September 4, 2015

To Get More Done, Leave Work

3 minute read, in Culture

My eyes glaze over when I read blogs preaching time management solutions. They’re smart and loaded with multi-step processes involving new programs, tools and toys. But as soon as the pitch begins and the answer isn’t in the first sentence, my brain says “NOPE. NEXT.”

For the same reason I’m not allowed to build the shelves in our house. If it has to get done, I’ll happily grab a drill and stick them up. Maybe even with anchors. But there’ll be no level, and no re-dos.

If the work I don’t want to do is more work than the work I do want to do, my get-er-done attitude says “no-way-man.”

Then I came up with this holy rule for time management:

Go for a walk after you finish something.

That’s it. This is why it works:

Brain switching

If you wear multiple hats at your job, you might find it a struggle to switch your brain to the next thing (I know I do). By leaving the office for a stroll, my mind thinks I’m going somewhere else, and is ready to fire in a new way when I reach my destination (return to the office).

People with PHDs have already figured this out.

“Walking has been shown to improve our ability to shift between modes of thought, and to improve our attention, memory and recovery from mental fatigue.”

– Dr Sowden of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey.

Walking is such a pragmatic solution, that even philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard got behind it:

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

Not surprisingly, Kierkegaard had a standing desk!

Better scheduling

Like the plant you bought with good intentions and then ruined, a weekly schedule that isn’t updated and maintained quickly becomes clutter. Sometimes when I am super focused I neglect my weekly schedule. When I eventually surface it’s no longer useful.

By going for a walk each time you complete a task, you physically discipline yourself to check-in with where you’re at in a process, are more likely to stay on top of timelines and are better able to adapt to new developments.

Actress Felicia Day talks about the benefits of discipline related to scheduling:

When I am most productive I am the most ruthless with my schedule. I will literally make a daily checklist with, “one hour gym”, “30 minutes of internet research,” and “drink 3 glasses of water” on it. For some reason being that disciplined creates a sense of control that I wouldn’t have otherwise, as a self-employed person, and I get the most out of the scheduled hours that I have for writing.”

Creative boost

When I leave for walks I try not to think about work. I also try not to have a purpose because then its not really a break. Instead I check out the sounds and sights.

CS Lewis thought that even talking could spoil the walk.

“The only friend to walk with is one who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared.”

As plentiful as research studies on the health benefits of walking, are testimonials from creative greats.

The most dramatic example I found was Dickens, who walked 20-30 miles a day. Dickens said that if he couldn’t walk “far and fast,” he would “explode and perish” from the psychological burden of remaining still. Walking was so important for Dickens because it meant he wasn’t writing, the act of which he found miserable and difficult.

And any trick that got Dickens through the day is surely worth trying!




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