Why we do our best work outdoors

A guide to becoming your most creative and productive self

January 28, 2015

The beginning of the year has a way of insisting that we take a moment to pause. Our calendars are suddenly light, bellies unbearably full and the ambition to tame our ‘to do’ list is at its annual high.

We also naturally begin to wonder whether there might be a better way to arrange our lives, so there’s more clarity and time to do the things we really want to do. What can we do to feel like to we’re getting the important things done, harnessing our creativity and not running on empty?

To kick start your year we’ve put together our best tips for creativity and productivity. To make the most of them you need only do two things: lace up and get outside.

What’s in a walk?

Leaving your desk for a stroll might at first sound counter intuitive to getting work done, however trust us when we say that Mother Nature has got your back. German and American researchers recently found that the colour green actually enhances our creative problem solving abilities. When participants were shown either the colour green, white, red, grey or blue and then asked to complete a creative task, those who had glimpsed green were better able to come up with creative solutions.


the colour green actually enhances our creative problem solving abilities

 

So why not simply turn your desk into a leafy paradise? You’d certainly have the most enviable desk in the office, but you’d be missing two key elements in the creativity equation: motion and pace. In other words, when it comes to becoming our most creative and productive selves, we also need to get moving and more importantly, keep it slow.

The fluid motion that comes from placing one foot in front of another seems to be the perfect match for the pace of our thoughts. And the effects are two-fold. Firstly, we’re better able to explore our inner world and reach solutions to problems that seem impossible while everyday pressures vie for our attention. Secondly, walking allows us to also discover our outer world anew, leading to those aha moments that artists take inspiration from. In walking, we find a momentum and clarity that our deadline-driven schedules simply don’t allow.

Be aimless

Charles Dickens was said to have strolled 20 miles every day, but he certainly didn’t have a tweet deck, or a roster of school pick-ups to follow. The good news is you don’t have to be a 19th century writer to harness the power of walking. One of the best ways to make the most of a walk is to leave behind the idea of a fixed destination. Give yourself free rein to explore your neighbourhood or a local park, and take the time to pause without feeling that there is a right or wrong way.

Walk mindfully

Mindfulness practice is a form of meditation that helps combat stress and improves focus. It’s been around for thousands of years but has recently gained a lot of popularity as an increasing amount of studies show its benefits on the mind. The practice itself involves focusing on your breath and learning not to be judgmental of your thoughts. So what has it got to do with walking? Mindful walking is a great way to practice this while in motion. To begin, you could try walking at a steady pace, slightly slower than in daily life and tune into the sensation of each foot rolling off the ground and reconnecting again.

Go alone

It’s difficult to tune into your inner world or experience what’s really happening around you when you’re thinking of what’s next on your to do list. Try thinking of a walk as the ultimate you time and leave behind your phone and resist the urge to use the time as a social catch-up.

Embrace the ordinary

Weekend getaways are a terrific way to relax, but what can you do mid-week when mountain views aren’t readily available? Cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz thinks we shouldn’t underestimate a stroll around the block. After being inspired by her young daughter’s fascination with everyday objects on the street, Horowitz enlisted eleven experts to walk around a Manhattan neighbourhood and wrote about what they saw. She very quickly discovered that there is wonder to be found in the ordinary if you take the time to look for it. A walk—done with a healthy sense of curiosity—helps us develop new and interesting ways of perceiving the world. And that, surely, is how great ideas are born.