We don’t work in a vacuum. Our environment feeds into the work we produce–particularly when that work is creative by nature. So how can you use all five senses to stimulate and maximize your creativity and focus?
Sight might have the greatest impact on your state of mind while you’re working. What your eyes take in around you will affect your creativity and focus. That means it can help to vary your lighting source depending on the type of work you’re doing. If you need to be alert and focused, direct daylight is always your best option. A 2012 study published in Behavioral Neuroscience found that people who were exposed to daylight versus those exposed to artificial light for six hours two days in a row felt more alert, and performed more accurately on tasks.
There’s a link between light and cognitive performance. Your lighting conditions during the day will affect how sleepy you are, your hormonal secretion, and how sharp your mind is in the early evening hours. If you can’t sit by a window during the day, using lighting that mimics daylight rather than fluorescent lighting can help keep you alert.
That said, if you’re trying to get into a more creative zone, consider toning down your lighting. A 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that dim lighting can help creative performance, while “darkness elicits a feeling of being free from constraints and triggers a risky, explorative processing style.”
Lighting aside, designing your office space to include images and colors from nature-like greens and landscapes can also help give your creativity a boost. Even something as simple as changing the background screen on your computer to the color blue can help enhance creativity, according to a study in Science.
You may think perfect silence is the best condition to work under. Silence does indeed enhance your focus, but if you’re doing more creative work, ambient noise is most effective in stimulating your thinking. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that ambient noise is an important variable that affects creativity.
While not quite as cool as sitting in a café corner with a latte and your laptop, listening to the app Coffitivity, which plays ambient coffee shop chatter on a constant loop can replicate that ideal noise backdrop for doing creative work. Admittedly, I will listen to it even while sitting in a coffee shop to get that perfect coffee shop sound.
When you feel cold in your work environment, you’re actually affecting how well you perform. A study by Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, found that feeling cold in your work environment negatively impacts your focus and work performance. Hedge found that raising the temperature in a workspace from 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit reduced the errors typists made by 44%, and makes them work more efficiently. That’s because keeping your workspace too cold can mean you’re using energy you would be putting toward your work just to stay warm.
The connection between food and your mood has been demonstrated across studies over the years. Incorporating fruits, green vegetables, and complex carbohydrates into your diet helps with energy and focus. Fill your body with junk, and your mind likely won’t be running on the best fuel.
A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology monitored what college-age adults ate, and how it correlated to their moods. The study found that those participants who ate seven to eight servings of fruits or vegetables a day reported meaningful positive changes in mood. Priming your mood and mind for focused creative work means thinking about what foods might help fuel you to get there.
Often when I need to refocus, I light a stick of incense, which I find helps clear and stimulate my thoughts. It turns out this is more than a soothing ritual. Studies have shown that certain smells can help stimulate your focus and creativity. According to environmental psychologist Sally Augustin, certain smells trigger psychological reactions. Lemon and jasmine, for example, can improve cognitive performance. Rosemary and grapefruit smells are said to be energizing, while vanilla and cinnamon smells can help enhance creativity.
Lighting candles or incense can help not only stimulate your mind, but create a small ritual that signals you are about to sit down and focus, which alone can be powerful.