If you work a typical 40-hour-per-week job, that means you could be spending at least one-third of your life in an office. And if your employer hasn't sprung for a laser tag battleground, a full-sushi bar, and electric scooters like some Silicon Valley companies have (Google me to death!), you might be wondering, "How can I make this place blow a little less hard?" The good news is, you can transform your workspace on the cheap to promote creativity, productivity, efficiency, and general happiness in a number of ways. Here's how.
When life gives you lemons, suck on them in the workplace! Reports have shown that lemon balm can help boost cognitive function, and get the brain through some tough challenges. If you're not into forcing a whole lemon into your mouth and letting it sit there until it dissolves, try keeping a baggy of lemon balm-infused throat suck-em's on your desk. They're not just for sore throats, they're for sore minds too.
It doesn't have to be St. Paddy's day for you to pretend you're Irish, or to surround yourself in swaths of green whatever (Saints preserve us). You can, and should, do it more often! Why? Because green has been proven to boost inventiveness and creativity. Dr. Stephanie Lichtenfeld at the Ludwig Maximilians-University in Munich believes it has something to do with green signaling growth and abundance in nature. A study found that volunteers who saw flashes of green before answering questions gave more creative responses than those who had seen white flashes. So, rather than asking HR to paint the walls green, bring in some green plants, a tennis ball, or a large green box for your desk, just looking at something green can jolt your creative thinking.
90 minutes. Learn it. Live it. Love it. Not only do our sleep cycles run in 90-minute intervals, but sleep researchers William Dement and Nathan Kleitman found that the waking body also needs a break after an hour-and-a-half to reset its rhythm. The researchers found that the top-performer musicians blocked out 90 minutes of practice time before taking a rest. 20 minutes is the recommended break period, and helps the body and mind prepare for the next round of back-breaking, metal strain. So take breaks, but make sure they're not willy-nilly.
You don't have to squat in a museum to enjoy fine art (though it sure does help, but don't eat the painted fruit — it's fake). Science tells us that looking at pretty paintings can "relieve mental fatigue and restore the ability to focus in the same way that the outdoors can," according to one study from University of Queensland in Australia. You can bring in a cheap copy, or even a black market forgery, and tack it up on your wall or frame it and prop it up that way. If you're on your computer all day (and who isn't, let's be real), check out this Google Chrome extension that brings fine pieces of art straight to your browser for aesthetically pleasing tabs.
The air at your office isn't just filled with the aimless and obnoxious ramblings that spew out of Devon in Accounting's mouth when quarter four comes rolling around. It's infested with toxins, too. Luckily, in lieu of a hazmat suit and gas mask you can bedeck your desk with household plants like english ivy, which sucks out Volatile organic compounds, and peace lilies, that NASA proved can flush benzene, ammonia, and formaldehyde from the area. Mashable's got a list of some other plants that could help save your life and make your office the sterile sanctuary it should be.
Music while you work, that's genius! No one's ever thought of that before! OK, but there are certain styles of music you should listen to depending on your mood or what kind of tasks you're tackling. If you're doing the same, stupid, repetitive task like sending emails for an hour, your favorite jams could just help you get through the slog. However, if you're taking on a completely new learning challenge, you might want to put that pop on pause. Lyrics can get distracting, as well as new music you haven't heard before, as your brain will take time and energy to parse it. A moderate level of ambient noise in the background can also boost productivity over just an eery, graveyard silence. Baroque classical music has shown to lead to some of the highest levels of productivity, so that means blasting the Bach and upping the volume on the Vivaldi.
Playing competitive games at work, like ping pong, office basketball, or Wii Sports, can do wonders for office morale and your brain. Learning new skills can increase your brain size, victories can motivate you and boost self-esteem, make you more empathic towards your coworkers, and improve your efficiency. So during a break, instead of playing Angry Birds on your phone, why not challenge one of your peers to a jousting match in the parking lot?
Humans are not supposed to spend the amount of time they do shielded from the life-giving sun. It's just not natural. But a day's work is a day's work, and we got those bills to pay. Still, the hours in an office could be contributing to some of the medical expenses we work to pay off — talk about irony. Lack of direct sunlight throughout the day can throw off the body's natural circadian rhythm, resulting in a lack of sleep at night (nearly 46 minutes according to one study). The artificial fluorescence can also contribute to depression, or seasonal affective disorder. But those that suffered from this condition, and even those that didn't, found that a lightbox could help uplift their mood. Daylight simulators can run into the hundreds of dollars, but some are as a cheap as $35. Look into it...if you have the light to see.
Walking has been found to boost creativity by 100 percent, as Stanford Researchers found when they had study volunteers walk and talk (which sounds like the most boring experiment in forever). The most defining human motor function has been found to relax the brain, allowing big old alpha waves ripple through our psyches and give rise to epiphanies. So if you're struggling for an answer, or working on a tough project with a coworker, ask them to take a walk. You can join them, too.
Besides being the perfect medium for enumerating the many struggles skinny-fat people deal with on a daily basis, lists can also vastly improve your productivity at work, so long as you don't overdo it. When making a list for the day, it's best to start with everything you need to accomplish. Then break down each one of those tasks into simpler and simpler sub-tasks. Multi-tasking can actually be counterproductive, so do your best to complete your tasks in the order of importance, and sequentially, rather than jumping around. The popular sci-fi author Ray Bradbury swore by lists, declaring they helped him overcome mental blocks and crack open his creative mental eggs. Yum.
Clutter not only invites the critical eye of your coworkers and superiors, but stress, anxiety, and distraction. Or does it? Turns out that working in a reasonably messy environment can actually promote creativity and allow for the novel connections between ideas. People with messy desks might be naturally more willing to think outside the box and social norms, even at the expense of aesthetics. So if your desk is a tad littered with who-knows-what, feel free to keep it that way unless told otherwise by HR.
Lunchtime might be the only time in your busy day that you actually get the chance to do nothing. But just because it's so, doesn't mean it should be. If your schedule permits, try skipping off to the gym for a quick workout and shower before returning to finish up the latter half of the day. The workout will energize your mind and body, and also do wonders for your not-at-the-office life.
Here's a crazy one. Researchers at New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering are discovering that fiddling with toys and doohickeys at work can actually help put the brain in a meditative state and boost creativity. Stress balls and slinkies can be used to give the mind a much needed break while it's running on overdrive. Try spinning Chinese Baoding balls in the palm of your hand to achieve the same meditative effect. And even if it doesn't work, it'll still give you an opportunity to procrastinate while you wait for that closing bell.
The results are in. The happiest workers also happen to be the most productive. And the most productive workers...they tend to get paid more, get promoted faster, etc. Now, work life isn't always a dream, and the stress and pressure can make it hard to turn that frown upside down. But forcing a smile could actually send signals to the brain to make it think it should be happy, and react accordingly. That means you can trick your mind by altering your body. It's like soma-psychotic. Anyway, even if it kills you, it's the grin that wins.