Podcaster Andrew D. Huberman gives his best tips: How do you optimize your work and workplace?
Many of us struggle to streamline our work and get the most out of our days. Smarter Worklife talked to the expert, Andrew D. Huberman, an American neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University, who admits to having difficulty focusing in busy environments and at messy desks. Here are his tips for an optimized workday.
“You don’t have to follow all of these tips, just pick the ones that work for you."
“In the first zero to nine hours after waking up, try to surround yourself with bright light, especially from above, though not so much that it’s uncomfortable or hurts your eyes. During this phase of the day, bright light is extra important and will make you more alert and focused.”
“The placement of what you want to focus on—whether it’s a stationary computer, a laptop or tablet—is important so you can remain alert and avoid neck problems. The screen, which should not be so big that you have to turn your head to see it all, should be positioned as directly in front of you as possible. This can take a bit of ingenuity or engineering—I’ve used a stack of books in the past—but it’s worth it.”
“Try to avoid too much sitting, even if you have a good chair. The goal should be to try to stand at least half of the workday. It can take time to build up to that, but it will make you feel a lot better. Research shows that standing activates nerve cells in our brainstem to produce adrenaline, which in turn gives us the energy to focus.”
“This may sound a bit strange, but there is research to support that it is effective to walk on a treadmill while working.”
“If you use sound to help you focus better and stay alert, it’s important not to use white noise—i.e., sounds that are used to mask other naturally occurring sounds in our environment—for long periods. This can be harmful to your auditory system, and too much white noise can actually create subconscious stress and anxiety.”
“This may sound a bit strange, but there is research to support that it is effective to walk on a treadmill while working. I’ve never tried it myself, but the research says that you become more alert and have better cognitive performance because it gives us an extra dose of adrenaline. I’ve even read studies saying that it’s effective to ride a bike while working, although I have difficulty seeing how you could physically do that.”
“There is something called ‘The Cathedral Effect’, which is about how things like ceiling height affect us and our brains. Detailed, analytical work, where there is a correct answer or an actual solution, is best done in a room with a lower ceiling. In fact, even wearing a hat with a brim or pulling up a hood on a sweatshirt can help you focus and maintain your concentration …”
“… and vice versa if you want to be creative and brainstorm ideas. Then you should be in an environment with the highest possible ceiling—preferably an environment that doesn’t even have a ceiling. In other words, take off the hat or hood.”
“If you need help to focus, fix your eyes on a single point for 30–60 seconds before you start working. Research has shown several times that this is an effective method; it’s even been tested at schools and on children with ADHD, with extremely good results.”
Andrew D. Huberman
Profession: Neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University.
Podcast: Hosts the popular podcast Huberman Lab, which discusses neuroscience and how we can influence our health, behavior and efficiency.