How the Height of Ceilings Impacts the Way You Think (and How Ceiling Heights Will Help You Improve Productivity)
by Brian Vaszily, founder of IntenseExperiences.com
For over seventeen years now it has been like this. When I’m at work on something requiring creativity and “big-picture thinking," such as writing a book or a feature like my recent Why Your Opinions are Likely KILLING You piece here, I find I do my best work in the cafés of certain bookstores.
However, when I need to do “detail work" such as researching information or number crunching, I perform far better at my home office.
One of the key differences between the cafés and my home office?
The ceiling height.
The ceilings in my office are about ten feet high, while the ceilings in bookstore cafés can be double or even triple that.
Over the years I theorized ceiling height had something to do with my effectiveness (or lack thereof) in these different types of thinking, but just as often I counter-theorized that I was full of it and seeing a correlation where there was none.
Turns out I was wrong, and I was right.
A fascinating new study called The Influence of Ceiling Height reveals that high-ceiling areas encourage big picture thinking and greater creativity, while lower-ceiling areas induce better focus and attention to detail.
Researcher Joan Meyers-Levy, author of the study and professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, said that, “when people are in a room with a high ceiling, they activate the idea of freedom. In a low-ceilinged room, they activate more constrained, confined concepts."
So take a few minutes to consider the different types of work you do – in your job, at home – and the type of rooms you currently work in. And then consider…
How to Make Ceilings Work for You
Who would’ve thought that ceilings could be such a friend to your productivity?
If you are in any type of business or hobby where you need to come up with new ideas, solutions, or create something, it seems the best type of environment to do that in would be one with high ceilings.
So the next few times you need to brainstorm or create, try this experiment: if you typically do this type of work in an office with nine- or ten-foot ceilings, for example, head off to a library with much higher ceilings and see how you feel, and how your output is impacted, by doing so there instead.
If you manage team brainstorming meetings at work, or you host a group such as a book club, try hosting the meetings in higher-ceiling areas to see if it opens minds wider for more ideas and commentary to come pouring out.
Conversely, the next time you need to focus “down" on a very specific task, such as balancing your checkbook, doing your taxes, or performing open-heart surgery on a friend (that’s a joke … unless you are a surgeon), try doing so in a room whose ceiling is lower than where you currently may perform such tasks.
Now I am guessing there are limits to how low you can go – performing such detail work inside a cardboard box would likely result in great discomfort that would negatively impact your productivity (but hey, who knows, give it a try!) But if, for example, you currently do your home budgeting and bills in the dining room where there are high ceilings, try moving the work to another room in the house such as at the kitchen table where ceilings are lower. You will likely find you really can better focus on the detail work.
And If You Have Kids…
In the same way ceiling heights can impact how well you perform different types of tasks; it can help your children. For example, it would follow that they’d improve their performance on homework requiring focused concentration such as math in a lower-ceiling area, while any more creative-oriented homework such as writing an English class essay or story would be better achieved in a high-ceiling area of the home or library.
The Influence of Ceiling Height report also suggests, “low ceilings may encourage quieter, more restricted play, while higher ceilings (e.g., above eight feet) foster more active (i.e., freer) play." This may be some of the most relieving practical information a parent of young and active children could ever get!
There is certainly a lot of other practical potential with these low-ceiling/high-ceiling findings. Certain types of discussions with loved ones and other important people in your life may fare somewhat better under high or low ceilings. Teaching students certain types of subject matter may work better under high or low ceilings.
Sky’s the limit, especially if you are in a high-ceilinged area to consider all the possibilities.
How to Make Sure They Aren’t Using Ceilings Against You
While you’ll likely find ceiling heights can be used to your advantage, be cautious because they can also be used by others against you.
Walk into most retail stores, such as Best Buy, Home Depot, or your local grocery store, and look up. You will notice high ceilings, some literally rising two stories. Like every other feature in retail stores, it was designed that way for marketing purposes first and foremost.
As you can likely infer by now, the high ceilings tend to induce an open, free, “let go" feeling … great when you are trying to come up with creative solutions, but not so great if you are trying to stick to a budget and shopping plan.
If you don’t remain vigilantly aware of such sneaky marketing tactics, they can easily have you feeling free and breezy about buying things you never intended to buy and spending more than you intended to spend … it may even feel like these are smart purchases that will make you happier, liked more by other people, or a better person.
Of course when you’re back at home (under lower ceilings) figuring out how much you overspent, how much junk food or unnecessary items you “somehow" ended up with, so goes all the perceived benefits.
So watch for the sneaky marketing tactics, including those high ceilings in retail places. Maybe this is yet another reason to shop online from home more often. Maybe it’s a reason to shop online from the most low-ceiling room in your house, like a crawlspace!
Then again, I am writing this in a high-ceiling area and may be carrying it a bit too far. But I’m sure you will find that, for both your productivity and your protection, being aware of ceiling heights can make a difference.