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How to Set Up a Perfectly Productive Cubicle, According to Science

Keep your important files close and a stress ball and lemon mist closer.

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Throw a shawl or a blanket over the back of your chair

The irritability you experience when you feel too cold can significantly affect your work performance. In one Cornell University study, researchers placed monitoring devices on employees’ desks to measure keystrokes and mouse movement at different temperatures. When the office temperature in the month-long study increased from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors dropped 44 percent and typing output increased by 150 percent. Experts guess the ideal temperature is somewhere between 72 and 76 degrees. If you feel chilly, keep a blanket or shawl on the back of your chair for instant comfort.

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iStock/Six Dun

Get a plant

Because most cubicles don’t have a window view, it’s important to find other ways to incorporate nature into your space. A slew of research has found that workers with flowers or foliage on their desks are more productive than those without. The results of one 2011 study showed that when surrounded by office plants, people scored better on an attention task that required them to read several sentences on a computer screen and remember the final word of each. Desk plants also offer workers the sense that they have something to tend to and care for, two restorative emotions. Don’t miss these tips to make your flowers last longer.

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iStock/Six Dun

Invest in a lemon mist for groggy afternoons

A study at the UK’s Northumbria University found that exposure to lemon balm can improve cognitive performance and mood. Reap the benefits of aromatherapy without offending your coworkers by dabbing a drop or two of an essential oil on a cotton ball and taking a whiff whenever you need a boost. If your cubicle is a bit more closed off, create a mist by adding a few drops to a spray bottle filled with water. Give your space a light spritz each morning to refresh your cube and your mood.

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Point your chair this way

If possible, arrange your chair so that when facing your computer, you can see the entrance to your cube. Knowing what’s coming is a basic human need and when you feel comfortable, you’ll be able to work harder. If you can’t reposition yourself, place a reflective object near your computer. Anything from a reflective picture frame to a small decorative mirror will do the trick and alert your to anyone coming your way.

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Keep a stress ball to your left

Recent research shows it might be to your benefit to keep one of those squishy stress balls around during your workday. In one study, participants who squeezed a ball in their left hand scored higher on a test that assessed their ability to make creative associations than people who squeezed the ball in their right hand. See here for ten more productivity tricks to steal from highly creative people.

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Find a source of blue light

One study found that when participants were exposed to blue light for extended periods of time during the day, they reported less sleepiness and displayed quicker reaction times, higher levels of alertness, and greater attention spans in performance tests. If you work on a computer with an LED display, it’s already giving off blue light. If not, swap out your light bulbs for a basic LED bulb.

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Develop an uplifting color scheme

Choose your computer wallpaper wisely. A green or floral background is both soothing (the color green appeases our senses on a primitive level, telling us we are in a fertile, water-rich environment) and can even boost creativity. For one study, participants were given two minutes to come up with as many uses for a tin can as they could. Before they began, half the group was shown a white rectangle, and the other half a green one. Participants in the green group came up with the more inventive, imaginative answers.

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Keep a reuseable water bottle within reach

Not only is hydration great for your brain, but drinking lots of water will encourage you to get away from your desk to take frequent (bathroom) breaks—another productivity booster. Short breaks help you reevaluate whether or not you’re staying on task and accomplishing the right things. “When demand in our lives intensifies, we tend to hunker down and push harder,” Tony Schwartz, head of New York City-based productivity consulting firm The Energy Project, told Fast Company. “The trouble is that, without any downtime to refresh and recharge, we’re less efficient, make more mistakes, and get less engaged with what we’re doing.” Downing your daily eight ounces while at work will make short breaks a necessity, not an option.

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Develop a workflow for incoming items

Begin by organizing your desk and drawers by importance. The things you use most often go in the closest drawer and everything else goes further away. By the time you finish, every object should have a home and every piece of paper should have a file it belongs in. Before you wrap up each evening, make sure everything is in place. That way, when you arrive the next morning you’ll be ready to dive into your work without the distraction of a messy desk. For even easier mornings, update your to-do list right before you leave each evening. Here are other tricks for writing a more efficient to-do list.

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iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

Stock your drawer with dark chocolate

Research from Northern Arizona University found that dark chocolate activates the brain to increase attention levels. “A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can’t pay attention, says psychology professor Larry Stevens, PhD, who contributed to the study. “We could have a higher-cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention.” We agree.

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Keep the knick-knacks that inspire you and toss the ones that don’t

Limit the number of personal items on your desk to a minimum, straighten up visible paperwork, and toss everything else. One study by a Princeton neurologist found that the more stuff you have around you, the more each thing competes for your attention. That means it’s harder for your brain to filter information, switch between tasks, maintain your working memory and focus on work, according to Fast Company. Consider this a call to action to clear the clutter.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest