The exact color to paint your office to become the most productive

Takeaway: Color can profoundly affect how productive you are. Research has shown that blue colors affect your mind; yellow your emotions; red your body; and green your ‘balance’. By combining these colors you can influence your behavior.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 40s.

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I recently spoke with world-renown color psychologist Angela Wright to explore exactly how color impacts your productivity, and how you can use color to become more productive. Here is everything I learned.

How color affects your behavior (the science-y part)

Angela Wright is a world-renown color psychologist who has developed a scientifically-tested theory of color named the color affects system. She has also written a popular book on color psychology, and consulted for a wide range of companies like Shell, Motorola, Proctor and Gamble, British Telecom, The Body Shop, and Unilever. Angela has been studying how color affects a person’s behaviour for about 40 years, and it’s safe to say that if there’s anyone who knows color, it’s her. She also has one of the most awesome English accents I’ve ever heard, but that’s beside the point.

Angela’s work has shown that while a person’s personality affects how they interpret color, color influences everyone universally, and on a very basic level, color is deeply scientific.

“We’re always surrounded by lots of colors. Color travels to us on wavelengths of photons from the sun. And when they strike a colored object, that object absorbs only the wavelengths that match its own atomic structure, and they reflect the rest, and that’s what we see. So the different wavelengths strike the eye in different ways. In the retina, they are converted into electrical impulses that pass to the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which governs our endocrine system and hormones, and much of our activity.”

Took the words right out of my mouth.

The bottom line: color profoundly affects your behaviour.

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How color impacts your productivity

Interestingly, Angela mentioned that it is not a color itself that affects your behaviour. Her research has shown that it’s how intense a color is that affects how you respond to it.

What defines whether a color is stimulating or soothing is not the color, it’s the intensity. A strong bright color will stimulate, and a color with low saturation will soothe.”

I put together the picture below to illustrate this concept. The colors on the left are highly-saturated versions of blue, yellow, red, and green (which you can combine to make any other color except white and black), and they’re much more stimulating then their respective lowly-saturated counterparts on the right.

 

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Research has also shown that each color affects a different part of us. (And this isn’t a feng shui thing or anything like that, this is pure science, baby.) “The four psychological primaries are: red, blue, yellow, and green. And they affect the body (red), the mind (blue), the emotions, the ego, and self-confidence (yellow), and the essential balance between the mind, the body, and the emotions (green).” Interestingly, when you combine more than one color, you get the effects of both of them. For example, if you combine a highly-saturated yellow with a highly-saturated blue, you will get a color that stimulates both your emotions (yellow) and mind (blue).

 

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The exact color to paint your office to become the most productive

Blue

If you Google “the most productive color”, every result seems to suggest that blue is the most “productive” color. Angela called this an “oversimplification”.

If you need to stimulate your mind, then yes, blue would likely make you the most productive. “If you’re an accountant, blue probably would make you more productive. But not everybody is an accountant.”

If you do mind-work all day, Angela recommends painting your office blue, but spicing it up with a bit of orange so that you introduce a bit of emotion into your mind-stimulating room. “If you have a blue office, you need to put a bit of orange in there to introduce a bit of balance, a bit of emotion, so that you’re not a cold bureaucrat.”

Yellow

The top 15 loved colors on Color Lovers.

The top 15 loved colors on Color Lovers.

“If you’re a designer, and you want creativity, blue isn’t going to be the color for you. Yellow is a better color”, because it stimulates your ego and spirits, and makes you more optimistic.

“It takes guts to be creative and come up with something new – that’s why yellow works in that environment.”

Red

If you want to be more productive doing something physical, red would make you more productive than either blue or yellow, because it stimulates you physically. If you’re hiring a bunch of guys to build you a house, for example, “blue isn’t going to be a lot of help to you – you want the red for physical strength and stimulus”.

Green

If you’re in an environment where having a strong sense of balance is the most important, green might just be the color that makes you the most productive. As well, “because it’s so balanced, calming, and reassuring, it’s great to use around anywhere money’s changing hands”. On the flip side, though, “it can be very stagnant and inert”, so an “action man, who loves red, is going to find green quite a strain”.

Which shade should you go with?

To determine which color to paint your surroundings, first narrow down which main color (or combination of colors) will work the best in your situation by deciding whether you want to affect your mind, emotions, body, or balance.

