17 ways to hack your workspace for optimal productivity

When it comes to desk clutter, keep it at a minimum. Trivago
  • Your workdesk and workspace can increase your productivity.
  • By increasing natural lighting, incorporating blue desk accents, and making sure you’re moving around regularly, your office space can help you get more done.
  • Interior designers recommend ways to create a beautiful and productive environment.

There are podcasts, morning routines, hobbies, and even procrastination techniques that can make you more productive.

But there’s one thing that might be missing from your arsenal of time-management hacks: optimising your work desk and workspace for ultimate productivity.

Office designers from Michigan, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and New York shared tips for making your space attuned to a productive workday.

Bring in some plants

Plants can make you more productive. Courtesy of MKDA

Plants are an easy way to beautify your desk and improve your workplace air quality. Research shows that employees in workspaces with plants are 15% more productive.

Choose a plant that can thrive on however much sunlight your desk gets, Christine Everett, senior designer at New York interior-design firm MKDA, told Business Insider.

Succulents are low maintenance and widely available, but they require lots of sun, she said. Better low-light options include the snake plant, pothos, and peace lily.

And if you don’t have a green thumb, here’s how to stop killing indoor plants.

Try to work near the sun

Sunlight isn’t just for plants. Research suggests that workers with better window views perform better and are more productive than their peers with worse views.

“Lighting, both natural and artificial, is a major component in productivity and in employee health,” Douglas Wyatt Hocking, a principal at architecture firm KPF, told Business Insider.

To tap into the power of natural light, work near a south-facing window, where sunlight will stream from the late morning to mid-afternoon.

If you can’t get the sun at your desk, take a walk outside

Yelp’s New York offices are sunny. Hollis Johnson

Workers in windowless environments reported significantly lower well-being compared to those in a sunny office, according to a 2014 study from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Try to get a few hours in the sun every day.

“Exposure to daylight is critical to maintain your body’s circadian rhythm, which manages your cognition, serotonin production, and digestion,” Everett told Business Insider. “We literally feel more awake and happy with exposure to daylight.”

Replace super-long cables that get in your way or clip them to the side

Cut down on the cord confusion. Flickr/Mike McCune

You probably have cords for your computer, keyboard, mouse, phone, headphones, cell phone charger, and maybe even more. It might seem silly, but that clutter on your desk can be distracting.

Ensuring that those cords don’t get in the way is important for your workflow, Judy Goldman, CEO and owner of Boulder, Colorado-based Design Studio Interior Solutions, told Business Insider.

Wrap up or replace cords that are too long, she suggested.

You could also try cord holders, cord clips, binder clips, and Velcro straps to group the necessities together, or you could tie up others with cable organisers.

If you have tons of cords that you can’t get rid of, you can label them so you know what all they’re all for.

Remind yourself of your purpose with certain objects on your desk

Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill’s desk, with mementos that he said inspire him. Evernote

Find an object that inspires your work and keep it on your desk.

Try an office award, a picture of your family, or a reminder of your company’s ethos.

Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill keeps an American and Canadian flag on his desk to remind himself of his dual citizenship and his company’s international ethos, he told Business Insider’s Áine Cain.

He also has a picture of his children, who inspired him to start using Evernote.

Every Zillow employee keeps a sign of how many years they have been with the company, Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff told Business Insider.

Keep healthy snacks at your desk

If your office is stocked with snacks, like the Two Sigma office pictured, walk to the kitchen to refuel. It’s a good excuse to get moving. Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

If you’re hit by a wave of hunger way before lunch, or way before it’s time to go home and enjoy dinner, you might want a quick snack to keep energy levels up.

Mixed nuts, protein bars, and dried fruits are great snack options to stash in your desk.

Wear noise-cancelling headphones …

Wearing headphones sends out ‘don’t bother me’ signals. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Putting on headphones might increase productivity because coworkers won’t pop by for a chat if you look dialed in with headphones.

But more importantly, noise-cancelling headphones are crucial if your neighbours are constantly chatting, on the phone, or engaged in some other noisy activity.

“Overhearing one-way conversations are more distracting than hearing a two-way conversation,” Janet Pogue, a D.C.-based principal and work sector leader of design firm Gensler, told Business Insider.

… but don’t listen to music or white noise

Turns out, silence is golden when you’re trying to work. Brad Barket/Getty Images for DJ D-Nice

A growing body of research advises you to not play music through those headphones.

Daniel Levitin, a cognitive neuroscientist and the author of “This Is Your Brain on Music,” told Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz that music hinders your productivity unless you’re working on repetitive tasks.

Instead, listen to music for 10 to 15 minutes before you get down to business to enjoy the feel-good neurotransmitters that music triggers.

White noise is also not advised. A 2010 study showed that students without attention disorders were better at memory tasks if they were in a totally quiet environment.

You don’t need a standing desk, but you do need to sit less

Take a walk. Courtesy of MKDA

“The ultimate goal is to avoid sitting for too long continuously,” Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, told Bloomberg.

