When Less is Really More: The Impact of Environments on Results


Finding ways to simplify your work environment may be a good start to accomplishing more in less time.


Have you ever had a major project you needed to get done and found you were spending way too much time with little or no progress?  Finally, you sit down in your work area, fully covered in photos, posters, calendars, Post-it notes, and spreadsheets.  After about an hour of surfing the web, you get to work.  Nine more hours pass and you discover that you have only accomplished a quarter of what you set out to do for the day.

What happened?

According to a study performed by Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, “Clutter competes for your attention.  When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.” It turns out that there is such thing as too much stimulation, and overstimulation may be the rival to efficiency.

Research performed at Carnegie Mellon University tied into this same concept when it was discovered how a classroom’s visual environment can affect how much children learn. Children’s accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom than in a heavily decorated classroom. While children learned in both classroom types, they learned more when the room was not heavily decorated.  Research also revealed the rate of off-task behavior was higher in the decorated classroom than in the sparse classroom.

So what is the answer for those living a ten-hour workday in chaotic offices with spreadsheet and Post-it® riddled workspaces? Perhaps less really is more. Finding ways to simplify your learning and/or working environment may be a good start to accomplishing more in less time. Although we cannot control the busyness of particular work environments, we can consider adjusting what is within our control.  You can reduce clutter in your immediate surroundings and create an environment free from distraction by only displaying or accessing what is necessary for the task at hand.  It may even mean getting away from your normal workspace to find a more simplified, serene environment with fewer interruptions.

With today’s technology, there are certainly more creative ways to achieve higher productivity and satisfaction.  It’s all about finding an environment where you can achieve results in less time.

To read more on other modern work environment philosophies, check out Why ROWE is a Knowledge Worker’s Dream.