We hear a lot about productivity these days: it seems as though we’re always looking for ways to do more with less time and fewer emotional resources.
Read on for one unorthodox way to boost your productivity that is also good for your body, mind, and spirit.
To feeding and freeing your whole life,
Do less to do more? Here’s one way.
According to Dr. Eva Selhub, clinical associate at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, compared to 1980, we now cram in an extra 4.4 hours per day of information consumption outside of work (an increase largely by screen-based media).
Yet even with access to all that information, we still feel like we’re always behind — and as a result of the relentless intake and processing, our brains are taxed and fatigued, and ironically, our productivity and creativity suffer.
Our standard model for increasing productivity? We put in longer hours. We up our screen time in the form of research, reading, watching, trying to stay on top of every trend. We buy expensive programs and systems and software. We up our intake of caffeine. We look to the latest in technology, hunker down, and get to work.
What if the key to increased creativity and productivity was free and could take as little as 20 minutes?
Dr. Selhub is also the co-author of a book called Your Brain On Nature. She explains what the research on info-overload finds:
[T]he human brain is wired for info-desire. Seeking information can feel good; it is a process rewarded through brain pathways in the same way we are rewarded for seeking sustenance and shelter. But … just as the brain’s reward system can be hijacked by calorie-dense junk food, the lure of instant screen-based information can be overpowering, displacing health-promoting activities, such as exercise, meaningful social interaction, and the rejuvenating act of contemplation.
For our ancestors, there was a big reward for being tuned-in to the natural world: awareness of cycles and seasons, knowing when to seek shelter, of the best berry patches or hunting grounds. Our brains still know that there’s huge value in being outside and being familiar with natural surroundings, and they still crave that “green time.”
Additionally, just twenty minutes out for a walk in a park, or even just sitting under a tree and quietly taking in your surroundings, has a calming effect on the stress center of our lower brains. Our brains get a breather — time to rejuvenate and rest a little.
This allows energy to be re-directed to our prefrontal cortex — which in turn increases executive function, allows for clearer , and creates mental space for bursts of creativity and flashes of insight.
The strange truth is that the key to getting more done is actually slowing down and taking to do less.
As if that’s not enough, Dr. Selhub’s research also found that time in nature: reduces illness and the biomarkers for disease, improves mental health, boosts concentration, improves memory, and increases our ability to connect empathically with others and our desire to act altruistically.
Even in concrete jungles, there’s a move for urban areas with high-density living and working to add green spaces or mini-parks interspersed with sidewalks and skyscrapers. (Urban dwellers who live within one kilometer of green space to have a much higher level of life satisfaction, even when income is taken into consideration.)
But even tiny terrace gardens or a collection of potted flowers and herbs on a tenth-story balcony can have a positive effect in between longer exposures to the natural world — the simple act of digging in dirt can re-connect us with that part of us that longs for natural surroundings.
And when you do get a chance to be around trees, streams, breeze, birds singing, and the smells of flowers and earth, you can partake in what the Japanese call (Japanese “forest bathing” or “forest therapy”).
Bring a book, take a walk, have a quiet conversation — and enjoy the added benefits of increased cerebral blood flow, empowered immune defense, better productivity, real connection, and improved mental health.
Interested in methods for maximizing your mind’s potential?
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