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by Marianne Stenger | September 26, 2016


Whether you work from home, an open plan office, or a cubicle, it’s important to pay attention to how your surroundings are affecting your state of mind and consequently, your productivity.

Research shows that work environment can have a huge impact on productivity, and everything from the temperature of the office to the levels of background noise can help or hinder ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

With this in mind, here are five small but effective changes that can help minimize distractions and increase work efficiency.

Add a splash of color

Different colors can affect your mood and behavior in different ways, and research shows that certain colors are conducive to productivity, while others are best avoided in the workplace.

Yellow, for instance, can stimulate creativity, while shades of green and blue can have a calming effect and help you focus. Bland colors like grey or beige on the other hand, were found to induce feelings of sadness and depression, particularly in women. So even if you can’t paint your whole office, it might be possible to paint just one wall or introduce certain colors by adding things like paintings, curtains or blinds.  

Light it up

There’s something about natural light that helps us feel alert, and one study found that workers in offices with natural light were significantly more alert by the end of the day than those who had been exposed to artificial light.

Try to work near a window or in an open plan office where you can get plenty of natural light throughout the day, but if this isn’t an option, some types of artificial may still be better than others. LED lights, for instance, can mimic natural sunlight. Whatever you do, avoid working in dimly lit environments as this can make you feel unnecessarily sleepy and tired, thus negatively affecting work productivity.

Bring in some greenery

Numerous studies have shown that green spaces can reduce stress and increase concentration and productivity, so while you probably won’t be able to do most of your work outdoors; it might be possible to bring some greenery into the office instead.

One study from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom found that creating “green” office spaces with living plants could increase employee productivity by as much as 15 percent. Having real plants around the office can help to improve air quality as well, so do some research and find out which plants will thrive in your own office.

Work with distractions

Although distractions are usually seen as a negative thing at work, research indicates that certain distractions or background noise can actually help us focus and get more done. One study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that moderate noise levels, such as those in a bustling coffee shop or busy office environment, can increase motivation and creativity.

If you work from home or in a particularly quiet office environment and often have trouble focusing, you may find that increasing ambient noise, either by using a ‘noise’ app or putting on music at a low volume, can help you work more efficiently.  

Clear away the clutter

Although research shows that clutter can promote creative thinking, it may not be the best thing when you’re trying to focus. One survey found that cluttered or messy work environments tend to reduce employee productivity and motivation.

Before you start work each day, spend a few minutes tidying up your workspace by putting loose papers in their place or throwing out the unnecessary ones, removing any used coffee cups or dishes from the day before and wiping down any dusty surfaces. This can leave you feeling fresh, focused and ready to tackle the tasks ahead.


Marianne Stenger is a writer with Open Colleges one of Australia’s leading online education providers. She covers everything from life hacks and career development to learning tips and the latest research in education. You can connect with her on Google+ and Twitter or find her latest articles here

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