The Surprising Effects of Subtle Behavior Cues


in Productivity

A few weeks ago, I was relaxing after a tough day working on our upcoming launch of Pavlok.

We were all relaxing, watching YouTube videos, when I decided to activate my new Philips Hue light bulbs.

The Hue bulbs are my new favorite toy — light bulbs, controlled by your phone, that allow you to change the color of the room.

A few moments later, the light changed to a fluorescent light (I later realized this was the “Concentrate” setting on the app). Instantly, I sat up in my chair.

“Ok guys, but really, we need to get up and get moving! We are wasting time over here.”

As I said this, Johnny (my king intern) started to get his papers together.

At that moment, I realized something: The entire emotion of the room had changed. Why? Because of the color of light.

This immediately made me wonder three things:

  • What’s connection between mood, emotion and productivity?

  • How could I use this in my love life?

  • Could I actually change my team’s (and my own) productivity through color?

I decided to run a test. If my guess was correct, I’d be able to affect the productivity and mood of the team by making subtle changes to the lighting. So I took out my iPad.

I turned the setting to an ambient red light…and you can probably guess what happened next.

Within a few moments, the lights changed to a deep, relaxing purple. In the same moment the light changed — literally, in the same two seconds — Johnny released his bag and laid down on my beanbag chair.

“Man, let’s just chill a little longer.”

Hahaha. My inner evil genius was satisfied. Predictably, we didn’t get any more work done that day. Excellent.

But here’s the crazy part: He didn’t connect the change in his environment to his change in physiology. But he felt the change almost instantaneously.

Below, see the Philips Hue in action in my room:

This led me to the next natural question: How often is our productivity, focus and drive affected by external influences that we don’t even recognize?

The Phillips Hue bulbs might seem like cheap party tricks — but look again. There’s actually a ton of research that suggests things like lighting, temperature and emotional state have a dramatic effect on how much you get done.

It’s really easy to overlook these outside influences, but there are tons factors affecting how “on” we are every day. Maybe it’s not as simple as getting 8 hours of sleep and eating a good breakfast.

Will you do me a quick favor — can you tell me a little bit about your behavior triggers?

What are the specific factors that are always present when you find yourself in your best, most productive state?

Please, write a few sentences below in the comments and let me know. Some things you might think about:

  • What location are you in?

  • Are you on a computer, in a notebook, online/offline?

  • Did you drink coffee?

  • Are you slouching?

  • Are you around people, or by yourself?

I’m fascinated by this — let me know below in the comments.


Eric December 21, 2013 at 2:27 pm

What location are you in?For me my most productive “where” depends on what it is I’m working on.
For example, I’m a pianist so when I’m practicing my location is pretty much pre-determined (hard to move pianos around). I’ve learned to be productive in large empty concert halls, hotel lobbies (went to a convention once and the only piano was in the hotel lobby and I practiced at 2am in the morning soooo much fun), small practice rooms that reflect the decor of a mental institution, and pretty much any place that I’ve had at hand.
I have noticed that being at home is probably my worst place to practice. I have to many distractions and all I want to do is just sit and play (rather than really practice) the piano.

This also rings true of writing or working on my business. My most preferred place is coffee shops. But I’ve had wonderfully productive times at the park, library, or even isolated in my own room.

The most important factor for my personal productivity is time of day. My most productive hours are from when I wake up in the morning until about 10:00am
After 10:00 am it’s like by brain decides to shut-down and move on with my day. The 3 most productive days I’ve ever had in my life were when I got up before or at 4:30am and just started working within the hour of waking.

Are you on a computer, in a notebook, online/offline?
-I like having a computer and a notebook both with me. I start on my MIT (most important thing) and then put a notebook beside me. Since I have a flurry of ideas that constantly stream into my head, the notebook allows me to acknowledge and write down those thoughts and then continue working on the more important stuff (I use the notebook as my brain-dump)

Did you drink coffee?
I drink tea (I’ve never liked coffee)

Are you slouching?
Nope, being a professional pianist I’ve had good posture ingrained into my system, it’s just a by product now, plus slouching hurts my back.

Are you around people, or by yourself?
For practicing I prefer to be alone, I find that focusing on music is much easier when I’m not being bombarded by other sounds and distractions.
For other activities, it depends. I do like to think out loud and move around, so sometimes I prefer to be alone (I get some interesting looks every once in a while)


James December 21, 2013 at 11:52 am

What location are you in?
Home, sitting at the dining table.

Are you on a computer, in a notebook, online/offline?
Computer online.

Did you drink coffee?

Are you slouching?

Are you around people, or by yourself?
By myself.

This stuff is so interesting – especially after I read The Power of Habit on some other Sethi’s recommended list of books…

As a teacher in a Secondary school I realise there must be so many things that influence the learning and the classroom situation…and my productivity during the holidays…


Tyler December 20, 2013 at 11:35 am

-What location are you in?

Home office, anywhere furthest from a bedroom.

-Are you on a computer, in a notebook, online/offline?

Depends on the work;
Research: Computer, online.
Schoolwork: Notebook, offline.

