Surviving Twenty Something

Life Advice

How to Create a Minimalist and Productive Workspace

Life Advice, Money + HappinessNadya Jones
How to create a productive minimalis workspace 3.jpg

Ten years ago my desk generally looked like the aftermath of a small colourful explosion. I was just out of college and getting started on blogging and designing and I’d read somewhere that a messy desk was a sign of creativity, so I let the chaos grow. I had bucket-loads of cute office supplies, pin boards layered with swatches, cryptic sticky-notes on my monitor, heaps of unread magazines and at least two moribund plants. One rainy morning, I just pulled up the garbage bin and started throwing stuff away. By dinner-time, I had a clear desk and an enormous sense of relief. If this sounds familiar, and you’re feeling weighed down by your messy workspace, or you’ve been inspired by Danna’s thoughts on How to Live Lighter: A Minimalist Decluttering, here are my top tips for how to create a minimalist and productive workspace for yourself.


Step 1 // Visioning

Tackling a big decluttering job can be daunting. If you take a few minutes to inspire yourself with a picture of how it will be when you’ve finished, it will help to keep you on track.

  1. Close your eyes and imagine how your workspace will look, notice what items are there and which are missing.
  2. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, perhaps you feel lighter and more organized already?
  3. Now that you’re feeling motivated and energized, open your eyes and make a list of only the items that you need to do your work. Challenge yourself – for example, why do you need a stapler? If you are using it to staple things you’re printing, do you really need to print them? If you don’t need to print, do you need a printer? Could you digitize everything and go paperless?


Step 2 // Clear the decks

  1. Take everything off your desk, pick up anything on the floor, empty drawers, and remove things pinned to the wall.
  2. Find the items on your list of essentials and put them to one side.
  3. Throw out anything that falls into a ‘no regrets’ category. This includes things like old magazines, dead plants and so on.
  4. File anything that you have to keep but doesn’t need to be on your desk. This includes things like bank statements, utility bills and so on.
  5. Put things like spare pens, calculators, and so on, out of sight in drawers unless you use them every day.
  6. You’ll probably be left with a miscellaneous collection of things which you’re not sure you need. Put them into a box. Anything you haven’t needed to get out of the box in the next month, you can safely dump.


Step 3 // Reset

  1. Consider location. An ideal workspace benefits from natural light which helps reduce stress, improve mood and increase concentration. Place your desk perpendicular to the light source to reduce glare and shadows.
  2. Put the essential items that were on your list back in your workspace. Check that you have everything you need, now is the time to invest in a new desk lamp if your lighting was always inadequate, or to buy a gorgeous new notebook so you won’t need a new sticky-note collage.
  3. You now have a clean slate that includes just the essentials you need to do your work. According to researchers at Harvard, you’ll be 1.5 times more productive on challenging tasks now your workspace is neat than you were when it was messy.


Step 4 // Add joy

A minimalist approach is one that seeks simplicity and balance. It’s not about reducing to an empty, sterile, utilitarian, workspace. It’s about creating an environment where there is space for your ideas and creativity to breathe and grow, a space that refreshes your spirit and brings you joy. There is nothing wrong with adding items simply because you like them. I have draped a beautiful set of Allen Roth crackle string lights around my workspace because even when I am feeling tired or unproductive, simply looking up and catching sight of them lifts my heart so that I can get back to work. However, it’s important to do this in a controlled way so that you don’t add too much. Try the steps below.

  1. Add a single item back into your workspace that you love. The item can be anything: a family photograph; a beautiful piece of glassware; a luxurious throw. Be very selective.
  2. Leave the item in your workspace for a few days, notice how often you look at it and how it makes you feel. If you stop noticing it, or it fails to lift your spirits, consider removing it from your working area.
  3. Continue adding items one at a time. There is no right or wrong number of items to add but it’s important to stop as soon as you sense that you have enough. You’re aiming for a small, carefully curated selection of objects that you value.
  4. Consider adding a plant. Scientists at Exeter University have found that indoor plants can increase productivity by 15% in addition to improving the air quality and your sense of wellbeing - just don’t forget to water it!


Step 5 // Maintain that Zen feeling

When you’re busy it’s very easy to let your redesigned space quickly become cluttered again. Try these tips to keep things under control.

