40 Seconds of This will improve your Performance
I arrived at my new job and there was no space for me. Mine was a new position and all the existing office space was already claimed. My only option, short of occupying a desk on another floor away from my new colleagues, was to take over the storage closet. (This was way before hotel cubes, telework, and mobile. You had to be in your office to do work.)
Out went the buckets, mops, and boxes of old files. The pervasive smell of industrial lemon-ammonia was harder to get rid of. It stayed around for months despite a large investment in Glade air fresheners.
In went a new coat of paint (creamy yellow; it took 3 coats to cover the well-scarred dark sand walls). The room was barely big enough to hold a desk, a small bookshelf, and an extra chair for private meetings. There were no windows.
My second purchase, after the paint, was two large posters--a grove of golden yellow aspen trees and another of wildflowers blooming on a snow-capped mountain hillside.
I remember feeling over-stressed with the growing expectations of this new position and a bit sensory-deprived in the tight quarters. I also clearly remember gazing at my posters and re-gaining a sense of calm and focus. That was 30 years ago.
Turns out there is now science to back up the benefit of viewing nature scenes, even if they are only pictures.
The Harvard Business Review (September 2015, Defend Your Research) highlights findings from a research team at the University of Melbourne. Their results showed that looking at a nature scene on a computer screen for as little as 40 seconds improved concentration by 6% while maintaining the quality of task performance even under stressful conditions. The control group, without access to the nature scene, recorded an 8% decrease in concentration and an increase in performance errors.
The science behind it is Attention Restoration Theory, the ability to replenish our capacity for attention focus. This is the first study that has shown an improvement in attention with as little as 40 seconds of exposure to nature. And what is really interesting--the nature doesn't have to actually be outside; it can be a picture.
What's your favorite nature place? The beach, the mountains, the lake, a sun dappled stream? There's a screen saver for that! Take a micro-break and replenish your attention.
To your best potential,
Photo Credit: Glacier National Park, JMaliszewski, 2015
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