Productivity is all about efficiency. It’s about being able to focus and concentrate so you can achieve the same level of results with less resources and time.
If you find yourself having trouble focusing at work, it’s probably not a problem with you. Instead, it could be a problem with the physical environment that you work in.
The productivity lessons that I’m about to share with you are for those whose jobs require high levels of concentration. It is not for those who meet and greet customers on retail floors, or for factory supervisors that constantly oversee a manufacturing line. It’s for those who have a desk job with tasks that require high levels of focus and critical thinking.
The productivity lessons that you’re about to read are based on my observations, personal experience, and scientific literature.
So here are the 27 productivity lessons I learned from feng shui principles:
1. Sit with your back against a wall
I’m sure you’ve heard of this.
Feng shui talks much about having your back against a wall for “support”. The concept goes beyond your office desk to include bed placements in your bedroom and the geographic surroundings of a house.
With your back against a wall, you will find yourself less distracted. There will be no more noise or movements from behind that’ll make you abruptly turn your head to see what’s going on.
Furthermore, mean co-workers cannot surprise you from behind. With your back against a wall while working, you will find yourself more able to gather your thoughts together even when you’re distracted.
2. Place some nature next to your desk
The use of plants can be seen in many feng shui adjustments. It’s no exception for your desk.
We are naturally attracted to nature, and studies have shown that office plants can boost employee productivity and morale. Also, according to Harvard Business Review and the University of Minnesota, gazing at nature, or getting in touch with it, has the ability to brighten your mood.
So if you have space on your desk, why not add a small potted plant?
Whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressed out at work, take a break and interact with your plant. You can water it, wash the leaves, or trim it. You’ll find that this chore can be quite relaxing.
Further, if you’re in an enclosed office space, putting a plant on your desk provides a little more oxygen for you, which helps to keep you awake and your energy levels up.
3. Keep your work area bright
Part of the reason why feng shui is big on directions is because of sunshine. It is one of the three treasures of feng shui.
Light in our eyes is what wakes us up and sets our biological clock. Even though most of us stare at a computer monitor most of the time, the amount of light that surrounds us substantially impacts our productivity.
The optimal amount of light depends on how big your office space is. The bigger it is, the more light you need. Take advantage of natural sunlight, because studies have shown that it improves productivity and work performance.
I personally prefer light bulbs that are soft and cool white rather than the pale white daylight. But for an enclosed work environment where sunlight is minimal, you may want to choose cool white or daylight because they mimic the more energetic sunlight during the day.
4. Open your windows if possible
Fresh air is one of the three treasures of feng shui (the other two are clean water and sunlight). So if you have a window in your office, open it because it is the best source of oxygen, assuming your office is not located right next to any industrial factory or animal farm.
The amount of oxygen in our bloodstream is directly related to our energy level. Many sources have taught us that deep breathing increases our oxygen intake and therefore wakes us up.
Alternatively, if you keep your windows closed, your office will be filled with more carbon dioxide that’ll make you drowsy. It’s the same feeling you get when sitting in a concealed meeting room for hours.
For those that work in office buildings and have no window access, take a 20 minute walk. Not only does it keep you sharp by increasing your blood circulation and oxygen intake, it also helps improve your work creativity by an average of 60%, according to Stanford University.
5. Remove clutter from your desk
Many of today’s feng shui experts are focused on decluttering. The same goes with your work desk, as it will help clear your mind so you can better focus on the tasks at hand.
Clutter around your desk subtly adds stress to your work. Unless you have laser-sharp focus, seeing a mess lying around can impact your mood when you start the day. The clutter will be competing for your attention and makes it hard for you to work.
Remove anything that you don’t use on a daily basis from your desk. Things such as staplers, tapes, and calculators can be kept in your drawers. If you have lots of paper files, you can catch up with modern times and go completely digital.
If you need more tricks on decluttering your office, here are 10 tricks you can learn from Whitson Gordon.
6. Organize your files by deadline or priority
This is a little similar to de-cluttering your desk. But by organizing, I mean keeping your desk organized in a way that your files and notes are filed together in groups, either by projects, tasks, deadline, or priority.
Each one of us has multiple projects to work on at a time. But to be efficient and productive, it is best to work on one project at a time.
If you have different projects piled on your desk, you may find yourself jumping from one task to the other. All these projects are competing for your attention. It is distracting, because you may be thinking of other projects while you’re working on one of them, and it is stressful, because you are constantly reminded of how much work needs to be done.
If possible, keep your files organized and away from plain sight so you can focus on one thing at a time.
7. Organize your wires
This is for those who are bothered by the sight of an electric wire jungle.
Wires are a site for sore eyes (for some). It gathers dust (that gives me allergies) and is hard to clean. Every time you look at it, you are adding a tiny bit of unneeded mental stress. The effects can be subtle or profound, depending on the individual.
Businesses understand this. That is why many types of products have been developed to organize your wires. You can find more about these products here.