  1. Buy a big waste bin. Having plenty of space to put your garbage is likely to encourage you to throw things away.
  2. Be mindful about paper – think carefully about printing, post, newspapers, and magazines all of which can sabotage your space very quickly.
  3. Once a week, check your surroundings and do a quick declutter.

Confucius said, “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”. We confuse ownership with happiness and quantity with quality and we fill our days with a multitude of gadgets and tasks but we’re not always as productive as we’d like to be. I hope you’ve taken a little inspiration from these ideas for creating a minimalist and productive workspace, I’d love it if you’d share this article if you found it useful, and let me know your thoughts and how you get on in the comments below.



Nadya Jones is a blogger and an entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Allen Roth HQ, a blog about home design and improvements. With her husband Brett, she writes tips and tricks they learned while renovating their house in Raleigh, North Carolina. Nadya handles the interior design. Brett implements her ideas in a cost-efficient way.

Twitter @diy_brett


Confidence, choice fatigue + how owning your choices builds better relationships

Life AdviceDanna Rowan
Confidence, choice fatigue + how owning your choices builds better relationships

listen to the audio version!

Raise your hand if you've had this conversation before:

"Where do you want to go for dinner?"

"I don't know, where do you want to go?"

"Nah, I asked you. You choose."

"I don't care."

"Well you must want something. Do you want to go to Five Guys?"

"Not really."

"Where do you want to go?"

"I don't know. Where do you want to go?"


Nothing makes me want to put my head through the wall faster than this conversation, and it's one I've had dozens if not hundreds of times from both sides. And then something changed. This year, I decided I was going to own my decisions, whether or not they were raving successes or piles of hot garbage.

And you know what happened?

My relationships changed. I got more confident with each decision. I got more vulnerable, but also had better connections with the people around me ('cause that's how vulnerability works, folks). I learned more. I saw more. I did more— all because I was willing to take lots of very tiny risks. (Because honestly, most of these decisions are tiny on an infinitesimal scale. Whose life was ever changed by a choice in restaurant?)

So why do so many of us have these asinine conversations (which I'm pretty sure no one enjoys)? Why do we play this game with one another where we are both unwilling to commit to one choice over another (even though I'm convinced we all have an option we're secretly rooting for)?

Firstly, fear. (Because when isn't fear involved?)

1. Bad things will sometimes come of your choices

I promise. But bad things will come regardless. It's how you deal with them that matters.

Avoiding choices will in no way keep unfortunate life circumstances at bay— in fact, avoiding making choices difficult or otherwise will probably only compound any issues you fear occurring. Procrastination makes literally nothing better. (Or have you learned nothing from undergrad all-nighters?)

There are two things you need to consider here. The first is that there is much less to fear from your choices if you lower your expectations. Because we have so many options these days, our expectations are sky-high. If we have 163 dish soap options to pick from, one of them must be our ideal dish soap, right? And when it's not? We're disappointed. 

This might be a trivial example, but this could be applied to nearly everything. You applied to six different universities out of dozens of options, therefore one of these universities should be the university of your dreams. Except perfect doesn't exist, no matter how many options we're given (okay, maybe if we were given actually infinite options, but I don't math, so let's just stay away from that).

If we stop expecting perfect, we stop feeling so let down by the outcomes of our choices.

The second thing to keep in mind, is that you only have control over your choice, not what comes of it. I know, that probably makes you want to slap me (which wouldn't be particularly Stoic of you, now would it), but it's an inescapable fact. Making a choice is like pushing a little paper boat out to sea— once its left your hands, it's up to the wind what happens. Once you see where you're going, you can decide what it is that you want to do.

And then you make another choice, and another choice, and another. It's turtles all the way down (which, by the way, was such a good read and I highly recommend it).


2. Lack of confidence is also a problem here

Past me (let's call her Danna 1.0) would have been petrified of making choices— big or small.

What if I make the wrong one? What if the movie I pick sucks (and they laugh at me)?

What happens if the restaurant I choose sucks (and they laugh at me)?

You can see where this is going here. Nothing horrified me more than the idea that the choice I made would somehow lead to someone else's displeasure or lack of enjoyment and they would blame me for it, and cast me aside (no one said this was logical, let's be honest).

Abandonment, ridicule, judgement. When we choose, we're vulnerable (a good thing). We're saying "I like this and I hope you do too." We open ourselves up to just a tiny bit of rejection. 

