Workspace Styles to Optimize Creativity and Focus

9 mins read

(Above photo by George and Willy). Have you ever wondered if the space you’re working in is helping or hindering your creativity? Is clutter getting in your way to thinking more clearly? Are you constantly being interrupted by people knocking on your door when you’re trying to work? Or maybe you’re even unaware of that humming air conditioner in the background is affecting your productivity. Recently I tuned into one of my favourite podcasts, (The Huberman Lab), that addressed all of those issues and offered up science-based solutions to optimize your workspace for productivity, creativity and focus and I thought it would be fun to visualize a few key takeaways. (As a side, if you get a chance, I highly recommend you tune in to the podcast or any of the Huberman Lab’s podcasts actually, where the Stanford University tenured professor of neurobiology and opthamology, Dr. Andrew Huberman discusses science and science-based tools for everyday life). I’ve learned so much from it!

Huberman breaks up a 24 hour day into three phases. And explains how workspaces should be set up for optimal success. Let’s take a look!

Phase I

Workspace Huts by George and Willy

The first part of one’s day (from waking up to 9 hours later), Huberman calls Phase I. According to studies mentioned on the podcast, this part of a work day is a great time for detailed analytical work. To create a space that will help you focus, Huberman advises our cognition follows our visual environment and working in a lower ceiling space with bright overhead lights and in addition, a blue light or a ring light in front of you is optimal for this period. Making special note that restricting one’s visual window (blocking your view right and left) and placing what you’re trying to focus on at nose level or above also helps. A special note to avoid reclining and try standing at least 50% of the time. The above two photos from design studio, George and Willy demonstrate this well by creating enclosed workspaces that allow for privacy as well as offering overhead lighting.  Fun fact: George and Willy offer a free e-book on how to make these adorable workspace huts on their website if you’re interested. Click here for the link.

Budget tip: Huberman also suggests if budget is an issue, you might be able to create this effect just as well by simply wearing a hoodie. A great tip especially if you’re working or studying in an open environment.

Phase II

Autodesk Workspace designed by Utile

If creativity or abstract thinking is the plan, Phase II, (8 to 16 hours after waking), is apparently a good time for these types of activities. Huberman mentions that working in an environment with cathedral-style or high ceilings has been proven to be most effective to get the creative juices flowing. Bringing the light levels down to eye level, dimming the overhead lighting, and turning off the ring light (if you use one) a little later in the day, will help also with adjusting your circadian clock for your upcoming night’s sleep.

(Above) The workspace at Boston’s Autodesk designed by Utile organizes work space around a signature “Glowing Box” wrapped in a 34-color gradient that houses meeting and conference spaces. Focusing on maximizing light and views through the deep floor plates, the team provided a variety of flexible working, collaboration, and meeting spaces. A must-see if you need workspace inspiration.

High ceiling workspace - The Nordic Barnhouse Project

If you’re trying to create or brainstorm at home, Huberman suggests a high-ceiling type environment, like this loft space from The Nordic Barnhouse Project we featured earlier (above) or similarly (below), a high ceiling home office from architecture firm, Finkernagel Ross and their Belgravia Mews Project.

Loft-style office at Belgravia Mews by Finkernagel Ross

Budget Tip: You could also head outdoors if the space you’re in isn’t working for you and inspiration is at a standstill. Huberman also added that stepping outside at least for 5 minutes in between working sessions and getting some sunlight is a great way to activate the brain and body

Nordic-Barnhouse-Project-Deck 2
The Nordic Barnhouse Project

Phase III

If you happen to work during Phase III (evening hours), according to Dr. Huberman, lighting is the most important element. He suggests lighting should be dim (including your screens) and limited though, as one could basically deplete their melatonin levels and shift their circadian clock at that time of day. In other words, if you are burning the midnight oil and do stay up between the hours of 6am to 2am (or later) and are getting bright light into your eyes in the third phase, you are effectively flying to a different time zone.

A low-lit bedroom scene from Architonic

Huberman does state however if you do want to stay alert, then you’ll want to turn on all the lights and keep them really bright. You have to determine the trade off that is getting work done versus shifting your clock. Maybe okay if you’re a student and cramming for an exam once in a while, or if you do shift work and need to stay awake. But there’s definitely a trade-off to consider obviously.

Huberman also mentions sound can increase your level of alertness and suggests trying to  avoid white, pink or brown noise for extended periods of time. And if you are going to pursue particular levels of sound frequencies, he suggests 40 Hz binaural beats (not monaural beats) done during a particular work bout or 30 minutes prior to that work bout. But cautions not to use them everyday as it may lose it’s potency.


There are so many other variables as well that go into creating productivity and focus in your workspace like leveraging background noise, the angle at which you are looking at your screen during different times of the day and even how you can deflect interruptions at your workspace, so if you are interested, I would definitely check out Huberman Lab’s podcast.


Thanks for reading!

Jan Halvarson

Jan founded Poppytalk in 2005 while a student at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (now ECU) to catalogue inspiration from typography to interior design. Since then she’s collaborated with Target (creating a limited edition glamping collection), a wallpaper collection with Milton & King, as well has written as a contributor at Wired, Martha Stewart and Huffington Post.