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5 effortless, science-backed changes to your isolation workspace that will improve productivity and mental health
A clean work space, plants, and putting on the right pants all make working from home easier, according to science.
- Maintaining a proper morning routine (which involves getting dressed in work clothes) and structuring your work-from-home day as you would any other in-office workday can help boost productivity.
- Organizing your work station (the height of your desk, the use of a proper chair, the cleanliness of your work area) can also impact your mood and productivity levels.
- Adding a sense of joy and fun to your in-home work environment helps improve your mental state and work ethic, according to designer Ingrid Fetell Lee.
Dress for success (even at home).
"Enclothed cognition" is the term to describe how clothes impact our mood and behaviors.
Photo by Bogdan Florea on Shutterstock
While it's very tempting to roll out of bed and into the workday still dressed in your most comfortable pajamas, this could be one of the biggest reasons you're finding it hard to concentrate during your work from home days.
"Enclothed cognition" was a term coined by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology to describe the way that clothes can impact our mood and behaviors. In one particular 2012 study, participants who donned a white lab coat increased selective attention compared to those participants who were not wearing lab coats.
According to Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky (the lead researchers on the project), clothes systematically influence your psychological processes - dress for work and you will be much more productive.
Structure your days of the week to be similar to one another.
Routine and structure might feel non-existent in these difficult and uncertain COVID-19 times, but research shows that keeping up with a day-time routine is really important to both your mental health and your effectiveness on the job, especially when you're working remotely.
One of the biggest mistakes people are making during periods where they are working remotely is sleeping in. Hitting the snooze button a few more times than normal may seem fine (because you don't actually have to leave your house to start work) - but oversleeping can actually dampen your cognitive function just as much as not sleeping enough can.
According to a 2018 study conducted by Western University, oversleeping can impact your ability to store and recall information from memory and decrease your problem-solving skills.
While you don't have to stick to the typical 9-5 hours you would if you were in the office working, seek out a pattern in your work-from-home routine - unless you are stuck to particular deadlines, you should aim to do the most important work when you're feeling most energized (whether that be eight in the morning or three in the afternoon).
Organize your work station for maximum comfort and productivity.
Keep your workstation as clean and clutter-free as possible.
Photo by Pepsco Studio on Shutterstock
While it's common sense to work in a somewhat organized work station that provides the space you need to work, there are plenty of things at your desk right now that could be impairing your functionality throughout the day.
While you may be sitting at your Ikea desk not giving much thought to this - the height of your desk really can impact how productive you are throughout the day.
A desk that allows you to sit with proper posture:
- Your feet should be flat on the floor
- Your legs should fit comfortably under the desk
- Your arms should be resting parallel to the floor
You can use the Ergotron Workspace Planner to find the proper settings for your desk and chair based on your height
The height of your chair isn't the only thing that can impact how productive and healthy you are during these work from home days.
The depth of your chair also matters - chairs that fit your body properly should:
- Provide proper lumbar support.
- Allow you to sit with your lower back against the lumbar support curve
- Leave a 1-2 inch gap between the back of your knees and the end of your seat.
If you find that your chair isn't meeting these requirements - maybe invest in a new office chair. After all, we may all be telecommuting for a while due to social distancing rules.
When it comes to your monitor or screen, many people don't understand how this could connect with things such as bad posture, shoulder problems or eye strain.
However, according to these monitor placement guidelines from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), your computer screen or monitor should be:
- Between 20 and 40 inches in front of you
- The top line of the screen or monitor should be at (or below) your eye level
- Your screen shouldn't be tilted more than 10-20 degrees.
Organize your desk to improve your mental health.
It's not just ergonomics that should play into how you organize your desk, but the things you have near you and how you arrange your workspace at home can impact your mental health throughout the day as well.
The power of a desk plant:
Turns out plants can help make you more productive. While this may sound strange, there is quite a bit of research to back this claim.
Indoor plants prevent fatigue during what can be attention-demanding work hours and placing your desk next to a window that has a view of greenery can keep us focused, according to a 2011 study.
In fact, psychologists at Exeter University claim a desk plant can boost your productivity by up to 15%.
A cluttered space means a cluttered mind. Distractions could be ongoing depending on your current situation (children home from school, a spouse or partner that's also working from home, pets that require our attention) - so having your desk be a designated place for work (and work only) is important.
At the end of each day, take a few minutes to clear your desk of clutter:
- Put all pens back in a holder, stack papers neatly proper piles.
- Clean away any dishes (coffee mugs, etc) and wipe down your desk.
Returning the next day to a clean and clear work station will put you in a more productive mood and get you off to a better start.
Make working from home a joyful experience.
Ingrid Fetell Lee, a designer and author of "Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness" explains that creating a joyful working from home experience is key to being more productive.
If your space feels comfortable and settled, your life is likely feeling that way as well. If your environment is feeling frazzled, cluttered and tired - you may start to struggle with those difficult emotions in your personal life.
The idea that your environment can impact your mood is part feng shui and part logic. When your desk is piled full of papers and bills, it's likely safe to say you're maybe not as "on top of" your finances as you'd like to be.
"How we care for our homes often indicates how we're caring for ourselves," Lee explains, "If the kitchen is a mess, my diet is usually a mess too. A clogged fridge and pantry kills my motivation for cooking. We start ordering more takeout and end up feeling bloated with low-energy and it becomes hard to break the downward spiral."
The same goes for your working space - if your workspace (especially your home office) is feeling cluttered and chaotic, you will be less productive.
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So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.