Creating our own space is vital when working from home. But the benefits of having a curated workspace extend far beyond our working environment. Designing hobby areas, curating family rooms, even organizing our laptop, all have amazing benefits for our brain. And while we’re working from home, having these designated areas helps maintain normalcy along with creating a strict divide between our work life and our home life.
Keep It Consistent
A famous 1975 study asked scuba divers to memorize random words while underwater and then again on land. When the divers were tested on these words, researchers found that the divers were more likely to remember the words they’d learned underwater if they were asked to remember them underwater. Conversely, they were more likely to remember the words they’d learned on land if they were asked to remember them on land.
When we’re transitioning to work from home, our environment is disrupted. And this is why it becomes so important to set up our workspace with items we associate only with work. Having household items directly in our line of sight or on the table next to where we’re working can distract us, taking us out of a working mindset and into our home mindset. It’s important to surround ourselves with items that will cue our brain into that specific work state of mind, inducing us to be as productive as possible. Some examples could be bringing photos from our desk home. If there’s certain sticky notes or pens we use while working, make sure to have those nearby. Use music as a way to maintain focus without falling into the routine of the household.
Using consistency helps the brain pick up on the environment to determine where to focus. No matter if it’s work or play, keeping separate areas in the home will enhance the moods and productivity of everyone.
Make It Enjoyable
When talking about creating a workspace, it’s easy to think of utilitarian or minimalist designs. Desks free of clutter, walls with few decorations. The idea is the less there is to distract us, the more productive we’ll end up being. Which is true, but only to an extent.
The fact is if a minimal style works — awesome! But if it doesn’t, adding a little personalization isn’t going to hurt. In fact, it will likely increase our focus, which in turn improves productivity. Think of it this way, if we have a music room that feels cold and unwelcoming, is it a place we’re going to want to spend hours in? Does that room make us feel creative? The answer is probably no. The same is true for our workspace.
We want to be productive, but we also want to ensure our mental health isn’t suffering at the same time. By making a room or space feel welcoming means we are automatically going to want to spend time there. If we are miserable in our workspace, we are likely creating more cortisol than is healthy, increasing our stress whenever we’re working. Being surrounded with items that make us happy means we relax, lower our stress levels, and ultimately end up being far more productive.
Let Nature In
When it comes to setting up our workspace at home, pay attention to the lighting. We may not get to choose where our cubicle is, but we can decide if we’re going to sit in a dimly lit hallway or next to the windows in the living room. And light is crucial in helping us be more productive.
Research has shown that natural light is much better for your body, brain, and productivity than fluorescent light. Light has a direct impact on the amount of melatonin our brain produces which doesn’t only affect our productivity, but contributes directly to our alertness levels and cognitive functionality. If sitting near an open window isn’t an option — at home or at work — consider purchasing a natural light desk lamp.
Another way we can let nature in is with plants. Studies have indicated that simply being around plants improves our mood, and walking in natural surroundings has a direct impact on lowering stress levels. And this isn’t simply for individuals with green thumbs. Even having a cactus or easy to maintain succulent plant provides the same stress lowering benefits as tending to large leafy houseplants.
There’s a familiar myth that disorganization is a sign of genius. Albert Einstein famously asked, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk a sign?” But research over the decades has shown clutter is actually detrimental to the brain. The truth is, our brain craves organization and functions better in organized environments.
When we are surrounded by clutter, our attention and focus are directly impacted. We have a difficult time tracking between what is important and what isn’t, slowing down our execution on tasks. Our brain takes cues from the environment around us to determine where our attention is needed and how much focus we’re required to give certain tasks. And clutter disrupts both of those processes. As a result, clutter has a negative effect on our short-term memory.
Our brain relies on our environment to assess what information is important. When there is too much in regards to visual and spatial stimuli, our brain quickly becomes overwhelmed. We lose information, resulting in reduced working memory. In addition, since we also make decisions based on the cues surrounding us, clutter tends to make us feel we have more decisions to make. When we believe we have more work to do, we can quickly feel overwhelmed, elevating our stress and anxiety levels.
When we work in an organized environment, our brain can focus longer, make decisions faster, and perform at an overall higher level.
Working from home may be a temporary situation for many of us. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t find value in creating designated space in our home to enhance our productivity levels in both our home and working lives. Use the time we have to declutter and organize the spaces in our homes both big and small. The activity will reduce stress and anxiety, with the added benefit of encouraging creativity and efficiency in everyone.