And that's scary. So we say we don't care. We pretend we don't have an opinion or a preference.

Two things are happening here:

a) there are too many available options and it becomes impossible to decide what is best: the paradox of choice. (Easy solution).

b) we're pretending we don't care so as not to have to own our decision (a less easy solution, but probably the more common problem—although I could be projecting here).

The solutions?


Yes, choice fatigue really is a thing. We are faced with hundreds of little decisions to make every single day, with hundreds of options presented in each scenario. The result? We get stuck, unable to decide which of the options will be best for us, all the while having sky-high expectations. (With so many choices, one of them will be the perfect match for us, right?) If you're interested in exploring this idea more, I highly recommend checking out this short but impactful TED talk by Barry Schwartz.

The simplest solution here is to narrow your choices intentionally. Whether you're the choice maker or the choice giver, this guiding principle will make your life so much easier. Tell those presenting you with options to give you fewer choices from which to pick. And then just pick one. Worst case it's not that great and you've learned something new (like how to avoid that Thai food place where you got food poisoning on your birthday).

A scenario could go like this:

Lovely Person A: Hey, let's get food. Greek or Italian?

Spectacular Person B: I'm not so fond of Greek— Italian it is!

If you're the one offering the choice, you could follow the scenario above, or, if you're feeling particularly brave, offer only one option.

Like so:

Lovely Person A: Hey, I'm really craving pizza. Want to come with me to my favourite place?

Spectacular Person B: Fo' shizzle.


This works much better than asking someone where they want to go for dinner when you've had a raging pizza craving for the past four days, and hoping that they stumble upon 'pizza' as the option of choice.

The hardest part will be finding people who still say fo' shizzle.


4. practising making and owning small decisions (then try for bigger ones).

If you're used to pushing decisions off on other people like I was, this will take some time. It will take some time to feel comfortable with putting your opinions out there, and leaving yourself a little bit open for rejection, and a lot open to learning from the mistakes that will come from owning your decisions (yeah, you get to own the mistakes, too).

You'll notice here I've mostly been talking about simple things that don't really have massive impacts on our lives: food, movie choice, etc. But practising owning these choices will help you when you've got real life-changing decisions on the line. You don't want something that is really going to have a great impact on your life being in someone else's hands because you were too chicken-shit to take control yourself. 

When someone at work asks you what you think the next step will be for an important project, you're better equipped to tell them what you think.

When you're trying to decide whether or not to stick with a job you hate or pursue a business interest, you own that decision you know is right in your gut, rather than deferring to someone else.

When a relationship is failing, you take action to move things forward, rather than waiting for the other person to act (which, speaking from personal experience, may never happen).


Things will sometimes suck. They will suck whether you choose them or they happen to you involuntarily. Having the confidence to make choices means that your relationships are not going to be one-sided. It means you're both allowing yourselves to be vulnerable, get there, and let yourself be seen— whether it's with friends, family, or a romantic interest. And that confidence is magnetic. 

Just ask yourself which person you would rather be spending time with: the person who carries on that nonsensical waste of time conversation ("You choose", "No, you choose!"), or the person who says "I would love to take you to my favourite restaurant. Do you want to come?"

If the people around you care about you, they will be happy to spend time around you even if you take them to see Transformers 8, even if you order shitty Greek food.

Maybe you will even laugh about it together.

Maybe you will pick their new favourite restaurant, or take them on the best vacation of their lives.

You never know unless you decide.


Confidence, choice fatigue, + how owning your choices builds better relationships // Ever been stuck in that frustrating situation with a friend or SO whether neither of you seem to be capable of picking a place to eat, or thing to do? Here's how to never have that situation again, AND become a confident badass.

NaNoWriMo: What it is, and why you should spend your November writing garbage

Books, Life AdviceDanna Rowan
NaNoWriMo: What it is, and why you should spend your november writing garbage


You might have heard of it.

If not, here's the gist: 30 days. 50,000 words. 375,000+ participants. 

NaNoWriMo is when thousands of writers from all over the world get together in November to produce what is usually epic crap (and I mean that lovingly, NaNoers, I do. You know how it is).

I'm gonna tell you why you should do it.

My first NaNo was in 2004. I was 13. The website looked something like this.

Super kool, rite?

