A few years ago, I stumbled on an activity that has helped me come up with my best business ideas. It’s simple; leave the office and take a walk.
Earlier in my career, I never left the office until all work was complete. I thought it would show some lack of dedication to step away for a minute, but since then I have found that taking a walk has become my favorite problem solving tool.
Taking short walks to clear your head is great for several reasons:
- Perspective: When stress levels increase it can be difficult to creatively problem solve and come up with your best ideas. Stepping away and walking through the world can give perspective and help you to internalize the true weight of the problem you need to solve (Hint: It’s never as big as our stressed out brain thinks). When I look at the changing leaves and inhale the crisp fall air the issue that was a constant knot in my shoulder doesn’t look that intimidating and I’m able to calm down and come up with a creative solution.
- Productivity: Taking quick breaks improves productivity. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Studies from the Mayo Clinic, the University of Illinois and Baylor University have shown that taking breaks allows us to complete tasks more efficiently and come back to them with a renewed energy and focus.
- Exercise: We are leading increasingly sedentary lives – sitting at a desk, staring at a glowing screen for hours on end. Even thirty minutes a day of walking (and it doesn’t have to be done at once) has been shown to not only get our creative juices flowing, but it also improves our health and decreases our risk for chronic disease. An hour a day at the gym isn’t always an option in our busy lives, but taking a walk can give a lot of the benefits of gym time without the larger time commitment.
- Nature: Related to us leading more sedentary lives is the lack of nature in a typical workweek. A lot of us go from our houses to our cars to our offices and back again. Stepping outside helps with perspective, as I mentioned, but has also been shown to increase short-term memory (according to a University of Michigan study) and improve creative thinking (according to a Psychological Science study).
There has been a vast improvement in my level of stress and creativity since I started making walking a priority. When I lived in New York, I used to walk a block to the subway, go underground to stand on a concrete platform watching less than picturesque scenes until I could stuff myself into a metal subway car with the rest of the commuting passengers before fighting my way out. I’d then walk a block to my office and sit in a cubicle all day. I was tired and worn-out before I even arrived at work.
So I started trying different activities to change that, and walking turned out to be inspiring. I started walking during my work day and at times even walked home from work. It was 100 Manhattan blocks that I tried to cover in a block a minute, which turned out to help with getting mostly green lights. My mood improved and I was able to solve problems faster, more creatively, and with less stress.
When I moved to Seattle a year and a half ago, I picked my home based on being able to walk to work in 30 minutes or less and that turned out to be a wonderful decision for me. Turning my underground commute to a nature-filled stroll has improved my productivity even more. I have my walk home to think about the day and organize my thoughts. Walking has had a profound effect in my working life and it can in yours too.