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Want to increase your productivity? Fix the heat and lighting

Posting in Energy

The word "productivity" normally conjures up notions of task management systems and efficiency techniques.

But decidedly low-tech factors can also have a great impact. Take, for instance, heat and lighting.

Over on Buffer Blog, Leo Widrich got some insight from three studies into how our environments can affect our brains, and therefore our ability to work.

1. Natural light makes us more alert than artificial light does.

Especially over the course of several days.

According to this study by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne and the University of Michigan,

“Compared to the afternoon, people who had DL (Daylight) were significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening, and subjects who were exposed to AL (Artificial light) were significantly sleepier at the end of the evening. There was no difference in cognitive performance in the evenings of the first day, but on the second day, significantly better evening performance after [daylight] exposure than compared to [artificial light], for both task versions.

Additionally, being exposed to artificial light or poor lighting is correlated with lower cortisol levels, which will make us more stressed, and reduce our ability to stabilize our energy levels.

2. Being cold hurts our productivity.

Cornell researchers tested workers' productivity and error rates at a Florida insurance company under varying office temperatures. Their finding?

“When temperatures were low (68 degrees or 20 degrees Celsius) employees made 44% more mistakes than at optimal room temperature (77 degrees or 25 degrees Celsius).”

Not only did errors decrease at warmer temperatures, but productivity increased, as this chart from the studyshows.

As Widrich says, "the problem is that you are distracted. If you are feeling cold, you are using a substantial amount of your energy to, well, keep warm. A lot less of your energy goes towards concentration, inspiration and focus."

3. Warm temperatures make us happier.

The optimal temperature doesn't just turn us into a productivity machine, according to the same study. It actually makes us happier, the researchers conclude. In an experiment that asked workers to rate heating pads and ice packs and then answer questions about hypothetical companies: "Those who got their hands warm [using heating pads] expressed higher job satisfaction and greater willingness to buy from and work at the made-up companies.”

How to be more productive

Widrich has a few tips on how to benefit from the insight of these studies.

  1. Get up before sunrise -- the few extra hours of natural light can boost your cortisol levels, which in turn stabilize your energy.
  2. Assuming that you can't control the office thermometer, there's nothing stopping you from getting your own heat with, say, a personal heater or a heating pad.
  3. If you can't get real daylight, try to get artificial light that mimics it. In the third shot below, the light is similar to daylight, but isn't so bright it strains the eyes.

Related on SmartPlanet:

photos: Top: theilr/Flickr. screenshots

via: Buffer

— By on February 19, 2013, 11:52 AM PST

Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure