Three Ways To Protect Your Workspace

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

8 Responses to Three Ways To Protect Your Workspace

  1. Nancy Pate November 14, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    I, too, believe in radical self-care. It’s why I’ve decided to stop blogging after seven years. It has become too much like work. I want to read for pure pleasure, and I want to get back to writing fiction or creative nonfiction.I’ll still do Goodreads, and I’m not shutting down the blog. But I am taking an indefinite leave. My hope is to get back a life I can enjoy and protect. Best wishes, Nancy

  2. Betsy Hunter November 15, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    I love your coffee mug!

    I am right there with you. As a stay at home mom, it is challenging to make time for me. I try doing things that bring me joy… Othewise I run the risk of resenting my family. So, it takes careful planning and effort to give myself time. I shouldn’t be the only thing be cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and various other homeowner response just because I’m home. I don’t say yes to everything either. And I don’t take the guilt. I prayerfully consider it all. I am important.

  3. Heather Adams November 15, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Oh, I love seeing how you are able to accomplish your goals, Ariel!

  4. Laurie M November 15, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    I’m also trying to protect my workspace. What’s working for me right now is getting up earlier in the morning to have some quiet, alone time; limiting my social time to immediate family members for now – too much outside social time is truly draining for this introvert; my reading scale tips heavy with pleasure reads and light with obligatory reads; also, creating a schedule and actually following it!

  5. Susan G November 15, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    Thanks Ariel, for sharing how you protect your mind. Here’s a few thoughts of mine…
    I’m not a writer in any sense of the word…but I LOVE books and I LOVE to read and I’m sticking to what I know. 🙂 To protect ones mind, I think we have to go to the One who made our mind… He really is the only one who knows our mind, how it works, how He made it to work, and ultimately how to protect it. Prayer and reading His Word come to ‘mind’ when I think of how I protect my mind. It also helps me (my mind) to be the best I can be, and do what I was designed on this earth to do.
    Love your books!

  6. Bloomin'Chick Jo November 16, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    I love this post Ariel! Having mono since the week after Read Savannah, a lot of what you’re talking about here has been playing particular importance to me as of late to help me through & preserve what’s left of my sanity! And now especially with the holidays starting next week (gah!) and having to go through them with mono again (like 2 years ago) it will come into play even more! XO

  7. Rachel Corbett Reece November 20, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Mono stinks. Hope you’re back up to full speed quickly.

  8. Laura December 6, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    I still have (two) day jobs but no one to answer to at home, so the only person messing up my work space is me. That means where my laptop sits is a snail mail- bill paying-magazine/novel reading-free zone! Only my notes, outline/timeline goes on the table in that space. I only get the mail when I can process it all at once so it doesn’t Call Out to me in my downtime at home and interfere with writing time. Same goes for housework: get some done in spurts when a whole room can be done, then sit down, shut up and write.

    Mostly, this all works!

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