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How To Improve Creative Thinking In The Workplace, According To Science

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Creativity is valued in industries across the board, especially in the day and age of social media. Whether it pertains to content creation, sales, finances, or problem solving, the ability to think outside the box is in countless job descriptions. Unfortunately, stress and distractions — two things often found in the office — can cramp brainpower; not to mention, blank walls and piles of clutter are inherently uninspired. So to get the juices flowing, consider some strategies to improve creative thinking in the workplace, whether you have an office, cubicle, or work from home.

Ahead, three experts weigh in on the impact that work environment has on creativity (because as it turns out, there are a number of factors that can make or break it). From cleanliness and air quality, to mood-boosting decor and the healthiest snacks to nosh on throughout the day, these pros share their best tips for achieving intellectual success. After all, as any creative knows, it can be difficult to generate unique ideas on the fly ... especially if your workplace isn't conducive to it.

Read on for a handful of easy-to-implement tips to get the mental wheels turning, no matter where you do your work.

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Create A Clean Environment

When it comes to promoting productivity, first consider the impact of invisible organisms, like toxins, bacteria, and germs. Allan Lopes, founder of HB Certificate, which provides certification for healthy building designs, notes that the air quality and cleaning products used around the office should be taken into account. "Working in an environment with clean, fresh air is important for people to be feeling their best," he explains, and suggests routinely changing the filters in air conditioning and purification systems around the office.

What's more, maintaining a healthy environment also includes using non-toxic cleaning products that are free of chemicals. "Breathing in dirt, toxic ingredients, and dust can be a silent way our health is not remaining in good shape," says Lopes. After all, "no one is going to be creative at work if they are sick!"

Add Some Greenery

In addition to livening up a space and reducing stress, greenery can also help you breathe easier. "Indoor plants are a great way to improve air quality," says Lopes. "[They] also bring a sense of the outside into your office. Sitting at a desk all day drains your creativity and mood; indoor plants can be a refreshing way to bring the outdoors into your office."

Be Mindful Of Lighting

If possible, work in a place that gets plenty of natural light. "Light influences the production of important hormones like vitamin D and melatonin, which, in turn, will determine our mood, quality of work and creativity," Lopes explains. "Natural lighting is crucial for workers to get their creative brains flowing."

But if that's not an option, strategically placed lamps and fixtures can still improve alertness. "If you’re looking to increase focus, task lighting is helpful for concentration as it helps you focus on the area that’s brightly lit," says Amber Dunford, design psychology expert and lead stylist at Overstock.com.

Keep Clutter At Bay

For most, an organized workspace is key to having a focused mindset. Dunford explains that clutter can be a visual distraction that clouds the mind. "This exhausts our brain power, making creativity especially difficult," she says. "Dedicated spaces for office items with bins, shelves or drawers help you stay organized and give things the appearance of cleanliness."

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Consider Color

In addition to brightening up a space, Dunford says that color can have an effect on concentration, too. "To help a space feel more cohesive, create a uniform color scheme," she says. "This has a calming effect on people and allows the mind to relax, as opposed to a color scheme with contrasting colors, which creates more excitement and energy."

Further, she adds that there's one particular hue that can dampen your performance. "I would avoid over-use of the color red, as this tends to have negative impacts on our intellectual functioning and leads to poorer performance on cognitive tests," she says. What's more, "warm versus cool lighting is always nice for a space, since people perform better under this type of lighting. Avoid mixing these types of bulbs, since this can be jarring and be hard on the eyes."

Make It Personal

If your office or cubicle feels sterile, try adding a few warm touches. "Being able to personalize a workspace is one of the biggest predictors of happiness within a work environment," says Dunford. "People have a deeper connection to that space when they display family photos or special objects that let others know something personal about them."

Try Aromatherapy

While you'll want to be conscious of any co-workers who are sensitive to smells, Dunford says that aromatherapy can help calm the mind while promoting creativity. "The use of lavender is great for creativity because it relaxes our body but keeps our mind alert," she says. "Introducing diffusers filled with lavender scent or applying an essential oil before work are a few easy ways to bring this into your office space at home or work."

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Create Some Boundaries

"For those who work from home, it is important that the space can be shut down when the work day is over," Dunford advises. "Humans [need to] compartmentalize their work and home life and truly turn off work at the end of the day, rather than live in a perpetual state of attending to work duties." She says that having an office with a door you can close is one simple solution, or if your work space is a nook in your home, stash work items such as papers, books, and your laptop in containers or drawers so they're out of sight.

However, if your job takes you to a shared office space, Dunford has a few tips to make the most of your time on the clock. "I would avoid being the constant open-door office, since there are times when it’s important to remain focused," she recommends. "It takes people nearly double the time to re-focus on a task when we have interruptions." If you don't have the luxury of shutting a door, she says, "using headphones in a cubicle setting are nice ways to gently alert others that you have a deadline and need to concentrate."

Pack Snacks To Boost Brainpower

Lastly, remember that what you put in your body also has an impact on brainpower. Karina Hammer, a certified wellness coach and the lead student advisor for the International Association of Wellness Professionals, says that first and foremost, it's essential to stay hydrated. "Your brain is 80 percent water," she explains. "When we start to get dehydrated, we often feel thirsty and fatigued, and may even develop a mild headache. Drinking water is the easiest and least expensive thing we can do to stay focused and on track at work. "

She suggests snacking on walnuts and avocados, which are full of nutrients and stabilize blood sugar, and says that the omega-3 essential fatty acids in salmon make this fish a powerhouse protein to have at lunch. Conversely, Hammer recommends staying away from the processed foods in the snack machine. Common ingredients like Red Dye #40, MSG, and refined sugar lead to jitters, blood sugar surges and crashes, and overall brain fogginess.