Looking to Spark Focus in Your Daily Life?

These 5 hacks find the solution in your surroundings.

Joyful and focused millennial employee.

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Seventeenth century English poet, John Donne, famously said that no man is an island. The same can be said when someone is working, as the environment we’re in impacts our work performance. Whether we’re in a classic office, working from home or studying in a cafe, even if we’re not aware of it, we’re constantly scanning what’s around us, evaluating sensory input and deciding if we need to pay attention to it. But while distracting work settings are not always in our control, once we start noticing how our working conditions affect us, there are small things we can do to customize our surroundings to help us get things done.

Visual motivation: balancing clutter with personalization

Wherever we’re working, we’re mentally flagging the clutter around us, and research shows that it boosts levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, when compared to restorative spaces.  Clutter can extend to computer desktops too including multiple open browser tabs.

Yet bland surroundings, short on mental stimulation provided by decor, color and personalization don’t boost productivity either.  It seems that people can perform better in places that they are able to customize, as Psychology Today reports. This decoration turns workspaces into meaningful, “identity-laden” and stimulating spaces. 

A BBC worklife article titled “What’s so wrong with dressing up your desk?” quotes research from Craig Knight, a psychologist looking at how science can improve business performance. According to Knight, employees allowed to personalize their workspaces freely are up to 25 percent more productive than those working in more sterile spaces. “When we can enrich our space we’re happier. And we work better when we’re happier,” he shares.

The impact of color on productivity remains an interesting area of research. A work smarter portal, Redbooth, suggests that workspaces awash with bright white or dull gray should consider adding captivating colors that inspire and motivate. These include yellow which radiates positivity and energy, green for balance without eye strain, and blue for a calm mind and optimal focus.

Happy businesswomen in her customized office.

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Good ergonomics works

Working and feeling uncomfortable undermines focus so it’s worth listening to your body’s discomfort to correct posture.  For instance, by striving to build movement into your workday; even those working using a standing desk need to move around more. Pay attention to your desk setup. As a chiropractor recommends on Cleveland Clinic’s website, this includes thinking about the positioning of your monitor to avoid “tech- or text neck,” a problem caused by constantly looking down at screens which places too much weight on the spine.

As office equipment company, Autonomous blogs, ergonomics has become a respected science for designing the workplace for employee comfort and productivity. This awareness is now reflected in ergonomic furniture  and tech, for instance ergonomic keyboards designed to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury; damage to muscles, tendons or nerves caused by repeated, and constant movements. 

Businessman reflecting on his vision for the future  in his comfortable office.

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Improving Indoor temperature and air quality 

While not everyone agrees on ideal indoor temperature, saving money by not turning up the heat in the cold or the air conditioning in the heat can mean other costs. As this Scientific American article emphasises, the human body expends more energy trying to regulate temperature if the ambient temperature is too hot or too cold.  This Cornell University study found feeling too cold by just a few degrees chipped away at work performance.

Indoor air quality matters too and should be checked regularly. “Higher Productivity Out of Thin Air,” an article in Work Design Magazine, highlights that airborne pollutants can be two to five times higher indoors than outdoors. It also refers to the staggering cost in lost productivity due to headaches, fatigue and irritation resulting from poor air quality.

Woman wrapped in a shawl due to feeling cold in her workspace.

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Know your good and bad noise

Open plan offices designed to enhance collaboration, or even busy homes for those working remotely, have their drawbacks, an obvious one being the presence of more distracting background chatter. This is supported by research such as a study published in Science Direct. According to its authors, “the results prove that even low level background speech of high intelligibility significantly impairs short-term memory, reasoning ability and well-being.” 

Other research has shown that excess noise impairs cognitive function, while repeated exposure to it can even cause depression or brain disorders.

Of course, the definition of optimal background sound varies by person. For some, their most productive workspace is filled with background noise. “Can You Use Music For Productivity Gains?” an article in Positive Routines, highlights that music, often without vocals, can help you get started, boosting calm, mood, and so performance, especially when doing repetitive tasks.

But if ambient sounds are a distraction when working or studying, try noise-cancelling headphones.

Creative woman listening to music while working.

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Light relief

The glow of natural sunlight makes life seem better for most people. The value of natural light is documented in the evidence on the link between lack of sunlight and reduced serotonin levels that triggers Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a form of depression related to the autumn and winter, as the Mayo Clinic reports. So open up the blinds to let the sunshine in to boost mood and energy levels.

We can’t always work in a place surrounded by the uplifting benefits of natural sunlight, however, but it is possible to take small steps to bring natural light indoors through full-spectrum light bulbs that mimic the wavelengths emitted by the sun.  This is advisable because artificial light ups levels of cortisol, saps energy and dims attention spans, as reported on the blog of Canadian productivity specialist, Chris Bailey

The blue light from digital devices can also sap focus and drive. To minimize disruption to our circadian rhythms, screen times should ideally be minimized after dark, reports Freedom, a portal examining distraction and productivity. This can help ensure that you get the quality rest you need to do the work you love. 

Businesspeople in a sunlit office.

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