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5 Science-Based Steps to Creating a Productive Workspace

You spend a lot of time at your place of work, so it is only natural that you take deliberate steps to make that workspace as conducive to productivity as possible. We discuss five science-backed measures that you can take so that your workspace supports your need to be productive. The great thing about these steps? You may not need to buy anything while implementing them!

Sit and Stand

You may be wondering whether you may be more productive while sitting or while standing as you do your work. The answer is that you need both in order to optimize your productivity.

Research shows that you can maintain peak productivity by sitting for 10-30 minutes, and then standing for the next 10-30 minutes. Sitting for long has been linked to neck and lower back pain, as well as strain in the eyes. By alternately sitting and then standing, you break the monotony of being in one position so that those adverse physical effects are kept at bay.

It is also advisable to periodically walk away from your workstation so that you increase your level of alertness and boost blood flow to your brain and around your body.

Note that each one of us is different, so the specific duration that you take while sitting or while standing will vary from one person to another. Get the balance that works for you!

Get the Timing Right

Our neurochemical balance shifts significantly in the course of the day, and this can have a major effect on how productive we are.

For example, the first 8 hours after one has woken up are characterized by high levels of dopamine, cortisol and norepinephrine. These neurochemicals make us very alert, and this period is ideal for completing tasks which require concentrated focus and analysis.

The next 8 hours see levels of serotonin rise within your brain and body. As a result, your brain and body will be more relaxed, which makes this phase the ideal time for creative work or brainstorming.

The last 8 hours in a 24-hour cycle are best used to rest and sleep. This is because most body systems slow down and the darkness signals that the body should shift attention to repairing, rebuilding and cleaning up at the end of the day. Avoid doing work that requires great focus, unless you can’t avoid it (when preparing for an examination the next day, for example). Avoid bright lights, and keep away from screens (tablet, laptop, and so on) so that your body and brain can get the rest they need before another day of activity begins.

As you can see, maximum productivity comes from knowing what time is best suited to which kind of work, and then scheduling your day accordingly. Now is the time to move away from the mentality of “getting your most important task done first thing in the morning.”

Position the Screen Appropriately

Your workplace can also help you be more productive if you position your computer screen (and therefore eyes) appropriately. Research shows that when you look down in order to view a screen, neurotransmitters associated with sleep and relaxation are activated. Consequently, you are likely to become drowsy a lot sooner if your screen is below eye level.

In contrast, setting up your screen so that it is slightly above eye level promotes alertness and focus. You are therefore likely to be more productive if you adjust the height of your computer stand or desk in a way that enables you to look slightly up while you work on your computer.

This position is also better for your neck and shoulder muscles, because you will not suffer the pains associated with slouching while you work.

Manage the Background Sounds

Here, pay special attention to what works best for you. Some people prefer working in very quiet environments while others are comfortable with some background music. Also, some types of work are more amenable to background sound while others aren’t so amenable.

That said, numerous studies have shown that white noise, brown noise or even pink noise are good for productivity. Try these different types of background sound and identify those you are most comfortable with while performing different types of tasks.

For example, the kind of background sounds that you may be comfortable with while engaged in creative work may differ from what you are comfortable with while doing work that requires maximum focus.

Choose the Right Room

Our productivity is also influenced by the attributes or dimensions of the room in which we are. For example, our ability to focus or analyze is boosted when we are in a narrower space or a room that doesn’t have a high ceiling. The visual field is smaller, and that, in turn, enhances our cognitive abilities linked to analysis and focus.

In contrast, wider spaces and rooms with high ceilings widen our visual field, and this in turn ramps up abstract thinking as well as creativity. This is what has come to be dubbed “the Cathedral Effect.”

Armed with this knowledge, you should seek out a room whose dimensions elicit a response in the appropriate cognitive abilities. For example, seek out an open space when conducting a brainstorming station rather than cramming into a small room. If your office environment is limited and cannot give you an opportunity to use a space that is best suited for the task you want to complete, get creative and leverage locations outside your office, such as a café or a library. Just make sure you are in a room that is suitable for the task you wish to complete.

The changes above look deceptively simple, but they have the potential to make a dramatic change to your productivity. For an in-depth dive into those concepts, listen to Dr. Andrew Huberman’s podcast episode on how to create productive workspaces. The insights you get will change how you look at your workspace.