For six months I’ve had a sticky note attached to my laptop that reads: Protect Your Workspace. At some point, when I’m comfortable with the idea, I’ll tell you the story of what prompted me to do this. But what I can say at the moment is that the ‘workspace’ I’m referring to is not my office. It’s my mind. The novel I’m currently working on is the first I’ve ever written in an actual office. The others were constructed in coffee shops and car pool lines, on legal pads and MacBooks, and on any flat surface in my home that wasn’t littered with Legos or used Band-Aids. But the workspace itself is always the same regardless of my physical location: that curious, bright, private space inside my skull. It has taken me a long time to realize that this workspace should be protected with the same vigilance that I protect my home and my family. And I’ve discovered a few key ways to make sure it doesn’t get invaded or destroyed along the way.
I decide what gets in. I try not to work while my children are at home or awake. But that’s the ideal, not the reality, and I frequently have to sequester myself away to get something done at night or on the weekends. And when that happens, I literally hang a sign in my office that says ‘No Soliciting.’ My children routinely ignore it but I point and remind them anyway because they are young and need to understand that I have a job and they must respect the time and space required to perform that job. The same principle is true with the internet (or text messages or clickbait or the doorbell for that matter). I get to decide who I let into my workspace and when. (Bickering people on the internet? Nope. Sorry. You can’t come in.) I’ve taught my children from the time they were tiny that if we don’t know someone we don’t open the door for them. It isn’t rude to protect yourself. So these days I regularly turn off the wi-fi and silence my phone so that I can actively engage in deep work.
I practice radical self-care. Anne Lamott coined the phrase but the older I get, the more I realize how important this is. To do my particular job, my mind has to function at a high level. I have to think high concept and embrace tiny details at the same time. Writing a novel is like juggling chainsaws: it requires your full attention. So, for me, that means I have to get enough sleep. (I’m an eight hours a night minimum kind of girl) I’ve started doing yoga because all that sitting is really bad for my joints. I’ve started making myself eat a high-protein breakfast every single day because I can’t afford that late-afternoon brain collapse. I’m eating less sugar. I’m running again. I’m spending very little time on social media but a lot of time with the real people in my real life. I’m taking care of me so that my workspace isn’t cluttered or exhausted or anxious.
I’m only reading for fun right now. It’s amazing how reading can become a job. Just ask any writer or librarian or bookseller or book blogger. We all get into this business because we’re nerds and we love books. Reading is our first love. And then something happens, somewhere along the line, and we look up one day and realize that we’re utterly dreading the to-read pile. It’s become homework. So I decided I won’t do it anymore. I will read for the simple pleasure of reading. Not to check anything off my list or to complete a reading challenge or to fulfill an obligation. I am reclaiming this quiet, simple joy as something that is mine and not another way to participate in social media or cultural conversation. I’m taking it back and this, more than anything else, is helping protect my workspace.
My husband is a contractor. And one of my good friends is a photographer. So I realize not all professions work the way that mine does. Writing is unique in that regard: we spend more time inside our own minds that most people. However, I am convinced that the mind is the primary workspace for everyone. So I’m curious about what you do for a living and how you protect your own workspace for maximum productivity. Share below! I’m always looking for new ways to grow in this area.