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The Tech Free Desk – Fixing my millennium habits (with science)

Productivity

Reading Time: 6 minutes


If you grew up in the 90’s like me, chances are that you grew up with a computer. I’m super glad my parents introduced me at a young age to this technology. I taught myself many things including speaking fluent English and video editing.

But other things come with a internet connection and a computer. Those procrastination habits. Random internet goose chases, Youtube binging , videogames… Millennium problems.

With time I learned how to manage these habits. While in college I would study in the library or go to my favorite coffee shop, with the deadline of the task as my carrot on the stick. But now I have a full time job, which means that I can only create my personal content after working hours, in the comfort of my home.

That’s coincidentally where my PC is, staring at me, a blob of procrastination.

For this reason I created an environment that supports the need of creating content while minimizing procrastination.

An old fashioned millennium

I love to write with pen and paper. It gets my creative juices flowing and makes the process of brainstorming much more enjoyable. I eventually write it down on the computer but the conceptual phase always happens in my notebook.

That’s why this tech free desk makes perfect sense to me. I want to separate these activities and create a place without distractions!

No computer. No phone. Zero chances for me to get distracted other than with my own thoughts.

Ultimately I want to create an habit, where my brain creates a mental separation between these activities with the help of a physical separation.

To maximize the potential of this new space I looked into scientific research concerned with workspace psychology, productivity and creativity and general ergonomics.

1. Lighting, color temperature and sleep

Maximizing natural light was my top priority.

The desk is located in front of my biggest window, which also allows me to rest my eyes by looking outside.

For artificial light, I found studies linking color temperature and productivity.

Color temperature is measured in kelvins and refers to the color of the light bulb. White light has a high temperature, yellow light has a low temperature.

According to this study, white light improved the well-being and productivity of corporate workers.

The installation of new high correlated color temperature (17000 K) fluorescent lighting in a shift-working call centre appears to have contributed to wide ranging improvements in wellbeing, functioning and work performance amongst study participants.

But before you run out to buy a set of new light bulbs for your home office, consider that this type of lighting should only be used in a corporate office or factories.

High color temperature lights interferes with our circadian rhythm, which controls body temperature, hormonal changes and most important, sleep.

Light in the 555 nm range may significantly affect the synchronization of the circadian system to light exposure of short duration or to low irradiance…

With that said, if you want to work at home during the evening, you have two options:

  • Stay close to natural lighting during the day and use a low temperature light bulb ( I prefer around 2700k) during the evening.
  • Buy a smart bulb that can change temperature during the day.

Another key factor with lights is to minimize glare.

I fixed this problem by 3D printing a support to hold a piece of paper in front of my lamp, killing any possible glare. You can achieve the same by taping a piece of paper to your lamp.

Not as sexy but it works.

2. Plants, air quality and NASA

Several studies found improved performance when workers had natural elements present in their workplaces.

It’s still not clear why this happens but there are three main possible causes.

The first is the impact of plants in the air quality which improves workers well-being and therefore performance.

Second reason, humans are affected by natural environments. This view follows the attention restoration theory, the idea that prolonged focus on a task results in “direct attention fatigue”. Natural environments demand less direct attention, enhancing concentration on the task at hand.

The last reason is purely psychological, the effort of making a workspace look nice makes us more comfortable, increasing productivity.

Regardless of the reasons, plants and natural patterns are a good addition to any desk. But you might be thinking: “Which plant should I get?”

NASA wondered the same thing and did a 2 year study to assess which houseplant improves the air quality the most. They found that Golden Pothos, English ivy and Peace Lilly are among the best solutions.

3. Organization, social acceptance and Einstein

Is productivity connected with how messy your desk is?

Of course you should keep your desk organized, after all it reflects your inner state, right?

Well, Einstein disagrees.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then is an empty desk a sign?” — Albert… Click To Tweet

Each person should manage their own workspace as they are the ones navigating it.

Instead of finding connections with mental organization, researchers found connections with creativity and conventionality.

A study done by the University of Minnesota discovered that people behave more in line with socially accepted concepts if they are in an organized environment.

Orderly environments promote convention and healthy choices, which could improve life by helping people follow social norms and boosting well-being. Disorderly environments stimulate creativity, which has widespread importance for culture, business, and the arts.

In my case, I’m already a bit messy by nature so this research might make me even more messy, but I promise I will keep myself in check.

4. Music, annoying coworkers and Pop songs

I know that this is a tech free desk but I personally benefit from listening to something while working.

From my scientific review, I found that different types of sounds should be used in different situations.

For repetitive and physical activities, like a workout for example, your latest pop hit can improve performance by boosting your mood. But when it comes to tasks like writing or studying, this might be the worst type of music you can listen to.

Sound environments with someone talking or any type of speech have a negative effect on focus. This includes catchy lyrics but also annoying colleges chatting in the background.

If you want to use sounds to enhance productivity, first you need to know yourself. Use noise-cancelling headphones if you are easy distracted by noises but if you want to use sounds, follow these recommendations:

  • Listen to something familiar. It has been shown that recruits the reward systems in our brain, keeping us motivated.
  • Use ambient noises. They are an effective masking tool against unwanted noises. I recommended this website.
  • No Pop, no lyrics. Basically nothing mainstream.

Fun Fact: According to a 3 year study, pop music fans lack creativity.

While writing this post, I compiled all the music I came across which fits the above recommendations. → Click here


Taking all these factors into account, light, plants, music and organization, this is how my Tech Free Desk currently looks like. A simple setup optimized for maximum creativity, comfort and productivity.

*BONUS* Liquid Creativity

As I was finishing writing this and looked to my side, I saw one more item in the desk that I didn’t research its effect on creativity.

Can alcohol boost my creativity?

A study from the University of Illinois entitled Uncorking the Muse (amazing titling skills by the way), found some compelling evidences.

Moderate intoxication may be one way to alter attentional states to be more conducive to creative processing.

The intoxication level of the participants was 0.075 BAC which for me corresponds to approximately 2 glasses of wine. Because intoxication levels depend on many factors, here is a trusty calculator for you to make sure you keep within the tested conditions.

And with that said, cheers. Thank you science.

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Road Delta is where I share my interests, experiments and creativity with the world. All blog posts and videos in this website are 100% made by me, which makes it difficult to define a theme. And all over the place. Nutrition, physiology, public speaking, travelling, fitness… You can find it all here.

Your opinion is welcomed :)

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