We spend a lot of time tinkering with macronutrients, sleep trackers, and equipment to optimize performance, productivity, and recovery. Eventually, we find the right balance and learn to adopt the lifestyle that makes us feel good. But many of us are forgetting a whole set of factors to help us enhance our mental and physical health: our physical environment.
Yes, even the color of the paint can make an impact, and studies show that some of these factors in your home may be just as important as nutrition. Just like fitness, nutrition, and anything else that’s good for you, there is no silver bullet, but using these recommendations to optimize your home office is guaranteed to show results.
Each of our bodies responds differently to temperature or humidity ranges, and finding the right fit for you will help your concentration and general comfort. However, there are a few air pollutants that you should avoid entirely if you want to optimize your home office.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and mold spores are three scary pollutants that can result in cloudy thinking, poor recovery, and even negative long-term health. While an at-home air quality sensor like Airthings may be the best tool to measure these metrics, it’s not the only way.
VOCs come from products that emit VOCs, so read the fine print on products before you buy them—be especially careful of new furniture, carpets, paint, or even cloth products like clothing. If you don’t bring VOCs in, you won’t have to worry. CO2 is often a factor when there is poor air circulation, so consider opening a door or a window if the room feels stuffy or you start to feel drowsy or have a headache. Mold spores are tougher to measure, but the easiest solution is monitor and avoid any damp areas of your home—turn on the fan in the bathroom when showering, fix a small leak under your sink, and make sure your windows aren’t getting cloudy.
Not all lamps are created equal! The color temperature of your lightbulbs can have a strong effect on your energy levels and circadian rhythm, AKA your sleep patterns. Just like the ‘night shift’ mode on your phone, your home can help you shift from a ‘day time’ to ‘night time’ mood by adjusting the color of the lights to mock the setting sun, which rises with cooler bluer tones and sets with warmer redder tones. There are Human-Centric bulbs that actually change throughout the day, but the old fashioned solution is to buy different color temperature bulbs and shift which light fixture you use from day to night.
Ideally, artificial lighting is only used when natural light is not available. From a wellness perspective, access to natural light will always support better concentration, productivity, and recovery. Even if your home does not have many windows, consider reconfiguring the room to absorb the natural light, especially if you work from home. Avoid direct sunlight or glare from the sun onto a screen.
Mental and physical zones
You don’t have to live in a mansion to mentally or physically separate your tasks at home. While dedicating physical rooms for certain activities may be best (office for productivity, workout room for fitness, living room for relaxation), most of us don’t have that luxury. Instead, create zones with simple strategies.
For example, put your work computer on a powerstrip that gets powered down when you are done for the day. Without the electricity, that zone is mentally out of reach. Surround yourself with bright colors and bluer, brighter lights in your workout area, even if you need to move a lamp—this will energize your body and stimulate your brain, just like in the spin studio. Any space for relaxation should have warmer tones, dimmer lights, and less rigid furniture. Consider adding plants, a white noise maker to drown out a noisy street outside, and even soothing odors like lavender.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to fill your room with potted plants to optimize your home office. Research shows that artificial plants and even images or paintings of nature can help fulfill that same human need. Views of trees or a park outside can even have the same effect. While real plants are shown to be best for air quality and for your mental state, even adding some wood tones to an otherwise sterile design can be a great start.
Another fancy word that is just about allowing your body to sit or stand the position it was made to be for a certain activity. Of course, our bodies weren’t made to stare at a screen for 10 hours per day, but so many of us do that, especially when working from home. Feeling temporarily comfortable will enhance work productivity or concentration, but working from a sofa or laying on a bed may not be the best for long-term health.
Office furniture is designed for ergonomics, encouraging better posture and reducing harmful effects of sitting in front of a computer, but usually we don’t have access to that furniture at home. Optimize your home office by researching DIY ergonomic solutions and considering the length of time you sit or stand in specific positions. Remember to make adjustments throughout the day and monitor how you feel after different positions.