Working from home can quickly turn into living at work. Blurring boundaries between a home office and the bedroom has worsened our physical and mental health.
Writing as a business owner who has worked in a home office almost all my life, trust me when I say that it’s very easy to overexert yourself and slip into bad habits. You’ll likely end up working more hours with fewer breaks.
Setting clear rules and specific work hours has been a tremendous help for me to stay productive and maintain my well-being.
Still, I’m not perfect, and occasionally I find myself finishing some quick last-minute tasks just before bed. And staring at a bright computer screen at 11pm isn’t doing any favors to my circadian rhythm.
But sometimes, this is unavoidable. So if your goal is to find balance (preferably before your productivity plummets), what you need isn’t productivity tips (such as using a calendar instead of a to-do list), but to optimize your environment to your biological needs.
So if you’re not at your prime for whatever reason, here some of the most effective ways you can achieve increased productivityworking from home.
1. Set up a dedicated workspace
I have a vivid memory from my childhood of my dad sitting in his stuffed corner, clicking away at solitaire or printing the occasional document.
If you had a family computer, you likely also had it hidden away in a dedicated closet-sized computer room.
Back then, booting up and connecting to dial-up took time. You had to put in the effort to type away in chatrooms or for the luxury of waiting five minutes for an image to load. So there was a sort of intention and commitment behind computer use. And you definitely didn’t even think about bringing your computer to bed so you could watch a movie.
Now, it’s so easy to lose track of time spent on your devices. Most people wake up and start using their phones even before brushing their teeth or doing them at the same time. Answering emails and scrolling the news while having breakfast is considered normal.
There is, however, an easy solution: bring back the computer room.
Or if you don’t have a whole separate room, at least set up a dedicated office environment. This will help you get into a work mode mentally and boost productivity by minimizing distractions.
Of course, it’s not going to stop you from checking email in bed. This is where you need to set your own rules and build healthy habits.
2. Natural light is your friend
Businesses and homeowners around the world have been swapping out old energy-inefficient lighting for the sake of going green (and lower utilities). Most modern buildings have installed light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and fluorescent lighting
The dangers of LED lights include risks of eye damage, mitochondrial dysfunction, metabolic disorders, and disruptions in hormonal function & sleep. Fluorescent lighting is linked to increased stress levels, mental and physical fatigue, reduced productivity, mood slumps, and reduced alertness.
So while the general advice for tired workers is to load up on caffeine or to grab a snack, the real problem could actually be hiding on the ceilings.
Spending an entire day in a room with flickering lights may lead to the following symptoms:
- Eyestrain & squinting
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Sensitivity to bright sunlight
- Excessive blinking & tearing
- Blurred vision
- Headaches and migraines
- Lethargy, anxiety & irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
If you frequently experience these symptoms at work, you might be sensitive to artificial lighting. Continuous exposure might worsen the condition.
Whenever possible, switch off the artificial lighting and let the sun do its job.
Consider swapping out your lights for healthier alternatives if you’re working from home. The best option is an old-school incandescent bulb with a tungsten filament.
They’re not green, but they don’t flicker, and they produce the least blue light. If you have sleep issues or want to create a cozy environment, try to find vintage Edison bulbs (marked 2700K or below). And be sure to check that they’re not actually LED imitations.
For a more modern option, look at full-spectrum flicker-free LED bulbs. These mimic natural light and aren’t as harmful to human biology as your standard LED lights. We recommend TrueLights, which you can switch to night mode after sunset and sleep like a log.
But what if you’re working in an office where you have no control over your lighting? Honestly, then there’s not much you can do about the flicker-induced harm from artificial lighting.
However, you can approach the problem from a different angle.
Did you know that between 50% and 90% of people who glare at computer (and phone) screens all day long have at least some symptoms of eye damage?
You’ve likely already heard about blue-light-blocking glasses. It used to be only hardcore biohackers who rocked these quirky orange glasses in public. But because they promise (and deliver on) better sleep less eye strain, almost everyone owns a pair.
But again, as with any popular product, you have to be careful. There are many low-quality replicas out there that don’t deliver on their promises. Notable trustworthy brands include True Dark, Ra Optics, and BluBlox.
A bonus tip is to install software like Iris on your devices, which will make your screens less harmful. It does this by controlling the brightness of your screen with the help of your computer’s video card. It will adapt to your time, geography, and how bright it is outside to save your eyes & sleep.
3. Fresh air keeps you focused
I’m sure you’re bored of hearing about it, but our air is polluted with harmful substances. And exposure to these substances is the most significant environmental risk factor for all-cause mortality. The problem is that air pollution is not only outside. Indoor pollution affects your health & wellbeing more than outdoor pollution.
Feeling lethargic, experiencing brain fog, inability to focus, sneezing, itching, watery eyes, and coughing are all uncomfortable and definitely don’t help you be more productive.
The good news is that when working from home, you have control over your indoor air quality.
Try one (or all) of these three things:
- Improve ventilation. Open your windows early morning and evening when the outdoor pollution is likely at its lowest. Toxins accumulate indoors, so you want to let them out and some fresh air in.
- Get more air purifying plants. Even a few plants will help to reduce CO2 levels. If you live in a dry climate, they will also increase the relative humidity.
- Invest in an air purifier. You want to find one with an authentic HEPA (high-efficiency particulate) filtration system. HEPA filters help decrease any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns or above, including the pollen that has come in from the outside, animal dander, mold spores, dust mites, smoke, and odors.
4. Clean up your (computer) room
Does a clean desk really mean a clear mind? Your external environment is an extension of yourself. Some philosophies believe that we are not separate from our field of experience on the highest level of psychological integration. This means that we should treat our environment as an extension of ourselves.
Keeping your home clean is about so much more than just the physical space.
As profound as that sounds, studies have also shown that a messy environment may lead to decreased focus, confusion, and tension. It can worsen your overall mental wellbeing, and a messy table is a perfect ground for dust to accumulate.
On the other hand, gaining control over your space (and keeping it healthy) can improve your mood, increase focus, and support your brain in different ways. It can also provide a much-needed sense of control and psychological calm.
In the same way sitting still puts our body and mind in rest mode, staying in the same place can do the same. Looking at the same environment hour after hour, day after day stops challenging our brain, and it can begin to tune out. Working in a new environment activates our brain again.Jim Kwik, World’s #1 Brain Coach
And if you want a break from your routine, here are a few simple improvements from Miriam that will make your workspace more enjoyable, functional, and supportive for your (brain) health.
- Use different essential oils in a diffuser or rub a few drops between your hands to inhale them. Rosemary oil helps you concentrate, eucalyptus wakes you up, and frankincense can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Light up some non-toxic candles. Most candles release soot and harmful chemicals like benzene toluene into the air. Look for natural ingredients like beeswax, coconut oil, or soy wax.
- Change your table lamp for a salt lamp. These have a very calming soft light that’s also friendly to your circadian biology. Manufacturers also claim that salt lamps provide various other health benefits, but take these with a grain of… Salt.
Your external environment is an extension of yourself. It affects your health & wellbeing more than anything else. And your physical and mental wellbeing is directly related to your work quality. So, the first step of setting yourself up for success is to optimize your home office.
But don’t overthink it. Your work environment will likely change, and change is good. It sparks creativity and fuels productivity. Whatever your work situation is right now, remember to have fun and play, and don’t forget to take a break.