Creating Your Own Eudaimonia Machine – The Ultimate Productive Home Office Space

By on April 21, 2018

In the book, Deep Work, author Cal Newport discusses the importance of occasionally achieving extended periods of focussed, uninterrupted work for creative problem solving and general productivity. As someone who regularly writes up to 20,000 words a day (no really), I completely agree with this sentiment. Not only does an ability to generate prolific output give you a huge advantage in the competitive workplace, but there’s also something strangely satisfactory – and almost hypnotic about it.

Deep Work, Cal Newport

The book outlines numerous strategies that we can use in order to make such productive states more common. One of the more interesting is the notion of a Eudaimonia machine.

(Eudaimonia meaning ‘human flourishing or prospering’ in Greek and often associated with great productivity and creativity. Obvs.)

This is a theoretical building that would be designed specifically to induce a state of deep work, suggested by architect David Dewaine. It would work by taking the visitor through a precise sequence of rooms intended to stimulate, inspire and then ultimately incubate, in order to extract the most creative contributions possible.

This is a theoretical building that would be designed specifically to induce a state of deep work

This got me thinking: shouldn’t all of us strive for this? Especially if you work from home like me, shouldn’t any home office be a kind of mini, personal Eudaimonia machine?

And if so, what does science tell us would be the very best way to design such a room?

The Biolab – My Eudaimonia Machine

As I say, I’ve actually had a similar philosophy to Cal for a while. I will regularly shut myself away for 4 or even 8 hours straight – barely stopping to get up for toilet breaks – in an undisputable state of flow.

This is something that has come with practice. I have gone from writing 4,000 words on a good day to an average of around 15,000. My record was 36,000 words in about 12 hours of straight work. Yup.

I’m currently at a point in my life where my productivity has been especially high and I attribute that to my home office/gym, which I geekily call the ‘Biolab’. It is my Bat Cave. I dreamed of this before I owned a property. Everyone should have their own batcave.

And there are a few conscious and unconscious inclusions in here that aid with my productivity. These include…

  • Ornaments and decorations that inspire productivity
    • An Oculus Rift displayed on a Styrofoam head (which some people describe as creepy)
    • A star globe showing constellations in black and gold
    • LOTS of books
    • Iron Man covers and figures (Tony Stark is my productivity/tech inspiration!)
    • A golden compass
  • LED lighting which alternates between white, blue and green
  • An ultrawide monitor
    • I read somewhere that this can enhance productivity by up to 30%

When I work I almost always have a coffee on the go, a large glass of water and noise cancelling headphones playing music without lyrics.

eudaimonia machine

Some of these things make sense according to the research. Of course caffeine heightens focus, water is good for everything and headphones block out outside noise and therefore distraction. I also feel as though the music ‘locks me in’ to the work and marks a kind of transition to serious focus.

Filling your environment with things that inspire you and that relate to your work also makes sense. This can help to ‘prime’ you for the work that is about to ensue – to help put you in the correct headspace so that as soon as you walk into the room, the right neurons start firing.

Ideally, I’d love to recreate the ambience of Deus Ex somehow…

Books do this very well. And one of the things that makes the British Library such a great place to work for me is the huge statue of Newton outside. It just puts you in the right zone, you know?

This is likely to be highly individual and based on the nature of your work. Maybe you’re a writer who wants to surround yourself with old books and a typewriter. Or maybe you’re more motivated by success and wealth and you want to surround yourself with certificates and a smell of rich mahogany.

Be honest with yourself: what gets you charged for the work you do? And how can your office make it speak to you even more?

I think this is the single most important productivity hack in my office. Because even when the work itself is dull, I still feel great sitting down and wiring in. Effectively, it’s an example of what is called ‘priming’ in psychology: doing whatever you can to put yourself in the right frame of mind for the task that is about to follow. Just as you might watch Commando prior to doing a workout. It’s why the hypothetical eudaimonia machine described in Deep Work features a ‘gallery’ of great works comlpeted inside the building as you enter. What works of your own are you proud of that you could display? What works of others inspire you?

What works of your own are you proud of that you could display? What works of others inspire you?

For me, coloured lighting is part of this. I love writing about tech and biohacking, programming and working online partly because it feels so sci-fi and futuristic. Hence the Oculus Rift (I’m also hoping to display the DK1 as a piece of VR history and my old Tatung Einstein – if I can find it!) and hence the attempt to create a Deus Ex/Tron/cyberpunk like lighting set-up. The colour can change with my mood though (or whatever game I’m playing during down-time).

But lighting in general is well documented for its effect on mood. Of course, most of the studies look at the role of daylight and daylight-simulating bulbs, which are well known to have productivity and wakefulness-boosting effects. That said, color psychology suggests that changing the color of your working space could have an effect on your mood, which might in turn be enough to impact on your performance (study). This does all feel a bit like pop psychology, but for me: cyberpunk neon colors definitely make the difference.