-Did you drink coffee?

I drink excessive amounts of sweet tea, so yes in a sense.

Are you slouching?

Never. Always upright, yet I never notice it in the moment. My body’s definition of focused and alert is an upright position.

-Are you around people, or by yourself?

Personal Research and Homework: Always by myself. Once people are around me and start talking about outside world things, I’m gone.

Studying with tutors: Always with people. It’s not just having your questions answered, its having someone who can introduce new ways of thinking about the subject.


Jesal December 20, 2013 at 7:13 am

Hey Maneesh,

Great post. Now you got me wanting these lights…

To answer your q’s:

What location are you in?
Usually at a local coffee shop or co-working space.

Are you on a computer, in a notebook, online/offline?
Depends on what sort of work I’m trying to be productive in. If it’s reading and taking notes, I’m far from my computer. If I need my computer, it’s for videos, data, graphics, and browsing.

Did you drink coffee?
Sometimes. More of a tea dude.

Are you slouching?

Are you around people, or by yourself?
Around people. I like feeding off the energy of others in the room.


Dusty December 19, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I just started my first job, working retail. I found out very quickly that because I’ve gotten into the habit of pretending to be chipper and cheerful (even when I otherwise wouldn’t be), even after five hours of exhausting work when my feet are killing me I always feel good at the end of my shift, and otherwise-annoying events just roll off my back.


Tammy December 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm

i work mostly nights, and alone. i seem to be more productive when i don’t have other people around distracting me or ”
micro managing”. yes i drink coffee or red bull.working around my house during the day i enjoy natural light and music. singing while i work keeps me going too.


Heather December 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

SUNLIGHT SUNLIGHT SUNLIGHT!!! Days when the sun in shining is when I’m most productive and motivated to take on tasks. Warmer temperatures definitely has an impact also. I live in TX where it typically sunny and warm. But I grew up in the Midwest and am currently working in Michigan where the sky is completely covered by a blanket of grey for the entire winter season. All I want to do is stay in bed!


Liam Morgan December 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Hey Maneesh,

That’s a good one!

I remember a few years back that I’d visit a friends house fairly regularly and there was one room we’d sit in that after 10-20mins I’d become almost overwhelmed with the desire to sleep! Literally couldn’t keep my eyes open sometimes. After conversations with others about this I started to notice the colour of the room. It was entirely green, top to toe! All sorts of different shades – ceiling, carpet, wallpaper, couch – you name it, it was green! So it transpires being encased in a room of green isn’t much good for my energy levels! I think it was the really pale green wallpaper that got to me the most.

These days on the computer I use fl.ux which has been a revelation for night time working (I think you mentioned it somewhere, so I checked it out). Taking the blue light out of the screen removes all the harshness from the screen and means I can continue to focus for longer and more clearly without feeling frazzled, agitated or strained when I finish. I also tend to work with a himalayan rock salt light on during the day which gives a very peaceful orange glow. I actually find this helps me to stay fairly emotionally consistent, which is really helpful when I have work frustrations to deal with!



Liz December 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Ive not thought so much about colour in my life although Ive read a colour therapy book and some research.
There’s also the colour tie in to the chakras…
coffee definitely affects my brain speed but can give me a ‘hair trigger’ – I play the Lumosity brain games and they give great feedback for this sort of stuff.
Exercise grounds me and helps my focus and conccentration…lots of background noise ‘blows this out of the water’
Blues tend to chill me out but…is this because I know they do? Not trying to overthink it all but I can ‘think blue’ and there’s an effect


Andre December 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Interesting article.
I’ve known about the influence of room and other colour on mood etc. for some time now. I’ve been working for years in an office with mustard yellow walls (yes, really!). I think it makes me agitated or easily irritable.

As for your questions:
What location are you in? Study at home.

Are you on a computer, in a notebook, online/offline? Computer… that’s what I used for a living.

Did you drink coffee? Of course. Programmer 😉

Are you slouching? Nope. Only do that on the couch.

Are you around people, or by yourself? By myself where nobody can interrupt me every 10 minutes.

Extra: Normally I’ll be listening to whatever tunes are currently speaking to me. Mostly either melodic death metal or some flavour of trance. Lately more inbetween tunes.

Silence only required when doing design work.

Used to think I’m a late-night worker. Have shifted to early early mornings after good night’s sleep, doing work first thing before breakfast.


Cindy December 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I hate white light, love yellow light. Especially sun light.. I like to work in an environment with plenty of space, and bright light. Hmm never experimented with coloring but I definitely love candles when I’m in a romantic or relaxed mode.


Alex R. December 19, 2013 at 11:19 am

The more I study behavior, the more credit I give to our subconscious surroundings. One study showed that if your friend’s friend’s friend gains weight – you are more likely to gain weight to a greater degree than if your spouse gains weight! Why? Because of loose connections and what we perceive as culturally normal. Who and what we surround our selves with, what TV shows we watch (if we watch any), what books we read….all subconsciously effect our reality. Most of our behavior patterns (95%) are wired by the age of 5-6 years old. The 5% conscious control we have depends on who and what we surround ourselves by. Super interesting stuff and thanks for the post.


