The 40-hour work week is a myth. We can blame technology or embrace its endless wonders, but the truth is, no one is shutting down at 5 p.m. This reality means that being productive is not just a laudable skill but a daily mandate — the only way to claim some actual off-duty time during those precious hours you’re not on Slack. While there are countless hacks for how to manage your inbox or save time during meetings, the advantages of an inspired work space might be the most underrated of all. Your environment affects your mood, and the right office décor can do more for your day than a triple espresso.
1. Stay Natural
Fluorescent lighting is a universal design turn-off, but it’s an unavoidable fact of life in most modern buildings. The perils of artificial light are well-documented — from eye strain to headaches and fatigue — but its greatest crime is psychological. Researchers warn that direct, overhead lighting can create a tense mood. An office with a view is the ideal scenario (rivaled only by a complete life of leisure), but simply positioning your desk near natural light makes a significant impact on happiness and engagement. If it’s impossible to achieve that, make sure to get outside for lunch, or take mini-breaks throughout the day.
2. Spark Joy Without Clutter
The good news about living in a digital world is that paper consumption has diminished, which frees up space and is infinitely better for the environment. The challenge is in being highly selective about what you choose to surround yourself with — chic trays, matching desk sets, leather-bound notebooks. The world of office accessories has vastly improved, and the temptation to indulge in attractive pieces is very real. Assembling a host of beautiful things feels fabulous when your desk is clear, but how will they look on a Monday afternoon, when your anxiety level is spiking and deadlines mount? An absence of clutter is essential to peak performance, say the experts. So, curate the objects around you — you’ll never regret a less-is-more approach.
3. Choose an Inspiring Color
Did you know that blue tones are calming and better for concentration? While red is a pulsing, call-to-action color that’s ideal for physically demanding work or a high-intensity cardio class? Since we average close to 10 hours a day on work and projects, the right color can not only alter your emotional perspective, but also lead to a more creative work experience. Interior designers have their favorite shades, but offices demand special consideration — so think carefully about how you use this environment and what motivates you when you’re stuck inside for lunch. If painting the walls isn’t an option, smaller moments of color, such as handblown candles, are a vibrant statement against banality and keep the design sophisticated regardless of your view.
4. Welcome in Plants
Design has always embraced the natural world, but until recently most of that love has been directed toward gorgeous gardens and beautiful landscapes. As city dwellers and non-green thumbs look for other ways to bring greenery inside, there has been a rise in everything from sleek terrariums to succulent gardens and air plants. Much like our need for vitamin D, plants bring vitality to a space — something every office can use. In addition to trapping toxins and releasing oxygen, studies show that plants improve focus and concentration by nearly 15%. Whether it’s a single stem dropped into a bud vase or a potted bromeliad, bring in the greens and flourish on the job.
5. Be Ruthlessly Organized
An organized desk looks different for everyone. You might prefer nothing but a mouse and a keyboard on display, while happy Type A personalities luxuriate in color-matched binders and trays. In either case, order creates balance, and the benefits of a clean, orderly space extend further than you can imagine. There is no shortage of books, methods and podcasts devoted to helping you get on track, but the simple point remains: success follows organization. Developing a few time-tested habits will go far, but to visually structure your work area, get creative: Consider a lustrous colored bowls to store business cards or keep a stash of Post-Its. Order doesn’t have to be boring.
Arianne Nardo is a Los Angeles-based design editor and lifestyle journalist. She is the former editor-in-chief of Interiors magazine and recently served as the Home & Design editor for Robb Report. Today she writes for several digital and print outlets and spends all day thinking about interior design.