The ultrawide screen is more about the direct productivity benefits of the right gadgets – which is another post for another time – but it does also help to better immerse me into the work I’m doing. Which is a big bonus.

I personally find that having the window open helps me to focus too. This could be a combination of the fresh air and the drop in temperature – seeing as cold air encourages the production of norepinephrine (like a lesser version of taking a cold shower).

More Additions

But what else can you add to your own fortress of solitude?

Well actually, getting a plant could be one of the best moves for most home offices and it’s something I plan to do soon. That’s because – presumably as an evolutionary vestige – we still find the sight of plantlife to be relaxing and calming. Not only is this good for us, but it also helps to improve creativity, seeing as we are at our most creativity when our brain is less focussed, and we are able to explore distant connections and correlations across our web of neurons.

In fact, even just the color green is thought to have this effect (report), which is another potential reason to try adding some color to your environment. It also just goes to show how perhaps you might benefit from having different colors for different type of work. Red, which elevates focus and the heartrate, could be better for non-creative work that needs a high output.

Another important step is a comfortable place to sit. This sounds minor, but if you aren’t comfortable, then this serves as a distraction that leaches your attention. Your body is telling you that you need to move or change. My swivel chair is like a torture device, but I have purchased a cushion that takes the pressure off of my coccyx. Which is something.

For those that want to take the idea of lighting further, investing in a ‘daylight lamp’ for the desktop would be a good option.

I’m actually anosmic – meaning that I can’t smell – but for those of you that can smell, this is probably a factor to consider. Salt lamps make a lot of promises but I’m not sure there’s much evidence to back up their claims. Burning essential oils could have even more of an impact and potentially even a nootropic effect.

Likewise, noise is also important. As I said, I use noise cancelling headphones with synthwave music, but other options include getting a really great sound system or using some kind of noise cancellation to seal out the outside world.

As I have said before: hacking any system is about considering the inputs. If you want to ensure your body and brain are highly focussed, you need to ensure all your inputs are supporting that endeavour. Smell, touch, temperature, sound and sight all matter.

Heck, maybe there’s a benefit to working in suspended animation!

Accidental Productivity Spaces

Of course, sometimes all of these things come together in just the right way by sheer chance. My best working experience was in a bar in Croatia with a beer late at night working with a friend, watching people go past outside while it rained. The bar was playing Schiller, we were the only people in there and it was raining outside. Everything was glowing, and I was on some kind of creative high.

But then again, working in a chalet in the mountains isn’t half-bad either… A vista like that is a ‘rich environment’, which is suggested to be a ‘flow trigger’. In other words, it triggers mass restructuring of the brain because it’s so much information to take in. This is where our sense of ‘awe’ likely comes from: the huge release of BDNF and dopamine, which would then also put your brain in a state ‘primed’ for learning and focussing.

This balcony in Sorrento also did the trick…

You could potentially do something similar by using a large picture of a beautiful scene for instance – or even just the right computer wallpaper.

(And I can’t wait until we have the option to work in entirely VR spaces – which I have tried via Big Screen but is currently a little too low-res and uncomfortable for extended periods.)

I often like working in coffee shops. This is another ‘romanticised’ form of work for me – I love the idea of plugging in and feeling anonymous in a coffee shop, especially when it’s dark and raining outside. Then there’s the ambient noise of people chatting – but not so much that I can make out what they’re saying (try this).

And in Deep Work, Cal Newport even describes someone who found working on a plane so beneficial, that they booked a round-trip to Tokyo just to hash out a book.

Moments like this are why I love my GPD Pocket – a 7” laptop that I can take with me literally anywhere. I’m taking it to London tomorrow where I might stop off in one of my favorite spaces to work: The British Library. It’s full of books and statues of famous thinkers. Prime for priming.

Summing Up

The aim is to try and create these feeling when you’re in your home office, while adding a touch of personalization and ‘ritual’. Ideally, save your home office for work only so that all those things you’ve set up will act like ‘triggers’ to put you in a productive state.

When I see those lights, put on my headphones and start my coffee, I know it’s go-time.

Throw in a few hacks to put yourself in the most productive state possible and you should have your own ‘eudaimonia machine’.

I guess the real take-home is just to think about it. Make your office space a little more ambitious than just: desk with paper. What is the environment that would get you personally to be in your most productive and creative state of mind?

Oh, and keep it tidy!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. Jesper says:

    Hey man, about colours: I think that you really should check out the Max Luscher test. Try it first without reading up on it or anything. Then ask your family to do the same.

    All psychology is pop psychology in my opinion, which means that we should not have bias against “controversial” ideas.

    (I am not a psychologist, but I have a polymath’s curiosity, a B.Sci.In Mol. Biol. And soon a M.Sci.in cell biology)

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