By Kirsten Nelson On February 06, 2009
There is much in our everyday lives that becomes so routine we barely even notice what’s happening around us on our craziest days. But every once in a while, one of those mystical movie moments occurs. A butterfly hovers outside your office window, or the clouds clear and a rainbow arches across the sky. Even if we only have a split second to appreciate these flutters of natural wonder, they can trigger a sense of rejuvenation in even the most harried office worker.
Well, in addition to common sense, there’s now scientific proof that those momentary
distractions can actually be good for productivity. In this most trying of economic times, it might be a good idea to step away from your desk every now and again to reap the benefits described as science’s breath of fresh “attention restoration theory”. According to a health forum on The New York Times website, the human brain operates in either “directed” or “involuntary” attention mode. Work tasks, of course, require the former of these types. But those random sounds and visions presented by our surroundings, particularly those related to “nature” outside the office, trigger our involuntary attention. This gives our mind a chance to change channels for a while, and restores our focus quite a bit.
This all seems pretty hum-drum and obvious—who doesn’t know that taking a quick break is a good idea? But attention restoration theory specifically points to natural vistas as the ones that reinvigorate us the most. This new look at old knowledge is changing our learning and professional landscape. Already, new schools are being built with green areas visible from classroom windows. Maybe it’s time you really looked at those hedges outside the conference room window.
This is a tough working habit transformation to make, especially in the average industrial office landscape. But time in nature shouldn’t be taken for granted, according to researchers who’ve watched cognitive ability improve after our ears prick up at the sounds of nature.
So at a time when focus on work is at a critical juncture, make sure you refresh your point of view every once and a while, if only for a brief moment. Shift your focus. Let your visual and aural senses take you on a detour from work. Just for 15 minutes. You’ll gain a fresh perspective on work when you get back to your desk. With a little bit of luck, the view from the desk will improve soon, too.