Welcome back to class! We’re here with the second installment in our five-part series on the science behind great work. Here, we’re exploring a) what is going on in your brain during the processes that prime you for focus and creativity b) how to use that feedback to ultimately create meaningful work that makes you happier, more productive, and successful in your job.

Missed part 1? Catch up here.

Part 2: Work Environment

Meaning is the ultimate driver of human emotion — and work. When you find purpose in your work, you’re not only more satisfied with your job, but you’re also more resilient. In fact, the impacts are so rewarding that not even a raise compares. Hear us out.

Something’s in the air

Ambient conditions are the most researched physical distractions in office settings. But, naturally, this topic has some unpopular opinions. Task performance, emotional affect, physiological symptoms, and social interactions are all influenced by sound, temperature, and lighting.

Sound: Noise neutralizer

Noise is one of the most common frustrations in the workplace. And the effects of unpredictable noise are much more distracting than the regular bustle of an office.

Several experimental studies have found that exposure to uncontrolled noise leads to motivation deficiencies and performance defects. Although low-intensity noise (think irrelevant open-office speech) is less likely to hamper your focus on simple tasks than those that require high concentration, research has found that non-speech-related stimuli at low volumes can improve memory and focus. A University of Chicago study found that ambient noise was the optimal sound level for creativity, whereas extreme quiet is more conducive for information processing.

Temperature: Crank it up (but not too much)

A study by Cornell University tested different temperatures at a large Florida insurance company to demonstrate how indoor environment conditions affect performance and productivity. This is what they found: at temperatures between 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit, employees made 44% fewer mistakes and each saved $2 on average in lost productivity. The important takeaway is that when you feel cold, your body requires a substantial amount of energy to keep warm. This doesn’t just make you uncomfortable. It also makes you distracted.

If you can’t control the temperature in your office space, try adding more clothing layers or setting a portable heater near your desk. But be careful not to make it too warm: productivity decreases when you’re hot just as much as when you’re cold.

Lighting: Dial it down

A six-study research report published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology examined the difference in creativity levels in brightly-lit and dimly-lit environments. Here are the findings: dim lighting makes you feel less constrained and free to explore and take risks. But daylight can also help regulate cortisol levels, which assists with cognition and memory formation. 

So when you’re gearing up for a brainstorming session, try turning down the lights before you get started or stepping outside for some fresh air.

Goldilocks had it right

One specific temperature or lighting setting doesn’t necessarily make for the most focused worker. It’s more important that you have control over variable levels to meet your preferences and create the most optimal working environment for certain types of work. In the next section, we’ll apply the research behind an enjoyable work environment to measure a very cryptic concept: job satisfaction.

Liv Huntley is a Content Writer at Surprise.com. Born in the Midwest, raised on NFL and Miles Davis, and lives on Google Drive. A serious journalist, a not-so-serious copywriter, and a social psychology nerd, she formerly wrote for a women’s magazine and always enjoys a bit of storytelling tomfoolery. You can catch her skiing in the winter and chasing cold climates year-round.