Can our environment affect our ability to think?

Is it possible to literally design our way to a more creative, productive version of ourselves in the workplace?

We’ve long known, perhaps without giving it much conscious thought, that in order to be at our best, to attain and lose ourselves to that heightened state of effortless concentration that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as "flow state", the environments that we create and place ourselves in really matter.

And yet, we seldom stop to think about the specific traits of the individual work spaces we inhabit - and their impact on our ability to be the best we can be. Yet as these small corners of the world, have been carved out as the spot where we show up day after day, to produce something of merit, perhaps it’s time we did just that.

So what are crucial attributes of the self-designed work space?

Make it your own

According to a 2010 study involving office workers in London, employees who were able to customise their desks with meaningful objects such as small pictures and mementos were up to 32 per cent more productive than those unable to customise.

Adding a dash of colour is said to have a similarly positive influence. To help you decide which specific colours to go for colour psychologist Angela Wright says, blue is the most intellectually stimulating of colours, yellow inspires creativity, red affects the physical body, whilst green inspires a sense of calm and balance.

Let the light in (through a window)

Scientific studies suggest that natural light in the workplace boosts the immune system, increases dopamine (our brain’s feel good hormone) and lowers cortisol (our brain’s stress hormone) levels. In other words, being in a naturally-lit room helps us to reduce feelings of anxiety, increase feelings of wellbeing and all in all, increase our chances of productivity.

Indeed, a US study suggests that workers in offices with windows sleep better at night, are more physically active and have a higher overall quality of life than those in windowless offices. Time to start posturing for the window desks in your office - or think of an excuse to regularly visit those that do.

Listen, in order to tune in

Obvious point: noise affects our ability to concentrate. Although finding the right type and level of noise to optimise us for working effectively, is a different matter.

For those of us that work in an open plan office space, chances are that this one is particularly challenging to achieve. The trick is to attempt to proactively "design" the sound around us. For example, consider a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a customised playlist of music you know helps you to zone into your work (and out of your cacophonous surroundings), when needed.

nterestingly, complete silence can be equally as distracting as too much noise - with theories emerging that a manageable level of "distracting" noise can actually increase productivity. Consider the (bizarre, to some) example of Coffitivity - an app that recreates the ambient sounds of cafe noises to boost creativity. Go figure.

Create a sense of nature

According to science, the simplest thing of all we can do to instantly increase our productivity? Buy a plant. A study carried out by Exeter University found that offices enriched with plants increased productivity of workers by 15 per cent compared to more "lean" office decor, lacking plants. 

Not only that: the research also showed that plants placed throughout an office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality.

These are just a few things to help us think more about the spaces and places we call "our work". Often, it can be the little things - things that we’re often capable of designing and controlling ourselves - that can add up to the big things.

So next time we sit down to get on with something, perhaps we should take a moment to check that we’ve made it feel our own, that the light is right, our sound levels are appropriate, and that there’s a little dash of nature within our immediate field of vision. It could make all the difference.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Please see for more details.Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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