Did you know that a pot plant helps your productivity?

Where we work and what it feels like has a measurable impact on our mood, job satisfaction – and ability to think well.

A Scientific American Mind article (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=building-around-the-mind&sc=WR_20090428) some time ago told the story of Jonas Salk struggling with his work and so going to spend time in Assisi at a mediaeval monastery, where he had the breakthrough that led to the oral polio vaccine. Of course, it might not have been the lovely surroundings, but Salk himself credited the space with the return of his creativity – and because of this, he teamed up with a renowned architect to build the Salk Institute in California, designed as a scientific facility that would stimulate breakthroughs and encourage creativity.

There have now been a number of research studies examining what it is about certain spaces that fosters productivity, good thinking and creativity. While most of us cannot build our own ideal workspace, we can generally have some control over our immediate surroundings. Read through this list for some inspiration:

Greenery: This makes an enormous difference, whether it’s a view of nature from your window, or bringing a pot plant or flowers into your workspace. When I moved into my current office, I rented two big plants to keep me company. I didn’t know about the research, but did know that I need to feel connected with nature.

Light: Natural light is great, neon light is not (you already knew that, right?). Brighter light is good for focus, and dimmer light for conversation and creativity…there are also different kinds of light that tap into our circadian rhythms and keep us either awake, or help us feel sleepy. This is a VERY big subject, so search online for more information if you’re interested.

Ceiling Height: A 2007 study found that higher ceilings encourage creative thought, while lower ones are better for focused, detail work. (This is probably something you have little control over, but it is interesting anyway…)

Personal Stuff: Having your own things around is relaxing, and it can also stimulate productivity and better thinking. One of my essentials is shelves of books, another is one or two treasures collected on my travels. The opposite of course is also true – a sterile, impersonal, bare or institutional space is not good for anyone.

Zones: it is great to have a mix of communal and private spaces, so people can move in and out of different zones for different activities or states of mind. Even in my small office, I have a table and chairs set up at one end, and comfy red chairs by the window. I move in and out of both spaces, on my own as well as when I have clients there. Studies also consistently show most of us prefer round edges (the thought is that we are hardwired to associate sharp edges with danger…intriguing). The shape of your furniture and office layout may be determined by others, but can you move to your firm library to do some tasks, or slip out to a café or take a short walk around the block sometimes? It all helps…

What could you do to make your workspace more conducive to productivity and clever thinking?


Joanna Maxwell is a lively and inspiring keynote speaker, accredited coach and trainer, who has long been fascinated by the power of creative thinking and how to harness it to help individuals and businesses. After recovering from her first career as a corporate lawyer, Joanna decided to use the rigour and analytical skills she had learned in a more creative and unstructured environment. She founded her business, Work In Colour, in 2002.

Joanna has survived walking on fire and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and while she wouldn’t necessarily want to repeat either of those adventures, she is a keen traveller with journeys through the Middle East, India, Africa, Borneo, Burma and Tibet under her belt. She is hopelessly addicted to obscure sci‐fi shows like Jericho and Firefly.