If organizing the wires is on your to-do list, the sight of it being unorganized will only add more stress which will lower your work output, because you’ll start the day feeling you “have so much work to do.”
8. Keep your computer’s desktop organized too
This is similar to organizing your files and keeping your desktop free from clutter.
With most of our files going digital, organizing them has become a challenge (similar to organizing paper files as mentioned in #6 above). The simple way is to save our files on desktop where it is in plain sight and easily accessible.
However, I’ve seen people’s desktop completely filled with files and folders, and I’ve noticed that sometimes it takes them minutes locating a file “somewhere” on their desktop. Time spent on searching for files could have been better spent on getting more work done.
Similar to clutter on your desk, the files on your desktop can distract you when they compete for your attention. Your attention will be divided, and you will feel much more stressed because you are constantly reminded of other projects and how much work you need to do.
Again, keep your computer’s desktop organized, just as how you would keep your work area organized.
9. Have an open space or someone in front of your desk
Feng shui talks much about having an open area in front of the house and the front door. Your work desk is no exception.
Before learning about feng shui, I stuck my desk at the corner of two walls. After learning about this concept, I’ve re-arranged my desk so there’s a small open area in front.
Here’s what felt different for me.
The additional space felt like my thoughts are no longer “hitting a wall.” It’s hard to describe, but it felt as if my mental capacity has enlarged.
On the other hand, it could be better to have someone sitting in front of you than having your desk stuck to a wall. However, please know that the person has the ability to affect your work. If he works hard, you’ll gain some of that energy. If he slacks off, you will gain some of that energy too.
10. Keep a distance from the kitchen or common area
Feng shui teaches us much about a kitchen’s location, and what I learned was that you should keep your work area away from the kitchen.
In my previous work, my desk was right next to an open kitchen. Whenever my co-workers needed to get coffee, water, or something from the fridge, I would notice them walking by my desk. (I also ate more because of easy-access to food.)
Although I have my headphones on, I can still hear the footsteps of heels and leather shoes coming at me. Sometimes they come over for a small chat, and sometimes we just say hi. I know what they’re cooking, what they’re drinking, and what they did over the weekend, although I completely had no interest in knowing. It was very distracting.
If you have a choice, keep a distance from the kitchen or common area (unless your job is to gossip). The noise, smell of food, and social interactions can harm both your productivity and performance.
11. No walkways or doors in front of your desk
Feng shui has many rules about doors and walkways, and one of them is not to have your desk facing a door or walkway.
Some feng shui experts say that this is the path of negative energy. For me, it’s just plain distracting.
The office where I used to work had an open area with no cubicles, and my desk was right next to a long walkway. I couldn’t help but notice whoever that was walking towards me from about 50 feet (15 meters) away. Most of the time, it felt as if they were coming to chat or to ask me something, even though they were just passing by.
What was more distracting was when my boss walked towards me. I would stare at him and ask whether he needed any help from me. Even when he didn’t need anything from me, I had already lost my train of thought on whatever I was working on.
This may not be a problem if you’re home-officed. However, if your desk is facing a door, you might find yourself using that door more often than you’d like, because your mind may be more likely to drift away by the tasks outside that door.
12. Avoid beams or low-hanging furniture on top of you
Feng shui is quite big on overhead beams. It shouldn’t be on top of your bed, and the same goes with your desk.
Overhead beams can bring stress to some people. Depending on the ceiling’s height and size of the beam, it can give you a feeling of being compressed and pressured. It is similar to that feeling when you’re inside a room with extremely low ceiling.
What I found was that it only bothers some people but not the others. So if you find yourself feeling uneasy or discomfort, try working somewhere else because your work productivity may very well be affected.
13. Use inspirational or relaxing artwork
Artwork and imagery can trigger emotional response, which is artworks depicting violence, sorrow, or other negative emotions are not suitable in the bedroom.
However, you can use artworks to your advantage at work.
What I’ve seen in executive offices is that they put inspirational quotes on their walls. I learned that whenever the executives felt lost or confused, the quotes gave them mental focus and resilience to tackle their problems and kept them going. Pinterest is an awesome resource if you’re looking for great inspirational quotes.
Similarly, you can put images of nature, which takes you away from the stressful work environment momentarily and gives you a much needed mental break that will help power you through the rest of the day.
14. Place photos of your loved ones
Photos of loved ones are not suitable in feng shui bedroom. Some experts say that it negatively affects your sleep and bedroom romance because it gives you the feeling as if someone is staring at you.
However, the work area is a different.
For me, I put a photo of my family right next to my desk. It gives me a sense of purpose. It reminds me of who I am truly working for. Most of all, it keeps me driven and gets me going.
