The Scratching Post: Office Space and Cabin Fever

Posted Feb 17 2010, 05:20 PM

Winter in Rochester, NY. For those who have never experienced the near-death landscapes; the frigid temperatures; and the dangerous roadways that comprise the northeastern section of our country between November and April, it may be hard to comprehend the potential anguish of these long months indoors. It is impossible, perhaps, to relay the exact feeling of "cabin fever." But here I am, emerging from what I can only deem my very own personal and professional rut, attempting to put words to these feelings, and share how i broke free of the blues.

The tundra tends to form slowly, with a subtle transition from the autumnal hues of Halloween into Thanksgiving. Good spirits and full bellies then ease us into December's festivities. For the most part, this section of the year is bearable; the snow, still a bit of a novelty.

The holiday season is admittedly a stressful time for most people. Here in Rochester, slippery roadways and plummeting temperatures do nothing to brighten traveler's spirits. Although the holidays do bring a welcome break from the melancholy of the white-washed world, with the sea of blinking lights and colorful lawn ornaments; ultimately, it does little to change the fact that we are all stuck indoors, and not getting out any time soon.

  With little fanfare to highlight it, January is a notably dreary stretch. the bleakness hits hard, and most of us realize that around this time, winter is merely just getting its legs. The snow, now dirty with motor oil, and mixed with mud, is no longer a sight to behold. Our backs are sore from shoveling, and falling down stupid unsalted front stairs with terrible railings!!The onset of February offers little in the way of relief.

Seasonal affective disorder is, to some degree, the inevitable when you spend as many months relegated to shelter as we northeasters (and midwestern, alike) do. Unless one is incredibly active in winter sports, getting the recommended quantity of sunlight is near impossible in minus six degree windchill. The situation is only exacerbated when one spends the all-too-brief hours of daylight in an office. Although many of us don't admit it, we are all equally prone to the irritability, the negativity, and the generally morose mentality associated with the dead of winter. Evidence is in no short supply, not even in the characteristically quirky Ambrosia office.

Lately, a current of tension seems to be running beneath the surface of our generally light-hearted office space. Not to say fist-fights are breaking out over the coffee maker, of course, but the subtle shift in attitude has not gone unnoticed. Much like a family, our little office operates in routine, and any disruption of the force affects the interpersonal relationships here. Of course, everyone has stressors in their own lives, but to say that spending 40+ hours a week-- what amounts to most of our waking hours-- together in a small space does not affect us would be silly. Like the family I mentioned earlier, we are all very keen to alterations in each other's moods, and in the dead of winter, one person's foul mood sends ripples through everyone's day, permeating the entire office energy.

That said, staying home because you are in a bad mood is never really a viable option. Instead, I woke up one morning and decided to make a change.

Rearranging my office has been on my "to do" list since I began working here. The flow of my office was very lacking. Windows were blocked, the room was cut in half by a desk, and I was cluttered in increasing piles of paperwork, shifted from one flat surface to the next. Finally, one Friday morning, I decided enough was enough, and went to town.

First, extremely dated frivolous paperwork met the recycle bin. Unnecessary bits of paper and outdated notes-to-self began filling the blue basket, and my smile grew. I felt a weight lifting off me. Next, furniture was moved. For this, a few of my fabulous coworkers lent a much-needed hand. Two oak desks, a large credenza, a shelving unit, a table, and a filing cabinet were moved. One filing cabinet completely removed. While the project was underway, even amidst the chaos, I could feel my smile getting bigger and bigger. It felt like watching my cluttered purgatory become a functional office. As I swept up the aged dust-bunnies and neatly stacked the remaining pertinent paperwork, I felt really *good* about my work space, for the first time in a long time, I felt excited to get in here and be productive.

More than simply facing a new wall, my altered office position has rearranged my mindset. Each day of the past two weeks, I have come to work feeling positive and productive. I have found myself barreling through my daily tasks, and have even gotten the ball rolling on a massive office digitizing project. My office is an uplifting and creative space for me now, I no longer feel stifled or overwhelmed. The floor is much more open, the windows are unblocked. Positive energy is flowing through, and I am definitely feeling it.

While a total office overhaul may not be practical for everyone, I strongly recommend making work-space alterations as you feel necessary; especially in the wintertime doldrums of monotony. There is a lot to be said for clearing the clutter and shifting perspective. The long and the short of it is that most people can't change much about the place they work or the people they work with. What you can control is how you deal with your own corner of the corporate universe. Focusing your energy positively on that, instead of reveling in misdirected negativity, is a much healthier and more cooperative way of putting in your 40 hours a week.


After (*larger version)


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