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Federal Feng Shui

Richard Griffin /

With ringing phones, buzzing BlackBerrys and chiming computers, we all could use a little harmony in our workspace. It’s one thing to straighten up the piles of paper on your desk or to put a plant in the corner of your office, but experts say arranging your desk or office according to feng shui principles could help you to get more work done with less stress.

Frequently used to lay out buildings and living spaces, feng shui is a Chinese system that aims to increase the flow of positive energy in a space and in the lives of its occupants. While your agency’s choices of décor and cubicle location might not let the qi flow freely, you can make minor changes to bring a better energy into your workspace.

For starters, according to Darrin Zeer, author of the book Office Feng Shui: Creating Harmony in Your Work Space (Chronicle Books, 2004), under the principles of feng shui, out of sight is not out of mind. Your first step in rearranging and organizing your space might be to take the papers cluttering up your line of sight and file them away in drawers or cabinets. Hidden clutter is just as damaging to the flow of positive energy as a mess on top of your desk. Even if you have to assign a “procrastination drawer” for items you don’t immediately know what to do with, that designation and inside-out organization will make you feel more creative and less stressed. 

Feng shui experts believe you can feel clutter, so the placement of items like files is important. If at all possible, don’t store files and papers in or on overhead shelves or cabinets. The belief is having files overhead can create a feeling of literal downward pressure, block the flow of energy and generate negative feeling toward your space.

For an ideal feng shui workspace, you want a room of your own with a regular shape (such as square or rectangle), natural light, a solid door you can close and the ability to position your desk facing the entrance. But odds are, you don’t have that kind of choice when it comes to your office or cubicle.

A key tenet of workplace feng shui is the “command position.” What this means is  positioning your desk so that, while you’re seated, you still face the entrance to your workspace. If you have a cubicle, you may feel powerless to assume a command position, but you can achieve a similar result by setting up a mirror to enable you to see colleagues and visitors entering the space.

Plants are considered integral to the circulation of positive energy. Having one on your desk helps replenish good energy, and placing one on either side of the door to your office or entrance to your cubicle is believed to attract positive energy.

Another helpful addition to your cubicle is a desktop fountain. The term feng shui literally translated means “wind-water,” and moving water is believed to increase the flow of energy. If you are not able to find a small tabletop fountain, even photographs of waterfalls or other flowing water sources can be calming. As an added bonus, water is associated with cash flow and career success, so you might find both peace and success in your workspace.

Employing feng shui may seem a bit hokey, but many of its principles have withstood the test of time and are simply common sense for bringing tranquility into a space that can be anything but calm.

Elizabeth Newell covered management, human resources and contracting at Government Executive for three years.

(Image via Richard Griffin /

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