Get Organized: Make Space

A totally inaccurate statistic that I just made up tells us that 1 out of 4 brooklynites work either from home, a shared work space, or their own shop. We’re a borough booming with hardworking entrepreneurs. It’s all very exciting, but a not-so-bright aspect of what comes with the you’re-on-your-own territory is to watch where your money goes carefully. There’s usually a close inspection of expenses that we can possibly live without. And I’m not talking about almond croissants here. Those totally increase my productivity.

Most freelancers and business owners I know trust a dentist with their dental issues. They take their cars to the mechanic and pay a hair stylist to do their hair. We seek out professionals to do these things because they know what they’re doing, and we’d be doing ourselves a disastrous favor if we tried to take care of those things on our own. However when it comes to their own work space, where they spend long hours every day, most of these people don’t seem to care so much. An attempt at optimizing the space might include a trip to IKEA to get a file cabinet or some shopping around for a new inbox tray. Some peeps take an extra steps and add shelves and personal touches.

An organized work space tailored to your needs can change the way you work dramatically. Whether it’s a shop where you make things and meet clients and do your billing and 38 other things, or a corner of your living room, the way the space is laid out and how it functions is key to make your life easier. And your work hours more productive. And your overall self happier. That’s why you need to know Liz.

Liz Dahmen founded Make Space in 2010 to help people achieve the best solution for their work spaces. After working on residential and commercial spaces, Liz is now focusing solely on work spaces. I had the pleasure to talk to Liz about her business, her process, and some organizing tips.

You were a high school art teacher for several years. What made you decide to go on your own and start Make Space?

I could probably fill a book with the details of how I ended up choosing the entrepreneurial path, but I’ll do everyone a favor and weed it down to just two major events that led me to start my company. The first and biggest nudge I got was from the school itself. Around November of 2009 the school told me that I would have to take on more hours in order to keep my benefits. With the imminent threat of my health insurance being taken away, I suddenly realized the degree to which I was staying there just for the benefits. I didn’t want to take on more hours, and without benefits I just couldn’t justify staying. The second sign came after I had decided to leave, but before I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was in a yoga class, pondering my future when the teacher’s voice floated into my ears…she said something like, “make space between your shoulders,” and those words hit me. That’s what I wanted to do! I wanted to help people make space…both literally and figuratively. I thought it would be a great existence to help people make space for what they want in their lives. So that’s how I got my company’s name, and the driving force behind the development of the business.

Since you started, you have worked in very different projects, residential and commercial. Is there a project that you feel particularly proud of?

Last year I had an amazing time working on an office makeover for Curious Jane, a Brooklyn based company that designs and runs amazing after school and summer camp programs for girls. Their office was bright and airy, but the walls and furniture were of the beige variety. They had some pretty specific needs, like utilizing as much vertical storage as possible for their art and craft supplies, and having enough workstations for seasonal upswings in employees. Also, sometimes they hold workshops at the space, so it needed to be convertible- able to accommodate 10 girls making robots one day, and 4 employees on computers the next. Finally, we wanted to brand the space. If you came to the Curious Jane office, we wanted you to know, just by looking around, that that is where you were. So we chose colors and items that reflected the energy and style of the Curious Jane brand.

You are transitioning your business to focus on workspaces. What are the steps for a workspace makeover?

Pretty much everything starts with conducting a pretty comprehensive needs assessment. Wow! That sounds boring. But it’s really not. Clients can get pretty passionate when they describe the things that frustrate them about their workspace. Often, I’m the first person they’ve shared this information with, so it can all come pouring out. Next, I try to really understand what is being accomplished in the space. For example, a boat-builder’s workshop might seem to have one function, to build boats. But that’s not necessarily true. Yes, there is the space that holds tools and supplies, but there’s also the area where they call vendors and supply shops, and where they store invoices and receipts. I need to really understand what is actually happening in every square foot in order to really make sure we realize all the potential of the space. The steps from this point onward all depend on the type of project, how much the client wants to take on themselves, and the budget.

What is your favorite item on your desk?

My tote bag. When I’m not on my bicycle I use this bag to tote my supplies to and from jobs. It was the first object (besides business cards) I got with my company’s name on it, so it has sentimental value. It also serves as a reminder… I see the words like an invitation. It’s important to me that I “live the dream” so to speak. I can only provide clients with the highest level of service if I am taking care of myself. So I am constantly making sure I’ve made space to rest, to eat, to recharge, to get creative.

I’m on my third to-do app and not totally thrilled with it. Is there an app that helps you stay organized?

Ha! This is a hot topic these days, and I’ve been meaning to run a workshop on To-do apps and techniques. I’ll tell you what I use, but I will preface it with my “different strokes for different folks” speech. In other words, I have this conversation about 3 times a week with clients and with every person we come up with a different solution. In many ways, it’s not the app or the list or the color of the notebook, it’s how you use it. That said, I use Remember The Milk both on my desktop and on my iphone and ipad to keep track of all the little to-do’s. I use a wipe off board in my office for the 3-5 month goals, and I use a hand-written list that I call a “hot list” that I jot out every morning before turning on the email. My system isn’t for everyone, but it works great for me.

You moved here from Seattle in 1996. You must know your coffee well! What’s your favorite local coffee shop?

My favorite coffee purveyor is actually Gimme Coffee. While they are originally from Ithaca, I discovered them when I lived in Williamsburg. Lately, however I’ve been really spoiled because the coffee flows free at my office space, The Brooklyn Creative League and we just started using Crop To Cup, which is delicious.

For more info about Liz and Make Space, check out the site: