Nonnegotiables For This Psychiatrist's Workplace? A Cozy Chair & Beyoncé

mbg Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."

Image by mbg creative / Ellen Vora

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mbg's new series Work in Progress, a spinoff of our popular Holistic Home Tours, zooms in on where and how we work. Join us as we swing by desks, kitchens, studios, and every workspace in between to explore what wellness leaders surround themselves with to feel productive, fulfilled, and successful in their respective fields. Today, we're hanging out with Ellen Vora, M.D.

mbg Collective member and three-time class instructor Ellen Vora, M.D., is a holistic psychiatrist based in New York City. When she isn't seeing patients, you can probably find her writing or speaking about how to manage things like depression, anxiety, and insomnia through diet and lifestyle. And if you've ever met Vora, you know that she does it all from an almost impossibly calm, collected, and compassionate place. Here are the practices that the psychiatrist employs to keep herself in a good head space through busy workdays.

What does your workday look like? Do you work at a desk or something more fluid?

It's pretty variable on a day-to-day basis. I spend some days of the week in the office seeing patients. I usually start other days by dropping my daughter off at school, and when I get home, it's like an introvert's sanctuary. I have the living room to myself, and I sit in my chair (which I call my home office), put on good music, and get cranking. When I'm being disciplined, I try to make forward progress on the most important and mentally demanding work first before opening my inbox, but many days I put out the inbox fires first before dropping into creative work.

I no longer worship at the altar of productivity.

I usually try to get to a stopping place at some point in the late afternoon before I lose child care so I can go outside and get a little sunshine and movement. I also find running errands to be deeply satisfying.

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What does productivity mean and look like for you? Has your definition changed over the years? 

I no longer worship at the altar of productivity. One reason is that I witness firsthand in my practice the epidemic of burnout affecting so many of us. So I have majorly deemphasized productivity as the goal in my life. That being said, I like checking the boxes and accomplishing things. Over the years I have shifted toward creative pursuits. I don't think I used to value creativity (in fact, I thought it got in the way of productivity), but now I think the act of creation and tapping into our creative energy is the most important thing human beings can do. 

Image by Ellen Vora / Ellen Vora

With that in mind, how do you set yourself up for a productive day? 

Good sleep the night before, batching email, three minutes of meditation in the morning (nonnegotiable), avoiding the foods that put me on a physiologic roller coaster, strategic outsourcing, and being old/ lucky/ established/ privileged/ radical enough that I only do what I love.

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Can you walk me through your workplace setup?

I sit in this super-comfortable chair, and I use this lap desk. I keep a physical pen and paper to-do list, and, if I'm lucky and stocked up, I have a kombucha on the table to my left. There's always great music washing over the whole scene. 

How often do you try to take breaks from work, and what do you do on them?

So many breaks. When I sit for long, uninterrupted stretches, it's almost like I can feel the blood clotting in my legs. I stand up frequently. Sometimes it's to clean my apartment (I love productive procrastination, like cleaning, and I find that I focus better when the area around me is clean and organized), sometimes to snuggle with my daughter, and sometimes it's a dance break with my husband, who also works from home. 

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What's the most unexpected thing in your workspace, and what's the story behind it? 

Maybe the high-end speakers in my living room. My husband and I are passionate about music and high-fidelity acoustics. Before my daughter was born, these speakers were our most prized possession.

Where do you look to find inspiration for your work? 

Beyoncé. Glennon Doyle. Holly Whitaker. People who are standing squarely in their truth and doing things that matter. Honestly, I think I get the most inspiration from rituals and ceremonies I do on the weekends that connect me to the most essentially human act of artistic creation. I bring that inspiration back to my glider on Monday morning and try to tap into the creative source energy flowing through me. I'm not here to be Beyoncé (alas), but I am here to share a message about a different way to look at and treat mental health. That's my art, and I'm showing up to it every day. 

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What piece of work are you the proudest of? 

Currently writing a book. Check back with me in a year!

Image by mbg creative / mbg creative

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