The Importance of Getting Up From Your Goddamn Chair and Taking a Walk
In the midst of a busy day, in the middle of a busy week, square in the center of a busy month, near the end of a non-stop year, it can be hard to pull yourself away from work to take a break. I don’t mean a vacation, though I hear those are pretty nice, I just mean a little time every day to stop and not think about the next item on your todo list.
In our quest to be the most productive people we can be, life hacking ourselves to death, and becoming the micromanager of our own lives, we forget some of the things that actually make us most productive. I’ve found one of the keys to getting more accomplished is taking a break, not to screw around on the internet — though I’ve done plenty of that in my time — but to get up and take a walk.
Some of the most productive moments and breakthroughs I’ve had over the last year have been while wandering aimlessly in the middle of the day and letting my thoughts wander with me. The simple act of not staring at my computer screen and moving in an open space lets me pull in perspectives that wouldn’t have come to me otherwise. Rather than my mind occupying the pinpoint of my screen, it runs free, and when it comes back it has lots of interesting things to tell me.
My brain will remember that long forgotten detail that was rattling around in the back somewhere that would have never occurred to me until I stopped looking for it. And that detail will be the key to solving a problem I’ve been trying to solve for longer than I care to admit.
Here are a few things I’ve noticed from taking midday walks regularly (maybe semi-regularly (or, you know, whenever I have the time)):
1. You don’t have to feel guilty about getting up from your desk
In our rush to finish the most items on our todo list, get the most gold stars in our gamified dystopian workplace, and maybe please our unknowable Lovecraftian manager, we overlook the fact that, if you’re doing a skilled desk job, your biggest task is to actually take a few minutes to think. Some problems take more time to solve than the thirty seconds you can safely lift your hands from your keyboard before people get suspicious that you’re not doing any work. It turns out that there are forms of thinking that don’t involve a white board and a bunch of dry erase markers, and you can use them without feeling like a heretic.
The biggest victim of our ever growing obsession with productivity (as defined by the number of things someone did today) is the time to think deeply about the problems we’re solving.
You don’t need to feel guilty about taking time to do the most important part of your job. Besides, you sit in a chair for most of the day, hunched over a computer, tanning the back of your neck with the fluorescent lights in your office. You don’t need to feel guilty about taking a walk and not being productive enough. You’re not an office plant. You don’t have to remain stationary and nearly motionless in order to accomplish things. Office plants are pretty much the least productive members of an office. I’m not sure why we’re so bent on imitating them.
2. You don’t have to be done with your current task to take a walk
Some people have a lot of trouble getting up from their current task until it’s 100% complete, even if they’re not in a flow state. The truth is that it’s often hard to tell how long something is going to take. The nice thing about letting your mind wander on a walk is that you often solve problems on accident. If you leave a task half done your mind will continue to work on it, even if you’re not actively thinking about it. It seems like a useful tool to have in your toolbox if you ask me.
3. Not every decision needs to be made on a battlefield
On a battlefield decisions have to made quickly and decisively. Sometimes, the hectic nature of an office can make you feel like you have to make decisions immediately, like you’re on a battlefield and lives depend on it. Guess what? You are not a soldier. You are not on a battlefield. Get a grip on reality. You’re sitting at a desk and a program from Microsoft Office is open. No one’s life depends on your decision.
You probably don’t have to make that important decision immediately. What that important decision really requires is some deep thinking and giving that decision its due time. Use a walk to start that process.
Taking fifteen or twenty minutes to walk during the day can be tough in some workplaces, but the benefits of having a clear mind to think about your company’s hard problems, both large and small, are huge. Yeah, not all problems can be solved with twenty minutes of deep thinking, but if you’ve basically been an office plant this whole time it’s a good start.