5 Surprising Ways To Be More Productive At Work

03/17/2015 10:06 am ET | Updated Mar 27, 2015

Even if you're not employed by a company that offers Ping-Pong tables, nap rooms and on-site massages, you can get more out of your day with a few simple design tweaks. Productivity may come down to the look and feel of your work area. "What differentiates great offices from average ones is the extent to which employees' basic emotional needs are met," says psychologist Ron Friedman, PhD, author of the new book The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Here, five easy changes that get the job done.

Add Some Life

woman plants desk office

Numerous studies have linked plants in the workplace to improved well-being, and research shows a little greenery may also enhance attention. A report in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that when people were assigned to a room with orchids, a Chinese evergreen and a dwarf umbrella tree, they scored higher on a word recall exercise than those in plant-free rooms. Any plant should do the trick, so if you have a brown thumb, try a hardy succulent.

Adjust The Temp

If your office is too warm or too cold, it could affect your focus, especially in the afternoon. Between 1 and 4 P.M., your body temperature naturally dips slightly, thanks to your internal circadian rhythm -- which means a chilly office may feel even colder, potentially impairing your performance. A researcher at Cornell University found that typing errors decreased when the thermostat was set at 71 degrees or above.

Don't Mix Exercise With Work

woman exercise ball desk

Sitting for hours every day can be harmful to your health, but before you trade in your desk chair, here's something to think about: One study found that doing physical activities while working, like using a treadmill desk, may reduce your efficiency. You may not realize how much mental energy you're devoting to keeping yourself balanced. Plus, research from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, revealed that people who sat on exercise balls were unlikely to have better abs or posture than those who sat in chairs.

Dim The Lights, But Up The Noise

If you're working on an assignment that requires you to think creatively, switch off your desk lamp and lose your noise-canceling headphones. One 2013 study discovered that subjects became better problem solvers in dimly lit work spaces, while a report in the Journal of Consumer Research found that when people were surrounded by moderate amounts of ambient noise, they were able to generate more innovative ideas than those who worked in quieter spaces.

Be Well Rounded

woman working home

If you work from home, consider investing in a curved desk -- it could help you feel more relaxed, according to research from Oregon State University. "When study participants viewed rooms with furniture that had softer, rounded edges, they reported that the space was more inviting and they felt calmer than when they saw similar rooms with rectangular furniture," says study coauthor Sibel Dazkir, PhD. "While more research needs to be done, choosing the right office furnishings could potentially lead to less stress."

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