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Sometimes, Isolating Yourself Equals Guaranteed Productivity

nmoaWHEN RICHARD TAFT HEADS TO WORK EACH MORNING, he follows a narrow stone path, winds his way past the tomatoes, and unlocks the glass door to his Washington, D.C., office 15 feet behind his home. During the 30-second commute, he’s transformed from a dad dealing with the demands of two tots into a marketing, communications, and fund-raising consultant, managing dozens of subcontractors hired to promote the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of the American Indian.

“I’m a very disciplined person who can tune everything out as soon as I shut that door,” he says, pointing to the office entrance through which a six-foot totem pole peers from its garden post.

In this private 375-square-foot studio–yards from the noisy tour buses making their way to the Capitol–Taft launched the J. Richard Taft Organization three years ago. Upon signing his first-year contract, he had commissioned a local architect and sketched a rough draft. Six months later, his dream office was completed. Tatlay, in the one-room detached building, he’s free from constant interruptions and is the envy of most office workers.

Taft is no stranger to more typical office environments. His first company grew into a publishing empire, employing nearly 100 people. In the late 1980s, after receiving a multimillion-dollar offer, he cashed out. “I don’t miss those endless meetings. And I’d never go back to that lifestyle again,” he insists. He’s instead created the ultimate work space, one that balances work and family in one comfortable setting.

Profit from Privacy Taft’s responsibilities as consultant to the Smithsonian Institution range from helping to build membership and raise donations to overseeing direct-mail campaigns and publishing periodicals. To take on such Herculean tasks, he recalls, “I needed an isolated place where I could wheel and deal. I’m a very deadline-oriented person. And when I’m working, I might go until 4 a.m.” So the purpose for building the backyard refuge was actually twofold: Taft works undisturbed without disrupting his family’s daily routine:

Stepping into the studio from his garden tucked between two New England-style buildings, one notices a sudden design shift: Taft’s office smacks of a rustic, Southwestern decor–an obvious reflection of his work for the museum. The central focus of the well-lit room is an 18-foot oak workstation installed along the east wall. It was intentionally designed to face away from the house, allowing Taft’ s thoughts to shift toward work as he peers out half a dozen thermal windows placed at eye level. Another 20-foot vertical window to the right draws the ambience from the surrounding countryside indoors. Below the desktop, dead space was brought to life by installing two legal-size filing cabinets and a pullout keyboard drawer–both generously illuminated from the skylight above.

Arranged along the opposite wall, a pair of overstuffed oak chairs are angled to face a 13-inch television set. The space doubles as both a viewing room for videotaped proposals from subcontractors and a conference area for visitors who drop by. Most often, he says, meetings are held outside the office–which might include flying to an Indian community to discuss the making of a film or driving to Manhattan to see the progress of the new exhibition and education center.

Santa Fe Simplicity

Terra-cotta tile floors, earth-tone walls, and aqua accents serve as a backdrop for an oil painting of New Mexico hanging nearby. The office is a showroom of Native American craftworks Taft has picked up while on business trips, such as the Navaho scatter mg and leather drum arranged on the floor. A six-foot totem pole–which keeps a constant eye on the office from the nearby garden-was shipped from Flathead, Montana.

Besides the Southwestern decor, functionality was an important consideration in the design of the office. Indian feather art dances on a wall from the breeze created by an overhead fan–an ideal energy-saving device in severe climates.

In the summer months, for example, the fan is used to pull warm air up toward the 20-foot, A-frame ceiling. In the winter it circulates heat thrown off by a wood-burning stove sitting in the corner. “I just throw a couple of logs on in the morning, and the entire office stays warm into the night. I end up spending about only $150 a year for wood,” Taft says.

Taft installed separate electric and phone systems to further widen the rift between his business and personal life. “I wanted the control over my expenses,” he adds.

Building Barriers

To retain family harmony, veteran homeworkers know they must create physical as well as psychological barriers while on duty. “It starts with mutual respect,” Taft explains. “If I’m out here, my family never interrupts.”

While his kids are learning respect, an alternative workstyle, and time-management skills, rules in the house appear flexible. After about 6 p.m., for instance, the children might stop by the office to bring their dad a before-dinner drink or the family dog may wander in for his evening stroll beside the nearby Potomac river.

“This situation works beautifully for me, because I’m not the type of person who tries to combine work with family. Sure, I miss the days of having a secretary and support staffers,” Taft confesses. “But what I’ve gained in lifestyle is immeasurable.”

Creating an Office Refuge

Many homeworkers don’t have the luxury of building an isolated studio. But interior designer Connie Morgan of Morgan Design Co. in Denver says, “The presentation of objects in an area can make all the difference in the world.” To help separate your home life from office, here are some solutions.

Plant a tree. Foliage is an excellent way to create an instant room divider–muffling noise, blocking traffic, and adding vitality to the space. You can also use greenery to enhance the decor. For example, add a giant cactus to a Southwestem-style office or a six-foot silk ficus to enhance a contemporary look. “And for entrepreneurs,” adds Morgan, “office plants send a message about the business-growth, energy, and prosperity.”

Replace wooden doors with glass. If you allow family members to see you working, you will build respect and discourage interruptions when you’re crunching numbers or at the keyboard. And not only will glass enclosures let the kids see you, but you can keep an extra eye on them when you’re just socializing or chatting on the telephone.

Build a sense of privacy with vertical furniture. By arranging a row of, say, two or three wingback chairs into an L-shaped conversation area and stacking a floor plant above a table, you might create an ideal barrier to incoming traffic. “Or you can try adding a bookcase with a plant on top to create vertical lines that visually expand the space,” suggests Morgan. Psychologically, by building height in the room, you will convey a sense of grandeur and respect, thus reducing intrusions.

Hang a door sign. When you post a sign at the office entrance that states your hours, it’s a constant reminder to the family that you are busy–and they should think twice before entering.

3 thoughts on “Sometimes, Isolating Yourself Equals Guaranteed Productivity

  1. On the contrary, I feel more productive when I feel the presence of my fellows. I guess it’s different strokes for different folks.

  2. Our office environment is one that I truly want to be working at. There’s peace and harmony and people know when to intrude and when not to disturb.

  3. I am fond of my officemates and I can say we are like a family. But when it comes to work, we respect each others’ space. We are a team most of the time but we know we need to be isolated at times to be more focused on our task.

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