The point of a standing desk is that you’re encouraged to walk around and move, rather than sit stagnant for hours, according to Lopez-Jimenez, who researched the effects of standing desks.

Research shows that walking around for five minutes every hour boosts mood while reducing fatigue and food cravings.

You don’t need a standing desk for that.

If your workplace is too air-conditioned, keep a cosy sweater, a space heater, fingerless gloves, or all of the above at your desk

Cold office temperatures freeze your productivity.

A 2004 study from Cornell University found that increasing an office’s temperature from 68 to 77 degrees lowered typing errors by 44% and increased typing output 150%.

There are tons of ways to stay warm in a frigid office including wearing fingerless gloves, big sweaters, scarves, and using space heaters.

Get a notepad and sticky notes

Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff has plenty of screens at his desk, but he also uses notebooks and sticky notes. Zillow Group

Just because we’re in a digital world it doesn’t mean you should discard the importance of writing.

Notebooks can be a great way to consolidate all of your notes from meetings and phone calls, as well as provide a space to write down quick ideas.

Adjust your seat and monitor for better posture

Straight posture can make you more productive. Samantha Lee/Business Insider

According to the Mayo Clinic, poor posture has a shocking array of negative effects: headaches; back and neck pain; breathing problems; pinched shoulders; and jaw pain.

Adjust your chair and computer monitor to force yourself to sit tall, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) suggests. Your backrest should support your low- and mid-back.

Insider’s Lindsay Mack tried a variety of posture tricks, and her favourite one was putting a pillow at her back.

And if the culprit is shoddy company chairs, consider investing your own money to upgrade your seat.

“Low-quality chairs lead to fatigue and even back problems, thus decreasing productivity,” Melissa Frederiksen, owner and principal designer of Grand Rapids-based Atmosphere 360 Studio, told Business Insider. “Spending more up front saves money in lost time and productivity later.”

Ditch your desk

SoundHound CEO Keyvan Mohajer flees to an sunny, second-floor office nook when he needs to crank out work in peace or host a team meeting, he told Business Insider. Soundhoud

Even leaving the most well-organised desk has benefits for your productivity.

Ron Friedman, a psychologist and the author of “The Best Place to Work,” previously told Business Insider that, when you take your work from your desk to the office kitchen, couches, or huddle rooms, you’re sending yourself the signal that it’s time to focus.

“Now, I’ve made this gesture of investing time in doing an activity that I’ve been having trouble making progress toward,” he said. “And so simply being invested in trying to achieve the outcomes I’m looking for puts me down the path toward getting started.”

If you don’t use it every day, put it in a drawer

Philip Krim, founder and CEO of Casper, has a clear desk, but he keeps a plethora of books and photos on a nearby shelf. Casper

“Try to be self-monitoring in terms of stuff you’re collecting at your workspace,” Everett told Business Insider. “If you’re able to file things and remove clutter all of those things, it really does make a big difference.”

Your desktop should be only for the essentials – computer, phone, notepad, pens, water bottle, she said. Drawers can hold everything else.

You could invest in a filing cabinet if you’re inundated by papers. Or better yet, scan them with your phone and keep those documents as PDFs.

“Nothing slows productivity more than being cramped and being forced to dig through stacks of files and paper to get work done,” Frederiksen told Business Insider.

Buy blue, green, and yellow accents to help boost productivity

Blue can keep you calm and focused. Courtesy of MKDA

Different colours can enhance your mood in different ways. Blue and red have been found to improve brain performance.

Scientists say that cool tones like blue are calming. A desk with plenty of blue accents could help you feel level throughout the day.

But don’t overdo red – which Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester in New York State told the BBC can trigger your heart rate – unless your job involves physical activity or short bursts of work.

Don’t rely on the perks-laden areas for maximum productivity

Sometimes, it’s just best to keep it simple. Shutterstock/Syda Productions

Hocking said believing that bean bag chairs, pool table breaks, and pastry chefs will kickstart your productivity is a common mistake by office designers.

Instead, whether you’re choosing a new job or just trying to figure out where to crank out some reports this afternoon, look at spaces that are quiet.

“One of the biggest mistakes is to not consider sound and smell when space planning,” Hocking told Business Insider. “Having a place to go to relax and unwind is great, but if an employee is on a call or trying to work next to a ping pong game or boisterous team lunch, that’s a problem.”

But, keep trying new things

Keep on innovating, and you’ll find your perfect workspace. Strelka Institute/Flickr

Break out of your usual routine and try working somewhere different in the office today. Or give that standing desk a try.

Hocking said it’s important to keep trying new things when it comes to your work space. After all, you’re going to be spending 80,000 hours of your life there – better make them pleasant.

“Most people don’t change their workspace frequently but it’s important to keep testing your environment and trying new layouts,” Hocking said.

He added, “Increased efficiency can come from change as opposed to repetition.”