5 ways to improve your workspace based on science

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Regardless of where we work—at home, in an office. We can all do a few simple things to our work environment to optimise our productivity. Below is a shortlist of the most effective things—none of which require purchasing any products or equipment. Anyone can use these tools to:

  • Maintain alertness and focus longer.
  • Improve posture and reduce pain (neck, back, pelvic floor, etc).
  • Tap into specific states of mind (creativity, logic, etc.) for the sake of work.

1. Sit or stand ( Or Both )

It is best to arrange your desk and workspace so that you can work sitting for some time—10-30 minutes or so for most people, and then shift to work standing for 10-30 minutes, and then go back to sitting. Research also shows that it’s a good idea to take a 5-15 minute stroll after every 45 minutes of work. There is evidence that such a sit-stand approach can reduce neck and shoulder and back pain.

2. Effects of TIME of the day has on you

We are not the same person across the different hours of the day, at least not neurochemically. Let’s call the first part of your day (~0-8 hours after waking up)

“Phase 1.” During this phase, the chemicals norepinephrine, cortisol, and dopamine are elevated in your brain and body. Alertness can be further heightened by sunlight viewing, caffeine and fasting.

Phase 1 is ideal for analytic “hard” thinking and any work that you find particularly challenging. It isn’t just about getting the most important stuff out of the way; it is about leveraging your natural biology toward the best type of work for the biological state you are in.

“Phase 2”: is ~9-16 hours after waking. At this time, serotonin levels are relatively elevated, which lends itself to a somewhat more relaxed state of being—optimal for brainstorming and creative work.

“Phase 3”: ~17-24 hours after waking up is when you should be asleep or try to sleep. During this phase, do no hard thinking or work unless, of course, you must, keep your environment dark or very dim and the room temperature low (your body needs to drop in temperature by 1-3 degrees to fall asleep and stay asleep).

3. Where your screen is and where you look ARE important

There’s a relationship between where we look and our level of alertness. When looking down toward the ground, neurons related to calm and sleepiness are activated. Looking up does the opposite. This might seem wild, but it makes sense based on the neural circuits that control looking up or down.

Standing and sitting up straight while looking at a screen or book that is elevated to slightly above eye level will generate maximal levels of alertness. To get your screen at or above eye level and not work while looking down at your screen may take a bit of configuring your workspace, but it’s worth it for the benefits to your mind and work.

4. Set your background sound

Some people like to work in silence, whereas others prefer background noise. Some kinds of background noise are particularly good for our work output. Working with white, pink, or brown noise in the background can be good for work bouts of up to 45 minutes but not for work bouts that last hours. So, use it from time to time. These are easy to find (and free) on YouTube or in various apps (search by “whitepink, or brown noise”).

Binaural beats are a neat science-supported tool to place the brain into a better state for learning. As the name suggests, binaural beats consist of one sound (frequency) being played in one ear and a different sound frequency in the other ear. It only works with headphones. Binaural beats (around 40 Hz) have been shown to increase certain aspects of cognition, including creativity and may reduce anxiety.

5. Room type can make a difference

There is an interesting effect of workspace optimization called the “Cathedral Effect,” in which thinking becomes “smaller”—more focused on analytic processing when we are in small visual fields. The opposite is also true. In short, working in high ceiling spaces elicits abstract thoughts and creativity, whereas working in low ceiling spaces promotes detailed work. Even relatively small differences (a two-foot discrepancy in ceiling height) have been shown to elicit such differences. The takeaway: consider using different locations: rooms, buildings, indoors or outdoors to help access specific brain states and the types of work they favour.

Very insightful blog post written by Release Manager,  Colm Nibbs

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