Casandra December 19, 2013 at 10:51 am

Very interesting discovery with the lighting!

I need to be generally comfortable to be productive. I can’t be hungry or thirsty, I need to be in comfortable clothing, I need to be near a window for natural light, and I’m usually curled up in my chair somehow. If any of these physical needs are not met, I can’t focus to save my life. Similarly, if I’m too hot or cold, it will be all I can think about.

Right now I’m experimenting with the role happiness plays with productivity. I’ve started recording gratitude and positive experiences daily to see what affect it has on my happiness and subsequent productivity.


Stephen December 19, 2013 at 8:50 am

Scottsdale, AZ
No Coffee, I use “Miltary energy gum”
No slouching with my standing desk!
Around tons of people


Kasimir December 19, 2013 at 8:40 am

Nice thought about the concentration light.

We once made a film in a pink room and it was so hard to concentrate, all I wanted to do was go to sleep. and I was quick to anger whenever something came up. but we painted it very close to Baker-Miller Pink (the devils colour).

I work best when I’m at home sitting on the floor at 2 in the morning working on something creative. If I’m on Photoshop at the time or video editing, or painting I just can’t stop. “The hell with everything else”, I think, I’ll work as long as it is dark.

And internet sucks for being productive.


John December 19, 2013 at 8:06 am

Cincinnati, OH
Alert and attentive, no slouching
No one else in office
No coffee
He’s my trick for ultra efficiency though: I literally strap myself into my work area by plugging headphones into the computer and I listen to the song “Miserere mei deus”, the Patrick Husson version, on repeat. I don’t know why, but that’s what puts me into super work mode.


Leah McCullough December 19, 2013 at 7:49 am

1. My home office
2. Computer and online for research (no FB or email checking!)
3. Yes
4. Maybe
5. Alone
I’m a stay-at-home mom and I get up very early in the morning to do my writing, before my little one wakes up at 8 am. The weird thing is I’m a slow riser, so a lot of my filters for my mind are not quite in place and I am still drowsy when I write. I am amazed that I do my best writing in this 3/4 conscious state! It is the absolute most productive time of my day. Later in the day the writing just doesn’t seem to flow as easily and I’m wide awake and second guessing myself. The lighting is usually fairly dark in the room as it is usually well before sunrise. HTH! Leah


Annika S December 19, 2013 at 7:49 am

Hey maneesh, that’s really fascinating – especially how no-one else made the connection between ”oh, the lights changed” and ”let’s just chill”.
I know for myself, i cannot do productive creative work with the radio on. People talking or music with words and I just can’t focus. For technical work (eg. Fiddling with website) I need to be at my desk, but for creative thinking & planning, the floor is the best place for me. Funny how we all have our little quirks around productivity, most of them we don’t even notice!


Bethel December 19, 2013 at 7:08 am

When I was in school I would only ever get a solid study session in if I was around other people studying, away from home. I didn’t mind hustle and bustle, but that strange peer pressure was enough to really motivate me to get ish done. Also, I have a hard time waking up in the morning but I live in a household when I’m first to rise. When I lived with people who woke up at the same time or earlier it was much easier to wake up. So knowing I’m not alone in performing some action helps me perform that action.

(I’m very confused as to how you’re going to try to weave this mood lighting lesson into your love life).

Love your work. Keep it up.



suzanne December 19, 2013 at 6:59 am

Hey Maneesh, interesting observation you made here in this article. As you have pointed out, there have been countless studies made on the effects of lighting. One of the effect suggested was named the Hawthorne effect where factory workers’ productivity were observed according to the different changes in lighting. Though productivity levels were improved with brighter lights, unfortunately the effect of the lighting effect was inconclusive as other researchers suggested that the workers became more effective because of interest shown upon them. We now also know that daylight or lack thereof also causes high incidences of depression in countries within the arctic circle where they may experience no daylight up to 6 months in a year. Personally I do feel more motivated in the daylight perhaps at a cafe when I am tapping away on my laptop and somewhat lethargic in my apartment where it seems rather dark most of the time. The environment does have a huge impact on productivity and motivation levels for sure.


Yousuf December 19, 2013 at 6:57 am

If I wake up and pray before sunrise, I’m pretty well charged for the day. If not, I’m kind of groggy. Also, less noise (especially from people talking) = more productivity.


Mike December 19, 2013 at 6:44 am

Boston, MA
Coffee – yes
Slouching – yes
Alone and very quiet – yes


Jordan December 19, 2013 at 6:42 am

Starbucks or coworking space.
Notebook, online
Coffee.. Is there any other way?
Around People is always more productive for me.


Mike December 19, 2013 at 6:42 am

Coffee – yes


Michael December 19, 2013 at 6:26 am

Most productive state: Surrounded by other people who are working, bright location, not too noisy but not quiet, no music with lyrics or awesome guitar solos, slightly cold temperature. Hope this helps!


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