De-clutter your work space and de-stress your life

At a time when “CrackBerries” and iPhones blur the lines between work and home, and offices fill with anxiety over potential job losses, it's becoming harder than ever to relax at work.

As information overload threatens to swamp us, workplace designer Angela Sampson says it's important for employers to create spaces for workers to escape the madness for a moment.

Ms Sampson, an associate at design company Geyer, says stress doesn't always start at the office.

“It's more the way we live our life. The boundaries between work time and personal time are so much more dotted, for want of a better word, these days,” she says.

“The speed at which people receive information, and the speed we are expected to respond to this information is much higher than it was.”

It's for this reason that offices must have designated “downtime” spaces, such as lunch rooms, “snooze rooms” or even a place to gaze out the window for a moment and reflect, Sampson says.

“It needs to be looked at holistically; you've got to have the appropriate lighting, different sound. It's really about creating a diversity of space. We don't have to be chained to our desks.

“There needs to be some place that you can work alone that won't necessarily be a little enclosed box.”

One of Geyer's recent projects was at the Westpac contact centre in Sydney, where designers created “The Sanctuary”, a place in which to chill out on colourful couches and chat in breakaway spaces.

“Rather than it being corporate, it was more about creating a home away from home,” Sampson says.

Geyer used fabrics that might find in a house, and other items with a domestic flavour.

Sampson says companies have become willing to spend money on their workers' wellbeing, recognising that stress can hurt their bottom line, rather than in the past when employers often took a “suck it up” approach.

Yet, for many workers, it's the state of their own desks that is upping the anxiety, says Stacey Davidson, organisation consultant at stationery retailer kikki.K. In particular, piles and piles of paperwork.

“Organisation and productivity are very linked and it's something that we're not taught,” she says.

“I think some of our minds work in a more organised and systematic way. The good news is you can learn some of these skills.”

Davidson, who has helped organise large corporate clients such as McDonald's and Johnson & Johnson, says desk layout is a good place to start.

First, place the items you use constantly within arm's reach, she says.

Then, allot a regular time in your diary to organise yourself and treat it like any other appointment that can't be missed.

Once you've got your desk in order, then you can consider plants, photos of friends and family and other things that might boost your mood.

“I think that, if you enjoy the space that you work in, then you're going to be more productive because you're going to want to be there,” she says.

“It's about colour and surrounding yourself with things that reflect your personality.”

Feng shui consultant Elizabeth Wiggins, of Feng Shui Living, says the first step to becoming less stressed and more productive is banishing clutter.

“It's not just physical clutter but also your electronic clutter in your inbox, your filing system,” she says.

“A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind [is] the way we look at it.”

Then there's the placement of your desk, which ideally should see your back facing a solid wall and your eyes facing the main entrance, she says.

“In a lot of offices, especially open plan, it's not possible. You can sometimes use a high-backed chair, or some sort of reflective item on your desk.

“When there's a lot of people walking behind you, you can get quite anxious.”

For those working from home, Wiggins says work and home should be separated where possible, and one of the worst things one can do is to use the bedroom – a place of relaxation – for work.

Five tips for de-stressing your workspace

* Surround yourself with things that make you happy, such as holiday or family happy snaps.

* Separate your work space from your home space as much as possible.

* De-clutter: sort out your paperwork and your email inbox, and your mind will follow.

* Schedule time to organise, and treat it like any other appointment that can't be missed.

* Where possible, sit with your back to a solid wall.