Super kool, rite?

The website and branding has since had a makeover, but the joy and madness remain the same. 

To my complete surprise, I actually finished the full 50,000 words. And I bet you're thinking it was an amazing novel filled with prose that would make the muses swoon.

No? No?

It was hot garbage. But it's still one of the accomplishments I'm most proud of, even after more than a decade of writing, a few more NaNos, and degree, and a successful design business.

You should do it, too.

Here's why (and it's not because you might get published).




Because good writers are good readers.




1. It pushes your comfort zone

But I don't waaaaant my comfort zone pushed, you think. I know. Me either. But it's one of those things that's always super rewarding when you're on the other side of the uncomfortable and often steep journey up. The years I got the most out of the NaNo experience were the ones when I said I was too busy, and I couldn't do it. The ones when I had to use all my wily know-how to wrangle writing time into my schedule.

The truth?

There's always time if you want it badly enough.

My NaNo progress in 2012. Who waited until the last minute? Oh, me. That's right.

My NaNo progress in 2012. Who waited until the last minute? Oh, me. That's right.


2. Amazing community

I've met and bonded with some of the best people I know through NaNoWriMo (Fran, if you're reading this... 'wassup?). There's nothing like 30 days of late nights and frustration to bring people together. The NaNoWriMo website itself is host to many incredible forums where you can race for your daily word count with fellow writers, or crowd source really sketchy information you might need for your crime novel (like this, or this, or this).

Even better, there are tons of local NaNoWriMo groups. Just check out the website and see if there is one near you! What's better than suffering alone? That's right, suffering together in a coffee shop.


3. You build indestructible habits

If you divide 30 days by 50,000 words you get, roughly, 1667. So every day for the month of November, you write 1667 words (or, if you're anything like me, you write 1667 a day for the first week, nothing for the next two, and then throw away all other responsibilities during the last four days of NaNo to hit your word count).

Here's the thing: a writer is someone who writes. Not someone who is published. Not someone who has a bestseller, but someone who writes— even when they're not inspired, even when they don't have the best idea, even when it's hard (especially when it's hard).

They sit down and they commit to writing every single day (or thereabouts). Participating in NaNo? That gets you 1667 words a day for 30 days and the foundation for a serious writing practise (plus, the know-how to build basically any other habit). It gives you to the tool to make shit happen in your life, day by day, one tiny step at a time.

Building discipline (AKA: good habits) into your life is a practise— the more you do it, the better you get at harnessing the power of habits to change your life. All those successful people you see out there?

Good habits.

Need some encouragement?

4. It's a stepping stone

Sometimes we just need to prove to ourselves once that we can do something we thought we never could.

Write a novel? Ooh, I've always wanted to. I wish. Someday. Maybe next year. 

These are things I hear people say every single year when I mention a) I write, or b) I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (yes, again). And my response is always the same:

So do it.

Do the thing. It will not be any easier or more convenient next month, or next year, or when you're done school, or when you have a different job, or a better baby sitter, or the perfect desk, or a fancy pen. The work is still the same. 

What will be easier? The next time you need to do something you thought you couldn't do— because you've already done one impossible thing.

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Alice in Wonderland



5. It's great practise

Getting started with a new hobby or skill can sometimes be pretty disheartening. You want to draw, but the awkward scriggles on the page just don't match the beautiful art that's in your head. What's the point of putting in hours for something that just doesn't seem to be very good? (Fact: everyone starts out as complete shite.) 

Deliberate practise aside, it seems to just be the case that everyone has within them a relatively large number of crappy words, and it's your job to get them all out on your journey to becoming a better writer. No one's first ten thousand words are great. Or even hundred thousand.

The good thing about NaNo? The pressure to write anything absolutely amazing the first time is off. Everyone knows they're going to churn out 50,000 of some of the worst words ever set down to paper. The point is that you get them out. You get started on that path to becoming a better writer (though the principle applies to music, visual art, jogging, etc), and you're already leagues ahead of all the people who never got past that first sentence.

Plus, when you're done, you'll now have a shiny first draft you can get to work revising. Has anything ever been more exciting?

6. Why the shit not?

No, seriously. Why not?


"Everyone has a story to tell. And everyone's story matters."

