In this digital age, avoiding the distractions of instant messenger pop-ups, calendar reminders and email notifications is sometimes harder than the work itself. These productivity thieves send you off down rabbit holes that can take hours out of your day and leave you tapping away at your keyboard long after the office has emptied out.
Sacrificing your lunch hour seems like your best chance of reclaiming that work-life balance you’ve heard so much about. All too often that means an uninspiring meal deal wolfed down at your desk while you plough through endless to-do lists. Or write more lists, if that’s your thing.
But what if we told you there’s a better way? That spending time not working might actually mean you achieve more in your day? As it turns out, staring idly out of the window might actually be the key to success. We’re not even kidding.
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that shutting off and reconnecting with nature will make you better and more efficient at your job. We’re not suggesting that you throw off your shoes and bury your feet in the nearest flower bed.
But stepping out from behind your desk to take in a lungful of fresh air – or tricking your brain into believing you’re somewhere a little more natural – brings with it a host of benefits. Here’s our top five. Best read outdoors.
Attention restoration theory suggests that concentration needs topping up at regular intervals. Counter to what you might think, people who take frequent breaks perform better than those who work on something for a prolonged period.
It turns out that the most effective way to do this is by spending time in or simply looking at nature. A four-day immersion in the Costa Rican jungle can improve problem-solving skills by as much as 50%. But how do you boost your team during the qualification period? Psychologists have found that the addition of a couple of houseplants within sight of your desk is enough to boost productivity by 15%.
The first humans evolved to thrive on the plains of East Africa. So it stands to reason that spending time interacting with the natural world would have its benefits. Especially given the lack of top predators in our particular East London habitat.
Studies by Harvard physician Eva Selhub suggest that spending time outdoors actually lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Good news for the time-poor. You can even trick your brain into a state of blissful relaxation by listening to sounds of nature (Spotify has a whole genre dedicated to this).
Memory lapses don’t tend to go over well in the professional world. When the stakes are high and the pressure is on, there’s no time and no excuse for forgetfulness. A 2008 study showed that people who looked at photos of nature performed 20% better on working memory tests.
Whether you’re trying to nail that sales pitch without shuffling through piles of notes or build rapport with a client, a quick flick through your favourite coffee table book might be the boost you need. Remember, a good memory is good for business.
In Japan, the practice of shinrinyoku, or forest bathing, is a cornerstone of modern healthcare. The practice isn’t some kind of new-age sorcery. It’s an increasingly well-evidenced custom that’s garnered a lot of popular and scientific interest in recent years.
Exposure to nature makes us feel more relaxed and shifts our bodies out of ‘fight or flight’ mode. This means that the body can devote resources to repairing itself and restoring the full function of the immune system – with the added advantage that you’re nowhere near Ian from accounting who never covers his mouth when he coughs.
Ecotherapy (a type of treatment that involves taking part in nature-based activities) has been shown to help people who are suffering from mental health problems. It can contribute to reduced levels of anxiety, stress and depression. Until recently, however, there was little scientific proof to back up the strong anecdotal evidence that nature is good for you.
In 2016, a team at Harvard University released the results of their eight-year study of 100,000 nurses living throughout the USA. They found that those living the greenest areas had a 30% lower rate of depression and anti-depressant medication use than those living in the most urban areas.
We get it, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos with little time to connect with the outdoors. But whether you choose to spend a long weekend in the country, glance out of your window, buy a few desk plants, or listen to Spotify’s Nature Sounds playlist, you might just find the chaos a little more manageable.
Prescribe yourself a daily dose of nature and the productivity will follow. *
*symptoms may also include hayfever.