Whether at home or in the office, research shows that setting up your environment correctly can have a significant impact on your productivity levels. 

In fact, some studies show that something as simple as changing the type of light fixtures in your home or adjusting the thermostat in your office a few degrees can help you make fewer mistakes and get more done.

Here is everything you need to know about setting up your environment correctly, so you’re alert and focused when you need to be and relaxed when you’re ready to rest.

Temperature, light, and your circadian rhythm

There are certain parts of the day you’re more likely to be productive, based on your circadian rhythm – your body’s internal clock that keeps track of when it’s time to be alert and awake and when it’s time to sleep.

And studies show that both light and temperature are a big part of how that rhythm is set.

As the sun sets, lower light levels tell your body to produce a substance called melatonin, which reduces your energy levels and prepares your body for sleep. And at the same time, that increase in melatonin also tells your body to lower its internal temperature slightly for the same reasons.

However, this process is completely reversed in the morning. As the sun rises, melatonin production slows, and your body raises its core temperature to prepare you for an active day.

What this means for productivity… 

Brighter, warmer environments promote higher energy levels and greater productivity, whereas cooler, darker environments tend to reduce them.

However, it’s important to note that not everyone’s circadian rhythm manages energy levels according to the exact schedule above. This can shift from person to person according to their chronotype.

Your chronotype is your propensity to sleep throughout a 24-hour day, and there are four of them that most people fall into:

However, before you crank up the heat and turn on the spotlights, it’s important to note that studies also show that there is such a thing as too bright and too warm. 

Here is where those limits are and how to set up your office or home for optimal productivity.

How light affects productivity

Our bodies do not react to all light sources the same way. Light from midday sun has a much different effect on us than light from a campfire. And research shows that there are three major components of light that affect us: its color temperature, quality and source. 

Here is how each affects productivity individually.

Color temperature

The color temperature of light refers to how “warm” or “cool” that light is, and it is measured in Kelvin (K). Warmer temperatures promote sleepiness, where cooler color temperatures promote productivity (by more than 19.4% in one study).

To give you a feel for how cool is best for productivity, here are the color temperatures associated with common sources of light and how they affect your energy levels:

Studies have also shown that cooler light temperatures improve alertness and mood, as well as mental health.

Light quality

Studies show the quality of light has been shown to impact productivity as well. Insufficient lighting will reduce productivity for the same reasons a sunset will (in addition to causing eye-strain) – but so will lighting that is too bright or too direct.

To get a feel for what is ideal, here’s an example of the right level of brightness and color temperature:

Light source

Studies by circadian health researcher, Mirjam Münch, found that workers who have access to daylight during their workdays are significantly more alert while working and sleepy at bedtime compared to those in an artificially-lit office. 

However, if you do not have access to sufficient daylight in your home or office, the best artificial alternative is it’s equivalent in brightness and color temperature (4,600K-6,500K), according to a study from Cornell

The effects of temperature on productivity (and happiness)

Our bodies naturally associate warmer temperatures with higher brain function and cooler temperatures with sleep – it’s why our core temperature increases during the day and decreases at night when we’re resting. 

How much can this affect productivity? Well, one study found that adjusting the thermostat up by 9ºF (from 68ºF to 77ºF) reduced the number of mistakes employees made by 44%, saving them an estimated 10% in labor costs.

However, there is such a thing as too warm and too cold. And according to research by the USC Marshall School of Business, it depends on whether you’re male or female. 

Their study found that women are most productive between 70ºF and 80ºF while men perform best below 70ºF. They’re findings suggest that 75ºF may be the best temperature for everyone, however.

Furthermore, not only does warmth and light help us become more productive, but several multi-regional studies have found that it could even make us happier – concluding that the optimal temperature for human happiness is nearly the same as it is for productivity (72ºF). 

In summary: temperature and light best practices

It’s best to set your air conditioning or furnace above 70ºF during the day to promote alertness and below 70ºF to promote sleep. 

For lighting, use, or mimic soft daylight when you need to get things done and warmer, dimmer tones (similar to a sunset or campfire) when you’re ready to relax.

These guidelines will help everyone in your home or office get more done and rest better at night!

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