When Audrey Smith, Vice President for Enrollment at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, prepares for a meeting with the college's board of trustees, the first thing she does is get out of her office for a walk around the tranquil leafy campus. "My presentations to the board involve a lot of sophisticated metrics," says Smith, "and I have a limited time to give trustees the complex information they need to understand current enrollment trends." So in order to plan a talk that is cogent and concise, Smith finds that "walking helps me order my thoughts and eliminate non-essential details from my report to the trustees." She laughs and adds, "I don’t know why, but it works!"
Scientists at Stanford back up Smith’s claim: in a recent study they showed that walking measurably boosts creative thinking both during and after the walk. This effect was even greater when the walk takes place outside.
Here are 5 reasons adding more walking to your day will improve productivity.
1. Walking activates your imagination.
The Stanford research report says that walking enhances your mind's ability to make new associations, thus strengthening your ability to assemble facts and figures. Walkers had "more ideas, and the ideas tapped each person's unique associative network, which led to an increase in novelty compared with other people's ideas," write the scientists.
2. Walking helps blow off steam.
A brisk walk dissipates anger and frustration. Pound the pavement instead of your desk--your colleagues will thank you and you'll avoid angry words and ugly confrontations. Long ago I made it a rule to take a five-minute walk before raising a disagreement with a colleague, and my rule has served well. I use the time to reframe my anger and channel it into a constructive criticism.
3. Walking promotes creativity.
When I have just the germ of an idea, I have found that a leisurely walk helps me develop the germ into something useful. It's easier to free-associate when walking. I use my smartphone to record notes. It’s also easier to form mental pictures, which is crucial for the work I do in branding imaging. Walking stimulates creative thinking confirms the study as well.
4. Walking creates community.
Steve Jobs favored walking meetings, and so do Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey. But you needn't be a tech guru to take advantage of the benefits that walking brings to developing a relationship with a potential client, or fostering a climate of workplace cooperation. Use the power of "movement synchrony" to foster rapport and agreement. In other words, as you walk with another person, you both adjust to a mutual rhythm, or gait--that's movement synchrony. Through mechanisms not yet clearly understood but scientifically documented, the physical synchronicity becomes psychological as well.
5. Walking boosts fitness.
We mustn't forget that walking not only improves our brains and imagination; it also lifts our physical and emotional fitness. It keeps us away from the empty calories lurking in the break room, and gives our eyes much-needed respite from the computer screen.
So, the next time a co-worker asks for a meeting, tell him to take a hike. And you'll go with him.