4 Tips to Survive (and Thrive) in Cubicle Life


Many of us govies spend a lot of time at work surrounded by drab-colored cubicle walls with limited privacy or personal space. Although I long for the day that I will have a door and dream for the time when I will be able to control my own lighting (bye-bye harsh fluorescents), I have found that it is actually possible to survive and thrive in one’s cubicle life.

Here are some practical and time-tested tips to help you survive and thrive in cubicle life:

1. Personalize It

One of my colleagues is known for saying “I gotta get out of the gray,” whenever she has spent too much time in our cubicles and needs to get out of the office for lunch or a quick walk outside.  The truth is, many of our cubicles are a plain color and need a bit of spark and personality.  To thrive in your cubicle, personalize it in a way that makes you happy, gives you inspiration, and makes you smile.  Whether green plants, inspirational quotations, a favorite art print, family pictures, or an awesome One Direction poster are what you need to bring some life into your cubicle, go for it!

2. Protect It

Protect your privacy and personal space in your cubicle by treating it like it is a traditional office with a door.  Show your colleagues how you would like to be treated and knock before you enter their cubicles, respect when they are on the phone, and don’t hover around or intrude on them while they’re working in their cubicles. For your own cubicle privacy, allow yourself the freedom to put up a kindly-worded sign for when you are on a conference call, or working on a deadline, or cannot be bothered.  This is a friendly way to alert your colleagues that you need a little extra privacy during those times.  In addition, remember to protect your cubicle as your workspace by taking your lunch breaks away from your cubicle and getting a change in scenery during lunch time (read more about the importance of taking a lunch break here).

3.   Plug In

Get your headphones, plug them in, and listen to music, news, or soothing sounds in your cubicle. This has been the biggest game-changer for me in my cubicle work! Whether I’m happily working away to my favorite folk indie bands, doing meticulous and highly-focused work while listening to peaceful classical piano, or doing simple work tasks while listening to NPR’s 24 hour program stream (http://www.npr.org/), I am more productive and focused when I am listening to something at a low volume and blocking out other noises and distractions often heard through my thin cubicle walls.   Wearing headphones can transform your attitude, productivity, and your happiness in your cubicle – I dare you to try it out and see how you like it!

4. Be Positive About It

Your attitude about your cubicle workstation significantly affects your happiness and your ability to thrive in your cubicle. How often do you hear someone say, “I love working in my cubicle so much!!” or “My cubicle is awesome!”? Well, you can be that person! Let’s choose optimism and embrace our cubicles…are you willing to try this positive outlook with me this week?

In the comments below, please share:

1) Some ways that you have found happiness and/or enjoyment in your cubicle workspace; and

2)  Any additional tips or advice for surviving and thriving in a cubicle work environment

Christina Smith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Brenda Dennis

Here in our agency’s “Street of Dreams”, we have taken fabric that shows our personality and stapled it over the ugly and mismatched fabric covered panels in our cubes. Some of the really creative folks have also “reupholstered” their chairs with fabric using a stapler, Velcro and straight pins. Once several of us on our team did our cubes in that way, even the agency director took notice. As far as headphones, I couldn’t agree more!

Christina Smith

Thanks for the comment and great ideas, Christine! I love the idea of a cubicle decorating competition…sounds like your cube is going to be AWESOME! 🙂

Wander Cedeño

Thank you for reminding me to protect my cubicle! At times, I find it difficult to communicate boundaries and allow myself to lose valuable time chatting. I’ll come up with a friendly way to say, “Thanks for stopping by, but I’m busy!”

Christina Smith

Hi Wander – thanks for reading and for your comment! It took me a while to learn how to protect my cubicle, but once I felt okay with putting up a nice little sign when I needed extra concentration, I have been able to protect my time and be more productive. Best of luck doing this yourself – it is worth it!