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It should come as no shock that as a society we are spending more and more time glued to our computer screens and mobile devices. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily mean that we are more productive. In fact, it has been documented that one of the largest reasons for declines in personal productivity, despite advances in technology, is that we are too plugged into electronics and are no longer connecting to the natural world. The prescription to increase your productivity? More time outside!
Research suggests that there are numerous benefits associated with regular access to nature whether real, or mimicked, within office or school settings. Productivity is the result of several factors: mood, job satisfaction, health and well-being, and the ability to recharge the body and mind after an intense period of work or study. All of these can be enhanced by being in natural surroundings.
Studies that those will regular access to nature are 8% more productive than those who are unable to seek respite in natural areas. Additionally, people who are frequently able to take breaks outside are a higher level of well-being by as much as 13%. They also report better overall well-being, are sick less often and recover faster, have improved attention spans leading to higher quality work with fewer mistakes, and have better memories.
For those with some access to nature
Higher Levels of Well-Being
Decrease in Sick Days
In the 1980's, a theory on the subject was developed by Rachel and Stephan Kaplan claiming that people concentrate better after spending time in nature, or alternately, by looking at scenes of nature. They coined the idea as Attention Restoration Theory. In summary, they believed that being exposed to nature could help alleviate symptoms of mental fatigue by allowing the mind to temporarily focus on a serene setting. Considering the amount of brain power it takes to focus on any given task, a break which allows us to shift our attention to the natural world can do wonders to rejuvenate our mental focus.
Many studies suggest the same results. Regardless of whether the natural setting is real or recreated within one's environment, they have similar effects. While venturing outdoors to soak up nature in its truest form is ideal, it has been found that spaces that incorporate natural elements do help to restore some productivity and overall mood. Some studies suggest we should seek out an hour each day to soak ourselves in wild greenery. However, a more realistic approach is 10 or 15 minute breaks periodically throughout the day. Especially when facing a challenging work or study load.
If you live, work, or attend school in an urban jungle, running off into the wilderness for a mid-afternoon break might be completely unrealistic, but there are strategies you can implement:
Even if there is no green space nearby, get outside at least once or twice a day. A little fresh air and sun can produce astounding results in terms of productivity.
Bring the outdoors in. Plants can provide a boost to your mental state and help remedy your "biophilia" which is your innate need to connect with the natural world. Plants also help clean and filter the air of toxins while increasing oxygen levels.
Screen savers depicting images of natural settings have been proven to be beneficial in helping lower blood pressure and can promote relaxation during breaks or between tasks.
Offices with views of green spaces or natural vegetation yield up to 19% fewer sick days according to one study of workers in a university building in Oregon. Whenever possible, position your work space so that you can enjoy the view.
Audio of nature can be just as beneficial as the visual counterparts. Listening to sounds found in nature, such as a rushing stream, birds singing, or even the gentle sounds of wind, help improve mood and productivity. When you can't simply crack a window to let the sounds of nature in, give noisli (http://www.noisli.com) a shot, which allows you to mix your own combination of sounds.
Lighting that mimics natural light, as opposed to florescent or artificial lights that are a detriment to productivity due to eyestrain and headaches, help keep employees and students focused rather than drowsy, and promotes a livelier workspace than one that is dark and drab. You might also take into consideration that sleep is also enhanced when exposed to natural, as opposed to, artificial light.
If, at the end of the day, you find yourself questioning what you actually accomplished, consider whether or not you made time to disconnect from the electronics and mind-numbing tasks so that you could connect with the natural world.
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