Our brains are fickle beings, the slightest change in our environment can make us more or less productive, and in turn, dictate how much we accomplish in a workday. In today’s age of social distancing and sheltering at home, many of us are trying to make do with home offices, but maybe it’s time to take a look at how your workspace is affecting your productivity. What can we do to optimize our productivity when it comes to our work environment?
1. Clean desk, clear mind.
Take a look at your workspace. Is it neat and orderly, or is it cluttered and messy? Research tells us that a cluttered workspace can be a contributing factor for a less productive workday. A messy workspace can detract from your productivity by making you feel a sense of lost self-control because your brain sees it as a threat to your workflow and can cause stress¹. In fact, a study found that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol are higher in those whose work environments were cluttered compared to those whose work environments were orderly².
A study performed on undergraduate students found that those exposed to a cluttered workspace were found to be less efficient, less persistent, and more easily frustrated when faced with a challenging task than those exposed to a neat environment³. Additionally, a disorganized environment can exacerbate your tendency to procrastinate, with a cluttered space triggering avoidance strategies⁴.
Knowing all this, it might be worthwhile to consider scheduling days into your calendar dedicated to cleaning and reorganizing your workspace. Just rearranging papers and clearing away computer cords can help you feel better and more ready to tackle your next task.
2. Natural light enhances performance.
Many of us spend hours on end sitting in front of a monitor and staring at a screen. The light that we are constantly exposed to is almost always artificial. The lack of natural light in our daily routines can be an unexpected detriment to our workflow. Research found that employees in offices with ample natural light reported an 84% decrease in eyestrain, headaches, and symptoms of blurred vision⁵. The availability of natural light contributes to increased alertness and consequently, increased productivity.
Very few of us have the luxury of working outside in nature, so in order to get our fix of natural light, we need to take advantage of windows. Having your workspace near a window will give you several hours of natural light and is much healthier than working under artificial lighting. If you have the freedom of choice, sitting near windows that face south can give you the best natural light (assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere). South-facing windows get ample sunlight from late morning to mid-afternoon and avoid the heat and pounding direct sunlight that east and west-facing windows will encounter.
3. Colors that stimulate productivity.
Research has shown that colors can have huge effects on our psychology and mood, and that correlation continues into impacting productivity. Different colors have been associated with different physiological and mental responses, many of which we can use to boost our workdays.
Blue is seen as a calming and soothing color that can help concentration, making it a popular color featured in office spaces. It’s been correlated with an enhancement of wakefulness and alertness and assisting in improving focus⁶.
Yellow is color with positive and energizing connotations, helping to boost confidence and induce creativity. Creating an office space with yellow in mind can be useful if your daily routine requires a creative mind⁷.
Green generally creates a sense of calm and reassurance. It’s also been shown to help with feeling less overwhelmed and more in control⁸.
Playing around with color schemes and hues can add a fun and helpful touch to your office or workspace, but keep in mind the tones. Strong, bright tones can often be perceived as aggressive and cause our brains to feel stressed out or threatened, so try to stick to softer, lighter shades.
4. Plants and brain function.
Countless studies have proved how important nature is to our growth, development, and general health, so it’s no surprise that incorporating bits of nature can help us with workflow. However, most of us don’t have the freedom or time to physically spend time in nature to recharge, but we can bring nature to us.
Indoor plants have been shown to prevent fatigue during high-attention tasks and lower anxiety levels⁹. Sitting near windows not only benefits us with natural light but also can provide us with landscape sceneries if the view permits. If you don’t have access to a nature-facing window, you could always pick up an indoor plant to keep you company¹⁰. It not only promotes serenity and productivity, but it can also help with the air quality in your office.
However, keep in mind the number of plants you have. Like we said earlier, cluttered workspaces ignite feelings of stress and unease, and too many plants surrounding us can become messy and contribute to an increase in anxiety¹¹. You know yourself best, so play around with some plants and see what layout makes you the most comfortable.
5. Temperature control can help performance output.
The temperature of our environment can make a big difference in our productivity. A study found that temperatures of 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) were associated with improvements in performance, but temperatures over 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) saw a drop in performance¹². Additionally, another study done by Cornell University found that a temperature increase from 68 degrees Fahrenheit to 77 degrees Fahrenheit yielded a 44 percent decrease in typing errors and an increase of 150 percent in output.
Given these statistics, it could be beneficial to play around with your thermostat and try to find your sweet spot.
As many of us are working at home and encountering a multitude of new hindrances to productivity, it is definitely worthwhile to explore some of these tips to boost your workday output. Remember that there isn’t a “one size fit all” for productivity, so give different things a try and find out what works best for you.
Chae, B., Zhu, R. (2013) Environmental Disorder Leads to Self-Regulatory Failure. Journal of Consumer Research, 40(6), 1203-18. doi.org/10.1086/674547.
Saxbe, D. E., Repetti, R. (2009). No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate With Daily Patterns of Mood and Cortisol. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(1), 71-81, doi: 10.1177/0146167209352864.
Chae & Zhu (2013).
Ferrari, J. R., Roster, C. A., Crum, K. P., Pardo, M. A. (2017). Procrastinators and Clutter: An Ecological View of Living with Excessive “Stuff." Current Psychology, 37, 441-444. doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9682-9.
Shishegar, N., Bouberkri, M. (2016). Natural Light and Productivity: Analyzing the Impacts of Daylighting on Students' and Workers' Health and Alertness. International Conference on "Health, Biological and Life Sciences."
Genever, H. Colors That Give You an Unexpected Productivity Boost.
Raannaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., Sjostrom, G., Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31(1), 99-105. doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.11.005.
Chang, C., Chen, P. (2005). Human Response to Window Views and Indoor Plants in the Workplace. HortScience, 40(5), 1354-9, doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI.40.5.1354.
Larsen, L., Adams, J., Deal, B., Kweon, B. S., Tyler, E. (1998). Plants in the Workplace: The Effects of Plant Density on Productivity, Attitudes, and Perceptions. Environment and Behavior, doi.org/10.1177/001391659803000301.
Seppanen, O., Fisk, W. J., Lei, Q. H. (2006). Room temperature and productivity in office work. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, escholarship.org/uc/item/9bw3n707.