Further, seeing photos of your loved ones are known to provoke positive emotions such as love, which can give you a better ability to tackle your problems throughout the day. According to the scientific literature, this is called the 3-to-1 positivity ratio. I first heard about it in this TED talk by Jane McGonigal, and you can find it at 14:34 below:
15. Balance furniture colors with light intensity
Too much brightness irritates us, and not enough light puts us to sleep. This concept is commonly used in feng shui for the bedroom, where dimmer light is preferred, and for the common areas, where brightness is favored.
If you have an office filled with sunlight or bright lights, you may want to choose darker furniture to balance out the light intensity. Suitable colors include dark brown and black.
Conversely, if your office seems a little dim, you can balance it with furniture that have brighter colors. Ivory white or light brown colors can be quite suitable.
16. Get rid of the mirrors
I’ve read somewhere that mirrors in your office can reflect negative energy from clients to other people in the room.
I’m not sure if I agree with it. But here’s my experience and what I’ve noticed from my co-workers.
With a mirror on their desk, they tend to look at themselves from time to time. It’ll sometimes feel like they pay more attention on their beauty than on work. The mirror is something that’s competing for attention.
Mirrors on the wall bring about the same behavior. People (including myself) that walk by will often check to see how they look. Sometimes they do weird things, which draw attention and distract those sitting around that area.
So mirrors are another distraction that lowers your productivity. Place it somewhere else and you may notice an increased ability to focus on your work.
17. Install blinds wherever appropriate
In feng shui, blinds and curtains are used for privacy. It is also used to block sunlight during the day and street lights during the night.
If your office has glass walls or windows, it can add a layer of privacy to your work environment. This is especially important if you’re working on sensitive information and reports, such as company financials and employee records.
Instead of worrying about sensitive information being compromised by prying eyes, blinds will give you an added sense of security, which in turn helps you focus on your work rather than being worried or on high-alert all the time.
18. Get the right furniture
Feng shui talks about the main furniture for each room, like the bed for the bedroom and the sofa for the living room.
In the case of your work area, it is your desk. All other furniture are of low priority and are not required, such as sofa and coffee table.
The size of the desk should be proportionate with the size of the office. A good indicator of having an oversized desk is when you have to walk sideways to go to your desk. Feeling crammed is another good way to lower your productivity.
On a side note, the chair that you use has a significant impact on your productivity. Most desk jobs require us sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time. Thus, your chair should prompt you to sit with a good posture so you can avoid neck strains, back pains, or other injuries to your body that’ll affect your ability to concentrate.
19. Don’t flood your walls with artwork
I’ve visited offices where the walls are filled with inspirational quotes. To me, it felt like visiting a website that is filled with advertisements.
I remember that when I first entered that office, I felt overloaded with information when I saw the wall full of quotes. The longer I stayed, the more it felt as if the inspiring quotes were shouting at me instead of inspiring me.
A wall full of artworks can get quite overwhelming, which undoubtedly increases unnecessary stress that’ll reflect on your ability to focus and concentrate.
20. Don’t sit with a window or glass wall behind you
I’ve encountered two feng shui explanations about this. Some say that you need a solid wall behind where you’re seated, while others say you need an open space behind you, and a window is the best way to go.
As for me, here are the reasons why I don’t like sitting with a window or a glass wall behind me.
First is the sunlight. It obstructs the view of my computer screen due to glare.
For instance, if your window faces east, you may be struggling with reading anything from your computer screen in the mornings. The same goes with light reflections from the glass windows of surrounding office buildings.
Though you can install a blind and block out the sun, you are still susceptible to the sound or movements coming from the window, which can easily derail your train of thought. These noises include automobile traffic, lawn mowers, and especially unfamiliar noises.
21. Don’t have your desk face a window
Some experts say that your desk should not be facing a window because it may cause you to miss out on important business opportunities.
I cannot personally vouch for that, but what I do know is that a desk facing a window is another way to distract your concentration.
The previous office that I worked at was located on the first floor with glass walls that oversaw the entrance of an office building. I had a co-worker whose desk was facing that glass wall, and he kept complaining about not being able to concentrate.
According to science, our human eyes are unknowingly distracted by anything that comes into our visual field. It’s what kept us alive from predators (or hunting for food) in ancient times. It’s no wonder why my co-worker was constantly distracted.
First, people could look right into our office space from the outside. From the inside, we could see everyone entering and leaving the building. Even when I was highly engaged in a conversation with him, I easily noticed people who are entering and leaving the building as well as those who are looking inside that window at you.
It’s really the human traffic outside the window that’ll distract you, because your eyes will naturally pick up those movements and your attention will be drawn to them. So if you find yourself distracted by this, simply get your desk to face somewhere else.
Feng shui can help you in many ways, and part of it is to improve your work productivity. These lessons can help you minimize distractions so you can better concentrate on getting things done.
Depending on your work environment and the nature of your job, many of these may not apply. But if any of these lessons apply to you, I suggest you make the adjustments because these small changes all add up. Over time, you may be both surprised and happy about how much you can accomplish in a given day.
If any of these worked for you, or if you have any other experiences on work productivity, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below!