Music to focus, relax, meditate or sleep

Set up your workspace for success!

So I’m working from home now.

I’ve decided to work in the kitchen and it’s a bit warm in here, but I’ll just deal with it... And this guy on the radio is sort of annoying, but I’ll leave it on for now. Also, I gotta scoot closer to the window… But does it really matter?

How much are these little annoyances about my new ‘home office’ actually affecting my work?

I decided to find out, and what I found was surprising!

I’ll bet one of these workspace issues is holding you back more than you realize...

1. Low light

The benefits of bright light are well known! Better mood, sleep, exercise, and work. But it turns out you have to be super close to a window to get enough light to really affect you positively!

We don't notice how dark it gets indoors relative to real sunlight, because eyes adapt fast. This graph is a combination from several architecture textbooks, for a medium-height window on a sunny day.

Our eyes adjust so we don’t notice, but it gets a lot darker as you move indoors. Roughly, there’s half as much light just 5 or 6 feet inside from a window!

This surprised me when I found out, because going around my apartment I don’t feel like the brightness changes that much. But this is exactly the trap we fall into! We just don’t see the real difference in brightness, because eyes adapt so well.

So don’t trust your eyes to tell you how much light you’re getting!

To get serious light you have to be very close to a window. If you feel light is an issue, try setting a desk immediately under a window even if it means rearranging your furniture. It’ll be worth it!

2. Wrong temperature

Just put on a jacket, right? Not so simple.

It turns out that even when people can wear what they want, temperature still affects performance!

This study was run in Oct/Nov in Berlin (40-55F outdoors) and participants had no restrictions on clothing and could leave any time. So everyone here was presumably 'dressed for the temperature'.

It’s not just about comfort, it’s about performance! You really do work better when the ambient temp is right, and right is different for different people.

So, when it comes to temperature, you need to work in a space that works for you by having control of the air temperature itself… not just layering on!

3. Distracting music

Record labels are fighting for your attention. Harder, louder, faster, punchier!

Music produced by the industry today grabs your ear and doesn’t let go. This can be really bad if you’re trying to concentrate!

A big part of this is the voice—the human voice is so important to the brain that you naturally pay attention and it jumps out of the music.

But is this really bad for work?  I feel like I can ignore any music just fine!

This is a meta-study (a study of studies), looking across many experiments about lyrics and work.

A recent metastudy (looking across many studies) found that lyrics in music clearly do hurt performance. It turns out that music isn’t necessarily bad for work (it can often help), but the human voice is definitely distracting.


I used to think these ‘environmental factors’ were minor, and didn’t affect me as long as I could power through.

But I’ve changed my mind. Senses adapt, and you learn to ignore things that are actually hurting you.

Low light, too cold, too noisy… we often don’t notice how much better things could be until after we fix the situation!

So don’t put up with these productivity-killers.  Fix your workspace today!


Vasilev, M. R., Kirkby, J. A., & Angele, B. (2018). Auditory Distraction During Reading: A Bayesian Meta-Analysis of a Continuing Controversy. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(5), 567–597.

Chang TY, Kajackaite A (2019). Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance. PLOS ONE 14(5): e0216362.

Written by

Kevin J.P. Woods, Ph.D.
Director of Science,