Look at Nature and be More Productive

Go ahead and let your gaze look out that window while you work. If you get caught, tell your boss that you’re just getting ready to be more productive!

The challenge: Can looking at nature—even just a scenic screen saver—really improve your focus? How much can 40 seconds of staring at grass actually help? Ms. Lee, defend your research.

Lee: We implicitly sense that nature is good for us, and there has been a lot of research into its extensive social, health, and mental benefits and the mechanisms through which they occur. Our findings suggest that engaging in these green microbreaks—taking time to look at nature through the window, on a walk outside, or even on a screen saver—can be really helpful for improving attention and performance in the workplace.

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Focus Less on Work to Improve Everything – Even Your Job

Stressed about not getting enough done at work? Don’t be. It turns out that you can improve how much you get things done at the office by not thinking about it. Turn your attention elsewhere and focus on things that do matter instead.

But, how can performance at work improve with less attention paid to it? There are several reasons:

  • Clearer focus on results that really matter to the people around you.
  • Less wasted effort on activities that aren’t that important.
  • Reduced psychological interference across domains as a result of being less distracted, because you’re taking care of critical needs in those other parts.
  • A virtuous cycle of benefits from one part of your life spilling over to other parts; for example, greater confidence, less crankiness, and a stronger sense of control.

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A Green Office is a Productive Office

Workplaces aren’t associated with fun, but there are certain designs of places that can make places more enjoyable. It turns out that buildings designed with sustainability in mind tend to be a better, more productive place to work. You should convince your boss that you should move to a green building.

Until that happens here’s a solution that you can put into action rather quickly:


Windows also help by providing views–something that’s especially helpful if you’re looking at nature. Looking at trees or a park is proven to make employees less frustrated, more patient, healthier, and more focused on work. Indoor plants, too, help make people more efficient and better able to concentrate. If you don’t have a view or a plant, even pictures of nature can help.

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Walk It Off, Structured Downtime for Productivity

Working all day is hard – so don’t do it. In many desk jobs one doesn’t need to be there from 9-5, indeed we can be more productive by not being there. More evidence keeps cropping up that we are animals that need exercise and a diversity of daily experiences.

Going for a walk mid-afternoon might be just what you need. It’s easy, just get up and do it.

And structured downtime doesn’t just help the world’s greatest writers and thinkers do their best work; it helps all of us while we’re learning and striving to achieve tasks. Or at least it would, if someone told us how important it actually is. “We spend from 12 to 16 years of our lives in formal education institutions. And yet, we’re never given any kind of real formal instruction on how to learn effectively,” says Oakley. “It’s mindboggling, isn’t it?”

In fact, suggests Oakley, there are some very simple techniques and insights that can make you way better at learning—insights based on modern cognitive neuroscience. The most central is indeed this idea that while you obviously have to focus your cognitive energies in order to learn something (or write something, or read something, or to memorize something), that’s only part of what counts. In addition to this “focused mode”—which relies on your brain’s prefrontal cortex—we also learn through a “diffuse mode,” rooted in the operations of a variety of different brain regions. In fact, the brain switches back and forth between these modes regularly. (For those familiar with Daniel Kahneman’s famous book Thinking, Fast and Slow, the diffuse mode would be analogous to Kahneman’s “System 1,” and the focused mode to “System 2.”)

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France Pays People to Cycle to Work

France is experimenting with new way to subsidize transportation by getting more people to bicycle to work. Traffic in Paris is particularly awful and with ongoing population growth and car-focused infrastructure the transportation problems are only going to increase. France is hoping that getting people to ride bicycles will stymie the growth of transportation issues.

French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier, noting that commuting using public transport and cars is already subsidized, said that if results of the test are promising, a second experiment on a larger scale will be done.

The ministry hopes that the bike-to-work incentive scheme will boost bike use for commuting by 50 percent from 2.4 percent of all work-home journeys, or about 800 million km, with an average distance of 3.5 km per journey.

In Belgium, where a tax-free bike incentive scheme has been in place for more than five years, about 8 percent of all commutes are on bicycles. In the flat and bicycle-friendly Netherlands, it is about 25 percent, cycling organizations say.

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