Stop searching for the perfect space

Plan Your Next: Letter No. 16

I’m just in from traveling over 16 hours today, so this letter is going out a bit late.

Venturing out across Japan for the past week was eye-opening in a lot of ways, but especially in how it relates to environmental design.

I’m hitting send on this, and I apologize in advance for all of my grammar mistakes :)

Spaces like the one pictured above get my creative blood flowing.

“How productive I could be sitting in a space like this all day.”

If you were to pull back a few feet from the bottom frame of that image, there is a manicured slab of wood for a tabletop that looks like it’s about a foot off of the floor. There are soft square cushions to sit on, but as you start to crouch down, thinking you’ll have to sit crossed legged, your feet disappear into an empty space below the counter. Suddenly, you’re sitting on a simple stair step, perfectly nestled.

Japan is littered with thoughtful interior spaces like this.

If you search Pinterest for “creative space,” you’re presented with beautiful, minimalistic, reclaimed wood spaces that are neatly organized and thoughtfully assembled.

This homogeneous design trend is a pitfall for people looking to improve their own spaces. I’ve fallen for it many times, looking for ways to always improve the quality, utility, and aesthetics of my own spaces.

It’s a trap.

I’ve altered my own space more times than I can count, sometimes it’s based on an image that inspired me, others based on something I’ve read to try and understand how a space might work best.

The space isn’t the goal; it’s the system that you set up to build better habits or to wreak havoc on your bad habits.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by their space, but whether it looks like one of the results from Pinterest or not, isn’t indicative of how productive you might potentially be.

The image of Steve Jobs sitting in his empty living room is one of the more popular images closely associated with creative thinking, but the one I like to think of is this:

Steve Jobs home office, married, with kids. Books were strewn everywhere, unorganized, and yet you could probably assume this is how his mind might work.

Other famous thinkers like Einstein, were known to have spaces that resembled my garbage can on any given Tuesday.

However hard I try, my desk usually ends up like a complete mess.

Shawn Blanc has a great review of workspaces that he’s been highlighting for years. But yet, is there much that we can glean from how someone else chooses to work?

I still find myself fascinated by how other people choose to layout their own spaces, hoping to gain some insight from it, but does it really matter?

Designing your space

To design the perfect space for ourselves, we should be looking at how a space can best enable us to be as creative and productive as possible. Maybe that means reducing the number of distractions, like leaving your phone in the other room while you work.

Maybe it’s not even about the space, but the software tools you allow yourself access too.

I personally use an app called RescueTime to track my hours spent on my computer, show me how much time I’m wasting, and what apps I’m using the most. I can also shut down access to certain sites for any period of time to help keep me focused.

Having an environment that you’re able to be creative, productive, and focused on is highly critical to getting shit done.

What should be most important is how we design our own environments to cater to our most useful routines.

One of my favorite books on designing your space is called Apartment Therapy: The Eight Step Home Cure, by Maxwell Ryan. He founded the popular site

Although the book encompasses more than your workspace, you’ll not find a single image of another home inside to inspire you.

It’s devoted to learning about how to make a space work for you, by doing incredibly hippy dippy things like placing your hands on your walls and getting a sense of its temperature, to help determine color and space. Not by looking at other homes and replicating them.

The same goes for how we work. Our minds can be all over the place, and it’s important to think about how we can make our spaces work for us, and not by imagining that the perfect space is peering out into a Zen garden, hoping to find inspiration by staring at the serene.

The case for nice things

If someone has an inspiring space that is full of great design and where everything just works, your base level of what you will do in your own craft is going to be significantly affected by this. The corporate America way of doing this would be to have a crappy cubicle farm and then post motivational posters everywhere saying, “Have high standards,” which is crazy. Clearly that doesn’t work. This is how we find that changing the environment just helps us get the things that we want.

– Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify


Have a great week!

If you’re new to this newsletter, this is Plan Your Next. It’s a conversation about being ready for what’s next. Well, because there is always a next. I’m Nate, designer, and conductor of this group.

If you have something to share or add, please hit reply and expect a response!