The subject of the working environment has been on my list of things to write about for a while now. Discussing ‘working from home’ I explored the benefits of being alone and undisturbed, and also how important I felt it was to get my writing desk in order. I even promised, in my last missive, that I would talk about getting spaces right to write. But even in the short weeks since writing about self-discipline and the importance of listening to yourself, I have, miraculously, followed my own advice and discovered something surprising.
I need other people.
The blog I planned was about how surroundings can contribute enormously to the kind of work you are embarking on: including being inspired and creative; being practical and strategic; and being focused and productive. I confidently asserted that I worked best at being productive when sitting at a desk. I might add that the desk should be clear, the light good, the temperature somewhere in between so warm I dose off and so cold I hibernate*.
With this in mind, I dedicated a relatively large portion of my first weeks of flying solo to the restoration of an old writing desk. Five years after its purchase as a ‘not very beautiful but very cheap’ item from under the arches in Bethnal Green, I was free at last from a well-paid and stimulating job, so the desk once again got a look in. I dragged it into my kitchen in order to make the most of the great light and access to the kettle.
In it’s new location it looked a bit dark, tatty and out of place. On an unrelated note I was simultaneously overwhelmed by the tasks that lay ahead. These two points collided with the result that I dedicated much of those very hot and sweaty weeks to stripping, sanding, re-sanding, sanding again, oiling, painting and, just for luck, a bit more sanding and oiling.
As a finishing touch, my other half gave me this rather grandiose but very lovely piece of desk furniture. The space was complete – I had dressed for the job I wanted, and for the worker I wanted to be.
I sat back and waited for the productivity to begin. Having sat back I looked out the window, I wandered into the living room, bedroom, I made a cup of tea. I had a nap. I’d set it all up to perfection and here I was still fighting with the problem of motivation.
Since starting this business it seems that an unlikely number of friends are also embarking on freelance work, have been doing so for some time, or are more generally pursuing less conventional ways of working. I discussed with them this issue of motivation, and how it wasn’t something I had really had a problem with before. When at university, for example, I very tidily managed the ten-hour working day, and at my previous jobs I would regularly stay hours after they’d stopped paying me, and never had a problem getting things done.
As a remedy, a good friend suggested ‘co-working’, a term which is helpfully more specific and quicker to say than ‘working in the same sort of vicinity but not really working together on a project, just sort of being next to each other while we continue doing what we would normally have been doing’. So far, co-working has taken place in my flat, while being able to enjoy my lovely new desk; in a library, slowly freezing to death in the A/C on one of the sunniest days of the year; and curled up on a floor, and then a sofa, with my laptop quietly boiling me, thighs first, like a delicious ham.
Only one of these, you will notice, conform to my very specific idea of what will make me work best, and yet I would return to the cold, or the hot, in a moment for the value of having the presence of like-minded and earnestly working companions. When I have mentioned this to others, they normally suggest that it is the accountability that must make the greatest advantage: having people around, particularly diligent, concentrating people, means that you are less likely to wander off, do the dishes, or find something funny to watch on YouTube.
But I would say that more than these more practical, and arguably restrictive, things, what co-working offers is the relaxation that comes with companionship. It is not so much accountability as camaraderie. The common factor from university and from the last five years of desk work was not the pressure of having people present, as I have explained when discussing working from home, but instead was the community that came along with working together – not in the perfect environment, but in the same environment.
At the same time as the CEO desk sign, I received the following, much more valuable item, which I keep by my bedside (because napping).
If setting up this business will take me a thousand miles, in setting up my desk I was making sure I had the right shoes. What I have realized over these first hundred steps is that, important as they are, shoes are a luxury – what really matters is finding people to share the journey.
Anyone want to buy a writing desk?
* The more dedicated readers will notice that the theme of sleep comes up a lot in these things – what can I say? I’m a fan. No need to have put a necklace of kryptonite round my neck, Lex Luthor could have shown me a comfy bed and I would have curled up and kissed California good bye.