being productive

Being productive at work: the look, the air, the touch


Author: Sergio Van Pan

Things that influence our productivity, wellbeing, and mood are uncountable. We picked up the best science-backed techniques that can help you have your work done properly and feel good. This is Part V, the final part of our Ideal Working Environment Guide.

Looking straight ahead

The author of the Huberman Lab podcast, Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman asserts that the angle at which we look at the screen matters. “When we look down, the neurons associated with sleepiness and repose are activated. While looking up has the opposite effect.” Huberman recommends positioning the screen at or slightly above eye level to keep you concentrated while you work. If you can’t update your workspace accordingly, then from time to time you can take your eyes off your laptop, which is usually below you, and gaze straight ahead for a while.

Focus

You can quite literally focus on a task by focusing your gaze. For 30 to 60 seconds, take the time to look at any object, like a dot on a wall or screen (don’t be afraid to blink). While focusing the gaze, neural circuits that ensure the release of acetylcholine neurotransmitters are activated, which accelerate the exchange of signals between nerve cells. Having done that, get to work! At first, when you try to focus your eyes, you will be distracted, which is normal. To make things easier, put your phone down, turn off notifications, and close all possible browser windows on your computer.

Take random breaks

Breaks don’t slow down the learning process. In fact, in the long run, a short pause can accelerate the comprehension of information. Research shows that during 10-second pauses in activity, neurons in the hippocampus and cortex replicate the same patterns of activity as during learning, only 10 times faster. Something similar happens to the brain during deep sleep. Therefore, take short pauses every two minutes, or even better, at random.

Set the right temperature

The threshold temperature at which your body doesn’t waste any resources on maintaining thermal balance is +16 degrees Celsius. And the range for ideal intellectual or cognitive work is + 22-25 degrees Celsius.

Use air filters

Indoor air pollutant concentrations are on average two to five times higher than outdoors. Stale air is not only dangerous to our health but also reduces cognitive functions. Recent studies have shown that indoor plants do not help purify indoor air. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends using purifiers with HEPA filters.

Create an enriched environment

Minimalism seems logical: you focus on one stimulus and eliminate all others. But the brain can’t maintain focus on one task all the time. Sooner or later, it begins to look for a new impetus. If we don’t want to be distracted by the brain’s search, it’s better we preempt this process. The easiest way to do this is in a stimulus-rich environment. Not only do mice live longer and better in these conditions, but people are also able to cope better with stress, and retain cognitive abilities longer. A universal way to enrich our environments is to incorporate plants in our workspace, but there are other catalysts.


Visual: unique furniture, bright colors, and accents, as well as original paintings and photographs all help to find new approaches to solving problems when you reach a dead end.


Olfactory: not only the smell of coffee but the smell of fragrant plants increases concentration.


Tactile: touching and feeling different textures contributes to the development of neuroplasticity in the brain; an interesting idea is a tactile design with a combination of contrasting surfaces (smooth ceramics and metals, porous wood and velvety fabrics)


Sound: natural sounds (lapping waves, crackling logs in the fireplace, murmuring water, and waterdrops) and binaural beats help you enter a state of flow;

being productive

End your workday right

The mind doesn’t automatically switch from work to rest just because you close your laptop. Unfinished tasks often mean that background activities are going on for hours, consuming your energy reserves and causing chronic stress. Special rituals can help transition from one mode to another.

Planning: Set aside a few minutes at the end of your workday to plan how you’ll handle tomorrow’s tasks that aren’t yet finished. For the mind, a clear plan of action is a great substitute for actually completing the task. Planning reduces anxiety as well as tendencies to obsess about work.

Prioritization: Move the simplest tasks to the end of the workday. Working on a difficult long-term project creates a cognitive residue that will follow you in your free time. It is better to allocate the first half of the day to difficult tasks, and the second half of the day to what can be completed in one sitting.

De-stimulation: Don’t check work emails at the end of the day. If you don’t have urgent messages, it will only be a waste of time. And if you do stumble upon an urgent request, expect it to burden your brain all evening until the next morning.