Totems

How do you manipulate your environment to satisfy your individual needs?

As a kid, the best part about running errands with my parents was looking at the collection of objects in people’s offices and desks.

Whether it was the bank teller, the front desk agent, the grocery checkout or one of the employees at my dad’s office, the first thing my eyes found were people’s personal effects.

Not because I was nosy and had to know everything about their lives, but because some part of me knew intuitively that the space was more than just square footage.

Space was a special area where people asserted their identity and needs.

It’s probably why, from a very young age, I always modified my environment to better suit me. I was always intentional about manipulating my surroundings to feel more safe and alive.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. People can call me names like quirky, obsessive compulsive, attention deficit disordered, or whatever other sneering label helps them understand my behavior.

But the bottom line is, the world is a wacky place. Finding a way to exist with a certain modicum of calm, while everything outside of me is in a heightened chaotic state, that’s a skill. One worth honing.

Feeling in charge of how I interact with my surroundings improves my life. It’s the user interface for my brain. Shaping space supports my healing. I always feel better and act stronger when I’ve taken the time to customize my surroundings suit myself.

This is not some pathological need to control my environment, but a fundamental understanding about factors that have a profound impact on my experience.

And doing the best I can to maximize my own experience of fulfillment.

There’s a neat study that conducted a comparative analysis of the privatization and individualization of public office space. Office desks in insurance companies, banks, administrative authorities, call centers, and design studios in twelve countries on all continents were studied.

Here’s one of their key findings:

The desk is a place of work and action, but it also serves as a place to exhibit things and preferences. It presents cultural lifestyles that are manifested in and through objects, as a huge theater where the desk becomes a stage on which comedies and dramas are played out.

How do you manipulate your environment to satisfy your individual needs? Which elements of your identity are asserted through your personal effects?

It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

If you want to curate a playlist on your phone to relax you when you go to the bathroom at work, then so be it.

If you want to decorate your hotel room furniture with trinkets and totems that help you feel at home while traveling, go for it.

If keeping a pair of cozy clogs under your desk to wear during sales calls makes you feel more productive, be my guest.

Look, life is hard, and we should optimize for comfort, pleasure and independence whenever possible. Even if that means modifying things in our surroundings to do so.

It’s like that old saying, come in and make yourself at home.

Accept the invitation. Assert your identity and needs. Enter into spaces and do what you need to do to feel relaxed and comfortable.

Maybe don’t throw your socks off and start picking your nose and scratching your private parts just yet, but you catch my drift.

Control is almost certainly an illusion on an existential scale. But when it comes to your immediate surroundings, you are not as powerless to change your environment as you think.

Make it adequate to your preferences and enjoy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to flush the toilet and go back to my desk.

Are you still trying to force yourself to follow someone else’s methods?

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Author. Speaker. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. CEO/Founder of getprolific.io. Pioneer of Personal Creativity Management (PCM). I also wear a nametag 24/7.