Could you nurture your best work with a little bit of nature?

Person sitting outside

Last night, I watched the satirical TV panel show “Have I Got News For You?” which showed a clip that had me chuckling. It was the Fox News presenter Jesse Watters suggesting that Donald Trump’s trial was unfair because the judge was making the defendant sit down all day. No, it’s not a joke. April Fool’s Day is behind us. Mr Watters really said this in the clip, which you can watch here.

It may sound bonkers, but Mr Watters does have something of a point. Sitting on their behinds all day is unhealthy for anyone in the courtroom. I had the same thought yesterday afternoon at the end of an online meeting that had lasted almost three hours without a break. Had the meeting been face-to-face, someone would have asked for a comfort break, or we would have had a chance to get a cuppa halfway through. The online world does not often provide such breaks, meaning millions of us are sitting down all day like Donald Trump.

However, it is not just having the gaps in our day to stand and stretch that is the problem. It’s how much time we spend indoors. I was reminded of this the other day when I showed a new staff member around the university campus. He noticed an area between buildings that was somewhat neglected. My colleague remarked, “That would be a great space for an outdoor classroom.”

Indeed, it would. I’ve held tutorials on the lawns outside our buildings in the summer, and other lecturers have done the same. But a dedicated outdoor teaching area would be a great addition. Research has shown significant educational benefits of being outside, including improved engagement and attention.

Studies of workers in windowless offices – you know the kind, soulless basements – show that they try to bring nature into the room. People who cannot see the outside world well decorate the office with plants or scenic posters. There appears to be some kind of instinct to get in tune with the natural world.

That’s difficult when you have tight deadlines or meetings where you are on your butt all day. However, this time management issue could most be helped by getting up and going outside. New research from Finland suggests that getting up from your desk and engaging with the natural world changes your concept of time. 

One of the biggest issues for office workers these days is “time poverty”. I am sure you know what I mean – you have so many things to do but not enough time to do them. That leads to us sitting at our desks for long periods to get “everything done” – which we never actually achieve. It seems counterintuitive to get up from your desk and go outside for a walk.

The research from Finland suggests otherwise, though. When we engage with nature, we feel as though we have more time. That reduces our sense of time pressure, enabling us to get on with our work more easily. 

We all know the health benefits of getting up and moving about. Sitting at our desks for more than 20 minutes is potentially harmful. Yet time poverty forces us to continue sitting down, even though we know it is bad for us. Being trapped indoors is changing our sense of time, meaning that we feel more pressure to continue tapping away at our keyboards.

However, the research suggests that if we get up and go outside, our sense of time is altered, meaning we’ll feel less pressure. Going outside more often could improve our productivity. As I wrote six years ago, even taking your work outside may add further benefits.

Which brings me to the conclusion that the Fox News presenter may have been right after all. Perhaps Donald Trump’s trial should allow everyone in the court to get up and go outside for a while. After all, if he ends up in the clink, he’ll get his daily dose of the exercise yard. It might be an idea to get him used to that now.

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