Then, pick a specific hue of that color. Naturally, keep in mind whether you want the color to stimulate or soothe you, by picking either a highly-saturated or lowly-saturated hue. Angela provided me with some advice for picking the right shade after that.

“The best advice I can ever give anybody in general is to point out that we were all born with a very accurate sense of color in general, and our kind of color in particular. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have survived evolution as we did.” As an example, evolution has taught us that green is a stable, balanced color – it is the sign of life and vitality, after all – and it is one of the reasons we see green as such a ‘balanced’ color.

Interestingly, at the same time, color is both very scientific and very personal. Angela recommends going with your gut, but only after determining which part of you that you’d like to affect. “Actually – you will know the colors that make you feel the most productive. It is different for everybody.”

Another tip: colors hardly ever exist in isolation; they’re usually surrounded by other colors. “Color works exactly the same way as music – as Thelonius Monk said, ‘there are no wrong notes’. Music and color work in the same way. There are no wrong colors either. It’s how you use them.” A color or musical note “doesn’t actually evoke much of an emotional response until it’s put with other colors, or other notes. And then, in both cases, whether you get a positive or negative emotional reaction depends on the relationship between the colors or the notes.”

“I cannot think of any circumstances in which we would be confronted by one color in isolation.”

You could say that Ellen Symons is a ‘colorful’ person. In addition to being an excellent massage therapist, Ellen is learning to ride a horse without a saddle. She also recently pitched in to A Year of Productivity! Thanks so much Ellen!
  • Dotti MacNeil

    Okay Chris, don’t leave us hanging, what color(s) did you pick to maximize your productivity?

    • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ ayearofproductivity

      Haha! We ended up going with a highly-saturated blue color (to stimulate the mind), and I’m also going to spice up the room with some orange, like Angela recommended. I have a couple of great orange/red pictures that would fit well with the blue! (P.S., sorry for the delay, just finished up a ‘reclusion’ productivity experiment.)

  • Krista Daviault

    Well-timed article! We actually just picked out some colours and started painting our apartment this weekend. One was a real winner, but one was a bit of a dud… Back to the store for us…! I think we’re leaning towards a deep red for the living room/office (AKA my desk is in the living room and we’re a bit off green after the first blunder…), so I’m curious to note any difference in energy/mood/productivity once we get there!

    As Dotti said – I’m curious to see what your colour(s) were for productivity. Blues with warm accents always spoke to me (so what if I’m an accountant…), so it’s fun to get out of the box!

    • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ ayearofproductivity

      Deep red sounds interesting – you’ll have to follow-up with whether you’re more physically motivated in that room! That might not be a bad thing in a living room, especially if you’re entertaining some folks.

      One of the bigger things Angela mentioned when I talked to her was to really go with your intuition on color, so damn straight, if you want a room to be blue, paint it blue! :)

  • Budddda

    Theres a mistake in your illustration of high-lo saturation… what you mark as low saturation is actually a highly saturated tone with high luminosity… When you reduce the saturation of the colors you get colors closer to gray, when you add luminosity you head towards white.

    Maybe this is a better example: http://www.wacht-troy.com/CsColor_files/color_slice.jpg

    • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ ayearofproductivity

      Thanks a lot for the comment! The hues and brightness levels are the same for each of the four colors, but the light blue is a 40% saturated version of the first blue; the yellow a 40% saturated version of the 90% saturated first yellow; 39%/100% for the red; and 30%/90% for the green. (Hopefully that makes sense.)

      Is there a chance my color picker could be referring to something else besides the actual hue of the color? I’ve made sure to control the hue and brightness for all four comparisons.

  • Li-ling

    There’s a school of thought that says Yellow is actually an energy-zapping colour. I certainly find blues especially the paler shades, very calming.
    Still though what I always keep coming back to is that each individual sees colour in very much personalised, different ways.

  • Julia

    I am a bit confused about something. The generally held idea that blue is a calming colour, and good for bedroom walls. But on the contrary, it is being said that we should not be watching TV and using computers for an hour before bed as the blue light stimulates our brains into wakefulness, as blue gives a sense of daylight.

  • Bill De Smet

    Chris I have been tasked with painting the new office. There are no windows to speak of and it consist of an open floor plan. There is a marketing department with creatives mixed in with other business units. The lighting is the basic office drop ceiling with fluorescents The corporate colors are PMS-2945 blue, PMS-5415 Blue gray and PMS-Orange-21…orange. I was thinking using a platte of blues and oranges. Any suggestions?

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