When it comes to improving productivity in the workplace, much of the advice we hear centers around the mindset or motivation of the individual in question -- advice like "You need to set goals for yourself," or "You need to focus on your passion," or "You need to meticulously plan every portion of your day down to the millisecond."
And while such advice can potentially be helpful, there's one aspect of improving productivity that we often overlook: our environments. As Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford's Persuasive Tech Lab once noted:
"There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment."
In the list below, we've highlighted some of the best tips and tricks you can use to create a space that's not only pleasant to work in, but that actually helps to improve your productivity. True, not every suggestion will be applicable to everyone's unique work situation, but hopefully you'll be able to come away with some useful ideas.
7 Tips for Making Your Workspace a Den of Productivity
1) Let the sun shine.
Assuming you're not a vampire, letting plenty of daylight shine into your workspace is a proven way to increase your productivity, not to mention your overall mood and well-being.
While there are many studies that have linked sunlight to productivity in the workplace, one study in particular -- "Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life" -- is especially compelling. To quote the study's abstract:
Compared to the group with no windows, workers with windows in the workplace had 173% more white light exposure during the workday and slept an average of 47 minutes more per night. There was also a trend for workers with windows to have more activity and higher sleep efficiency than those without windows."
Unfortunately, not every workspace is going to have a ton of natural light shining in. One potential solution? Invest in smart LED lighting (e.g., Osram or Philips Hue) that mimics natural sunlight and can help maintain your body's circadian rhythm.
2) Keep warm and carry on.
In a perfect scenario, you'll be able to control the temperature of your workspace so that it's aligned with your ideal comfort level.
If you work in an office, of course, this usually isn't possible. But you still might get a say as to what temperature the almighty office thermostat is set to. If that's the case, remember these words: Warmer. Is. Better.
As a study from Cornell University showed, temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit lead to more errors and lower productivity. Temperatures above 68 degrees, meanwhile, have the opposite effect. To quote the study:
When the office temperature in a month-long study increased from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors fell by 44% and typing output jumped 150%."
(Check out this post for 16 hacks that'll help you deal with unruly office temperatures.)
3) Pick the right music (or opt for no music at all).
For many of us, there's no better way to get into "work mode" than to slap on some noise-canceling headphones and blast our favorite tunes. And there are a ton of productivity studies out there to back the effectiveness of this approach.
Trouble is, it can be hard to nail down just the right tunes to get the wheels turning. So if you're struggling to find the perfect playlist, check out this post. It contains a bunch of interesting research around different types of music that can be used to boost your productivity -- from classical to video game soundtracks.
Music doesn't do the trick for you? That's okay. In fact, there's also some contrasting research out there that argues that music can actually be too distracting. If you find it's too hard to concentrate with music playing, try embracing silence. Or, try listening to music before you get to work, which can help you get pumped up for the task at hand.
4) Go green.
Have an empty spot on your desk and can't decide what to stick there? My suggestion: Don't go with another tchotchke, or another framed photo of your cat (seven is enough, Tyler, I'm starting to worry about you). Instead, go with a fern, a cactus, a Venus flytrap, or some other plant.
According to a 2014 study, incorporating plants into a workspace can increase productivity by 15%. As the study's co-author, Alex Haslam, told Entrepreneur:
The findings suggest that investing in landscaping an office will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity ... Modern offices and desks have been stripped back to create sparse spaces -- our findings question this widespread theory that less is more. Sometimes less is just less."
5) Add some yellow accents.
Most offices are awash with grays and other neutral tones. And while such a color scheme can help create an environment that isn't too distracting, it simultaneously fails to provide much in the way of stimulation.
In the world of color theory, red is often hailed as the most stimulating color. However, red also carries with it some strong negative connotations, particularly aggression. A superior color for making your workspace more energizing is yellow, which packs the same productive punch as red without the negativity.
As the President of the International Association of Color Consultants/Designers, Frank Mahnke, wrote in his book Color, Environment, & Human Response:
... [yellow] is cheerful, high-spirited, and suggestive of the life-giving sun. It represents a bright future, hope, wisdom, and it is expansive -- not earthbound."
So if you're looking for some new artwork for your workspace, or perhaps a new pot for your Venus flytrap, going with something with lots of yellow is probably your best bet from a productivity standpoint.
6) Feng shui your desk.
Feng shui is the ancient Chinese art of arranging objects to create a more harmonious, positive environment. While often applied to the realm of interior design, especially in regards to furniture placement, there's no reason why you can't apply those same feng shui principles to your desk.
One of the main tools used in feng shui is feng shui bagua, which is essentially an "energy map" that shows how different spaces are connected to particular parts of your life. In order to apply feng shui bagua to your desk, you can follow the diagram below:
(Source: Feng Shui & Beyond)
Note: While it's unclear whether feng shui actually works, research does show that de-cluttering your desk can help improve focus as well as your ability to process information.
7) Use (at least) two monitors.
Did you know that the simple act of giving every employee an extra monitor once helped a customer service department reduce their average time per call by 12%?
Ultimately, using two monitors gives you a larger digital space to work in, which makes moving between different browser tabs and applications much easier. And while having two monitors on your desk will add some clutter and could take away from the zen setup you might be going for, the utility of having two monitors in your workspace will likely outweigh any aesthetic displeasure.
Have any other suggestions for how you can turn a workspace into a den of productivity? Leave a comment below.
Originally published Apr 22, 2016 8:00:00 AM, updated June 10 2021