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12 Easy Tips to Help You Improve Your Workspace

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A new year may mean a new and improved focus on work. Returning to a disorganized workspace, however, may kill your impetus to get productive. According to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, “multiple visual stimuli” are in “neural competition” for your limited attention. All that clutter lying around in your space cries out to be dealt with, reducing the cognitive capacity you have left to devote to productive tasks.

If that weren't enough, other aspects of your workspace environment can also affect motivation levels. The good news is that improving your workspace can be easy. Here are some tips to help.

1. GET THE RIGHT LIGHT.

When it comes to workspace lighting, you can’t beat nature. Light regulates substances such as melatonin and serotonin in the brain, affecting wakefulness and mood. As human brains have evolved to respond to natural daylight, we’re not at our best in low-quality electric light. Flood your workspace with as much natural light as possible. Blinds help to reduce glare, but lift them when they aren’t in use for that purpose. Also, make sure you have a flexible mix of different types of artificial lighting. Replace old tungsten bulbs with quality, flicker-free, energy-saving ones that are bright but not too clinically white.

2. TWEAK YOUR TEMPERATURE.

According to an analysis of 24 studies, the optimal temperature for your workspace is 71 degrees Fahrenheit (21.5 degrees Celsius). If the average temperature of your space is way above or below that, it may be time to reassess.

3. ADJUST YOUR MONITOR HEIGHT.

Ideally, the top of your monitor should be at eye-level when you are looking directly forward. Some monitors have adjustable stands, making it easy to raise or lower them. Others have more basic stands, and you’ll need to elevate them on a solid platform (not on top of a wobbly pile of paperbacks!) to get the height right. You can buy a simple monitor riser cheaply enough, but making your own customized one is an easy DIY project if you have the time. Some 1 by 8 inch lumber, a few screws, and some wood glue should do it.

4. PUT SOME COLOR IN YOUR WORKING LIFE.

Scientific studies, like this one published in SAGE, show that color affects mood and motivation. You may have heard people say things like “green makes you calmer” or “red makes you aggressive,” but it’s not as simple as that. We respond to color in complex ways, so we need variety and balance in the colors in our workspace environment, and colors should be appropriate to the space.

Warm yellow may be a good choice for the walls in your office, whereas bright red may not. But having a few blocks of red here and there is better than a sterile white space. Well-chosen, colorful pictures can also improve an office immensely. Try introducing some of your own artwork into your workspace. Many online printing services will now print to canvas, so you can make your psychedelic Photoshop creations look professional. Photograph some bright flowers, blow up huge, print on canvas—easy.

5. GET BAFFLED.

Workspace noise can distract you from productive tasks. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to baffle this kind of noise with sound insulation. Acoustic panels or screens work well but can be expensive. For a DIY version, cover dense mineral wool board with an attractive fabric. Fix these to your walls as panels, or frame them with timber and hinge together to make a screen.

6. WORK WITH PLANTS.

Potted plants add color and interest to a workspace. By putting a little outside environment inside in the form of plants, we perhaps feel less constrained by our artificial surroundings and tend to relax a bit more. Plants can even improve the air quality in your workspace. Some office equipment and lighting emits ozone gas, which can be toxic in high doses. This study from the American Society for Horticultural Science looked at some common indoor plants with rich foliage and found that they reduced levels of ozone in enclosed spaces.

7. RELOCATE THE COFFEE.

We all need regular breaks during our workday. Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget to stop and move about every so often when you’re immersed in a task (especially if you’re in the pleasurable mental state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi named “flow”.) To force yourself to move, you need an incentive. And what better incentive than a steaming mug of strong coffee? If your kettle or coffeemaker is in your workspace, move it to another room—or at least a decent distance from your desk. That way you’ll get the same coffee buzz plus a short break and some added exercise.

8. QUIZ YOUR LOCATION MOTIVATION.

You may have found that you work better in a different environment—a coffee shop, a diner, an airplane, a hotel lobby—than at your desk. If so, try to figure out what it is about that environment that allows you to concentrate well. Make a list of your impressions of that place (furnishings, lighting, colors, sounds, aromas, etc.), then try to bring some of those elements to your regular workspace. So, for example, if your favorite cafe plays instrumental jazz, compile some playlists that you can listen to at your desk.

9. RAID YOUR KITCHEN TO DE-CLUTTER YOUR DESK.

Of all the clutter in your workspace, it’s the stuff in your near visual field on your desk that causes most “neural competition” for your attention. Some people are almost fetishistic about having the “right” accessories to organize their desk, that it all has to be a coordinated (and probably expensive) set. But you can organize your desktop clutter without any fancy accessories. First, get rid of any stuff you don’t need. Then, raid your kitchen cupboards for useful tubs and storage boxes. I’ll bet you can fit more handy markers and rulers into an old coffee mug than the average exec can fit into his black leather, hand-stitched, laser-engraved fountain-pen stand.

10. DE-CLUTTER YOUR OTHER DESKTOP.

Some clutter is virtual, like the clutter of icons on your computer desktop. They may not be physical in the way that your hole punch is, but they still draw your attention and make it difficult to find the app or document you are looking for. Having too many may even slow down your computer. If you can, clear your computer desktop at the end of each working day.

11. UNWIND WITH CABLE MANAGEMENT.

A tangled cable mess can be a distracting eyesore. Fortunately, it’s easy to get it all organized without unplugging altogether. Braided sleeving is great when you want to bunch cables together for a permanent installation. Even a sturdy cardboard tube will help to hold cables in check. Binder clips are another great way to keep cables organized and flush with the sides or back of your desk. If you have space, fix a basket or rail to the rear of your desk to hold floor-trailing cables up and out of sight.

12. MIX IT UP.

Even if you have a great everyday working space, a little spatial variety helps you to stay productive. Try creating “sub spaces”—different zones within your main workspace. You could have, say, a standing desk in one zone and a seated one in another. You could have a minimalist “contemplation space,” perhaps screened off from your main desk. Or you could have a comfortable lounging space with added benefits. “Embodied cognition” theory hints that our mental states are connected intimately with physical stuff we interact with. So, kicking back for a while on a beanbag in your workspace might let you clear your head enough to come up with a revolutionary squashy, warm, comfortable new idea.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
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If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
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If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
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While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
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Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
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Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.

1. IT’S BASED ON A STAGE PLAY.

Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.

2. ALFRED HITCHCOCK THOUGHT HE WAS “COASTING” WHEN HE MADE THE FILM.

By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.

3. IT’S HITCHCOCK’S ONLY 3D FILM.

In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.

4. IT WAS HITCHCOCK’S FIRST FILM WITH GRACE KELLY.

Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.

5. IT TAKES PLACE ALMOST ENTIRELY INDOORS.

Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.

6. HITCHCOCK PERSONALLY CHOSE EVERY PROP.

Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.

7. KELLY’S WARDROBE GROWS DARKER ON PURPOSE.

Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.

8. KELLY WON A PARTICULAR WARDROBE ARGUMENT.

For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.

9. HITCHCOCK WAS SO NERVOUS ABOUT THE PIVOTAL SCENE THAT HE LOST WEIGHT.

Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.

10. HITCHCOCK MAKES HIS CAMEO IN A PHOTOGRAPH.

Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.

11. IT’S BEEN REMADE FOUR TIMES.

Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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