Can Certain Scents Help Us Focus and Be More Productive?

Scent and Productivity

Our mind wanders nearly half of the time we’re awake, according to one study. And since that study was published, it feels as if we’ve become even more distracted. But also, our mind wandering (the research term is “stimulus-independent thought” pattern) is so natural to us that most of us don’t even notice it. Once you factor in other daily distractions such as technology, social media, and a 24-hour news cycle, it’s no wonder most of us have trouble staying focused. We only have a finite amount of attention to give each day, and it can feel like a game of tug of war where our already-distracted minds are being pulled in a million different directions.

When you think of tools to help you stay focused, and even boost productivity, smelling something is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, scent is a valuable aid. Scent has the potential to alter our moods, relax us, help us sleep, and more. For example, research has found that lavender can foster feelings of relaxation, promote sleep, and even ease anxiety. And sweet orange (aka bergamot) can boost your mood

(Read more about the connection between scent and anxiety here.)

Scent also has the power to help us become a little less distracted and more productive at work, school, and home.

  • Rosemary, for instance, when diffused in a room was shown to help people perform better on memory tasks, such as remembering events or recalling where objects were hidden (compared to a similar group who were in a room without rosemary). 
  • Peppermint is another helpful scent, and it doesn’t need to be strong. Research has found that just a light scent of peppermint—call it ambient—improved both memory and attention in a 2019 study
  • Citrus scents like grapefruit, sweet orange, and specifically lemon have been shown to boost work performance

These are just a few examples of how certain scents can help with focus and increase productivity. The newest frontier is pairing scent with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Adding olfaction-based therapy to VR makes VR that much more immersive, which ultimately translates to a more effective experience. In fact, some scientists have deemed the combination of scent and VR as the “holy grail of human-technology interactions.” 

The Bottom Line

To answer the question we began with—yes, certain scents can help us focus, be more productive, and boost our memory. How often we’re distracted doesn’t seem to be changing—we’ll likely continue to live in a world where our minds wander 50 percent of the time. And while we only have a certain amount of attention to give each day, incorporating scents, such as rosemary, peppermint, bergamot, and other citrus scents, into our daily routines and experiences can help us focus and stay on task.  


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