I am reading a fantastic book right now that has caused bursts of belly laughter to escape from my mouth at random moments throughout the day. I bought The Dilbert Principle for $5 while shopping with my friend at a thrift store over 6 years ago, and am actually happy that I waited to read it. After being in a cubicle for about years now, the subtle and not-so-subtle humor is that much more delicious. I would not have been able to relate to it fresh out of college when I had yet to experience a bloated tier of middle management, trying to figure out business jargon, and mission statements.
I’ll share a few parts with you (remember, they are all in good fun). Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and author of this book, explains that managers love to say that your input is important but really don’t like it because it always means more work for them. He states how fun it would be to give your manager a suggestion such as “If you care about the health of the employees you should ask the CEO to fund research on the effects of fluorescent lights on fertility”, as the manager cannot ignore this if he/she wants to appear to care. Adams also clarifies the role of presentations throughout your career as “transfer[ring] resources away from accomplishing objectives and concentrate[ing] them on explaining how well you’re doing.” And if you wish to talk like a manager, practice the craft by taking the statement of “I used my fork to eat a potato” and turning it into “I utilized a multitined tool to process a starch resource.” Finally, Adams details the tedious process of making a roomful of employees come up with a vision statement. They will spend hours debating “what is meant by a “Vision Statement” and how exactly it differs from a “Mission Statement” or a “Business Plan” or “Objectives”.” But the debate will end soon as people become cranky and too tired to belittle others. “All good Vision Statements are created by groups of people with bloated bladders who would rather be doing anything else.”
The book is actually a lot more about management fads, employee morale at the expense of employees, “workplace affliction”, messing with your managers, and other funny business topics than about inhabiting a gray, drab cube for 40+ hours of your week. But reading it has inspired me to write about frugal ways to add color, a little bit of fun, and comfort to your cubicle. Each company is different so be sure to check with your company policy, discuss with your manager, or make a judgment call as to whether your corporate culture would accept the following ideas or not.
Decorate Away the Gray
Gray can be very drab and uninspiring, especially when you are drenched in it. I work in a cubicle jungle, two cubes away from natural light (so not too bad). Something that I have noticed others do is to decorate part of the gray drab with fabric. What a genius idea! Fabric comes in all kinds of patterns, textures, and colors. You can use a 40% off coupon to Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, or any other craft store near you. In our office, we each have an overhead shelf with a sliding door where it is easy to tack on fabric. Another way to introduce a chunk of color into your cube is by covering a bulletin board with fabric.
You can make decorative office containers to store papers from cereal boxes. Just cut them to your liking and wrap in contact paper, wrapping paper, or fabric.
Also, you can bring in fun magnets for filing cabinets and other metal areas in your cube. These can be used as decoration in themselves, to hold reminders, memos, or to keep little quotes from fortune cookies and inspirational messages from tea bags near your eye level.
Assemble a Survival Kit
Send away for free samples like deodorants, toothpaste, snacks, lotions, detergent, etc. to assemble in a survival kit at the office. Keep everything in an accessible and private location so that the next time you forget something you don’t need to fret. You might also want to keep vending machine money in case you are stuck and craving something in the afternoon. Think about things you have needed while at the office (medicines, tissues, stamps, etc.), and include them in this kit. The container can be an old lunch box, a cereal box you decorated from above, plastic container, or anything else you already own.
Make a Grateful Basket
Ever wonder what to do with those 365 one-a-day calendars after you tear the page off? I have a little basket hanging from my cubicle that holds torn off calendar pages. Several days a week when I rip the old page off I turn it over and write down five things I am thankful for in my life. Then it goes in the basket. This simple act has added much happiness to my life. It has also been a pleasure to read back through some of the things I was thankful for a year or two ago and remember where I have been in my life. If you don’t have a calendar, use the back of unusable print jobs (you can chop them up into smaller sheets of paper).
Stimulate Your Mind
I like to bring in a magazine article, newspaper article, printout, pamphlet, etc. every day to read through. These are typically short reads of something that peaked my interest, and that take just a few minutes over a break or lunch.
Add in Non-Work Activities
I am not suggesting taking time away from work, but rather complementing your work with these ideas. In innovation I learned the importance of taking a breather during the work day. If there is a problem you are working on and can’t seem to get past, try taking it out on a squeeze toy (play doh works well, and you can purchase small containers at the dollar store). Purchase one of those liquid motion toys that you flip over, or introduce a puzzle into your workspace that you pick up periodically and try to unravel like the Rubik’s Cube.
Create a Vertical Work Station
I don’t think it is healthy to sit all day long, commute home, and then sit again. It seems like our bodies were built for more movement. One of the ways a few people have alleviated this in our office is by creating a vertical working station in their cube where they can stand and work on their computer throughout the day. If your IT department and manager are okay with this, you can create this (depending upon your height) using a filing cabinet. Open a drawer at a level where your wrists can rest on a keyboard at a normal angle, and place a piece of wood over it for the keyboard and mouse (I have seen people use a removable shelf from a bookcase for the wood). Then put the monitor on top of the cabinet (making sure it is at eye level). I have not created one yet, but am looking forward to doing so for a break from sitting.
Adjust the Lighting
I loathe fluorescent lighting. It just doesn’t feel good on my eyes. If you are allowed, bring in a small lamp or a standing lamp from home to introduce warmer lighting into your cube. I also have an overhead light cover to dilute some of the fluorescent light, and it has really made a difference.
Introduce Something Living
Many of us (including myself) have no natural light in our cubicles. This doesn’t mean we can’t have living things to share our day with! Options include shade-tolerant plants, beta fish (with thought to weekend care and possible fluctuating temperatures), and even sea monkeys.
Do Ergonomic Exercises
If you are stuck sitting all day (like most of us are), it’s a good idea to do a few exercises. You can do these sitting down or standing up in your cube, typically not attracting too much attention to yourself. Here are some exercise ideas and charts for you.
How do you get over cubicle fever? I would love to hear your ideas and experiences from working in a cubicle.