Rethink How You Work
To my left sits a stack of books topped by a lush golden pothos plant cascading where it wishes. To my right, a water feature with a calm and perpetual flow that both soothes and serves as my cats’ drinking fountain. Beside the water feature is a picture of my family that makes me smile, a couple geometric puzzles that keep me curious, art on the wall that keeps me energized, and lots of natural light that keeps me refreshed. Along with my computer, a few pads of post-it notes and an old-fashioned writing utensil, these are the items that occupy my work desk. I have everything a desk dweller might need, and yet still, there is something very critical missing; something that may be contributing to my cognitive demise.
The fact is, I can’t walk at my desk, and a new study suggests that not doing so is impairing my working memory’s ability to function. Apparently, a mind at rest is a little less sharp than a mind in motion—literally. According to the study conducted at the Max Plank Institute for Human Development, the working memory performs better while walking at a chosen speed rather than sitting. Prior studies showed that attention gets divided by the number of tasks we are doing at any one time. These observations were rooted in studies measuring attention fragmentation while engaged in similar tasks; however, when tasks are vastly different, such as gardening and singing, or in this case, walking and recalling, single-tasks are unaffected, and in fact, potentially enhanced.
The jury is still out as to how movement helps improve working memory, but while we are searching for the connection, we might make use of the study’s findings in our workplaces. Some tasks are entirely too precise to perform while taking a stroll, but others that require our memory to be in perfect form might provide an ideal arena for including walking into our day. Meetings for example, might transition from conference rooms to nearby parks or walk-ways, given they don’t require a writing surface. Calling clients and other rapport building tasks might also move from the cubical to the avenue.
Interestingly, this study seems to have identified another sustainable resource for refreshing our thinking. Many of us are aware of the great ideas that suddenly appear while taking a shower. Or, the creative flows that follow us waking up, whether in the morning or following an afternoon nap. Walking, like showering and sleeping, provides an outlet for disengaging, which gives the brain time to process information and a moment of perspective when we come back to the task. The working memory study advocates that walking at a chosen speed can increase memory function. What the study doesn’t mention explicitly, but implies, is quite shocking; our dormant desk disposition might actually contribute to chronic lapses in memory. Similar to how smoking affects the lungs ability to efficiency transfer oxygen through the body over time, desk dwellers may be becoming more forgetful the longer they’ve dwelled at their desks. Something to consider, I suppose.
There was something else I wanted to share, but . . . it seems to have slipped my mind.How does Google enable their employees to keep the creative juices flowing? Read yesterday's blog to find out.
Joseph holds a Master’s in Organizational Development from Saybrook University, and is an education and innovation consultant in the San Francisco, Bay Area. Joseph is a guest blogger for Great Place to Work®.