Grant Faulkner


If you're reading this far, I'm sure you've been convinced, and I can't wait to hear all about it. Join me in the Facebook group where we're absolutely going to be talking about NaNo, and be my NaNoWriMo buddy over on the NaNo website.

To NaNoWriMo 2017! All hail the winners!


NaNoWriMo: What it is, and why you should spend your November writing garbage // I completed my first NaNoWriMo challenge back in 2004. If you've ever said to yourself you wanted to be a writer? Now your chance. Here's why I think you should be a participant this year.

How Mindfulness Can Help You Harness Your Anger

Life AdviceDrew Tumlinson


If you’re on Jordanna Rowan’s blog, you probably already have a definition of mindfulness. But, to be sure, let’s define it for the sake of this post.

Mindfulness, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In a nutshell, mindfulness is having a strong connection to one’s own mental state and overall thoughts. If you’re living a mindful life, you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings in each moment.

12 Life-Changing TED Talks (and what to read next)

Life Advice, BooksDanna Rowan

I'll be honest, I love a good TED talk.

They're short and to the point. Just long enough to get you interested, and just motivating enough to get you started on a new journey. More than once, I've taken what I'd learned from a TED talk and applied it to my life, creating positive changes to my character and habits that have stuck with me to this day.

I love how TED talks give you a great kicking off point to explore a subject— kind of like those 'brief history' guides, that seem to cover just about every topic imaginable— and I've often gone looking for more material after watching one.

So, without further ado, here are 12 life-changing TED talks, and the book that you'll want to read after.

Why Life-Changing Happiness is as Simple as Riding a Bike

Life Advice, Money + HappinessAdam Koberinski

If you were to ask the average middle class North American what they would change in their life, you’d expect to hear things like, “I’d love to get in better shape!” or, “I wish my financial situation could be a bit better”, or even “I want to spend more time outside, enjoying nature.”

But hey, we’re all pretty busy, right? As much as we’d like to improve our lives, who’s got the time? Between a busy work week, spending hours in traffic on your commute, and paying for your house and car, there’s no time for working out, or money left over at the end of the month to put away.

Why Following Your Passion Is A Load of Garbage

Life Advice, Popular PostsJordanna Rowan

Did I draw you in with the dramatic and controversial headline? I hope so.

As a blogger of two dear blogs, editor of a digital mag, and an online business owner, I read a lot— especially online— about following your passion. About stickin' it to the man (do people still say that?) and striking out on one's own to create the business of their dreams (tried that road, longer than expected, and came with shitty directions).

We're supposed to tap into our womanly intuition, listen to our hearts, and follow our calling so we can make waves in the world, so we can inspire other women everywhere to do the same, to take their destiny into their own hands, rather than bumbling along on the conveyor belt.

Breathe: 7 Tips for Coping With Anxiety

University, Life Advice, Popular PostsJordanna Rowan

I struggled with anxiety for many years.

In some ways, I'm still coping with anxiety— it's simply not winning anymore. It never really goes away, though. It's still there, in the back of my head, the worries and panic a little quieter now.

On another day, I'll share my anxiety story (because I know that when I was first experiencing how terrible and alienated anxiety and panic disorders could be, I would have given anything to know that so many other people were experiencing the same thing— that I wasn't some kind of freak), but today I wanted to share a few things that helped me cope.

A caveat? This is what worked for me. I'm not suggesting that this will work for everyone, and I'm certainly not offering medical advice. This is what helped me, after many years of suffering and depression, begin to live with anxiety, and not merely exist with it.

The 5 Whys: Getting to the Bottom of It

Life Advice, Popular PostsJordanna Rowan

Sometimes, when faced with a problem or tricky decision, we tend to linger near the surface, taking our first thought or reaction as truth.

"I have to speak in public, but I don't want to."


"I'm scared."

And that's where it ends. A moment of exploration and possibly deeper understanding stuffed unceremoniously under the couch.

15 Journal Prompts for a Transformative Year

Life Advice, Popular PostsJordanna Rowan

Welcome to 2017.

But if you're reading this at any other time of the year, that's okay too— and you know why? It's never too late to look back. If you're reading this on September 1st, and you're like, shit, this year hasn't exactly gone so great– it's okay. There are 2928 hours left this year.

It can be a little comforting to remember that the secular Western New Year is a completely arbitrary date that means nothing in either the personal or greater universal world. Today can be your New Year.