We’re taking ‘work-from-home’​ too literally: How stepping away from your desk results in better work

This weekend I went running and unlocked a solution to something I’d been grappling with last week. Sat in front of my computer at my desk I’d made very little progress, but stepping away (and continuing to step away for 5km) had allowed me to order my thinking and clearly articulate what was swirling around in my mind. It reminded me of two things I seemed to have forgotten whilst working from home.

1. Movement is crucial for cognition

In her brilliant book “Mind In Motion”, eminent psychologist Barbara Tversky shows that spatial cognition is the very foundation of thought, enabling us to draw meaning from our bodies and their actions in the world. Our actions in space get turned into mental actions on thought, often resulting in spontaneous gestures as we articulate our thoughts. Motion not only helps us think, it is the foundation of thinking. You might already intuitively know this without realising if you’ve ever caught yourself pacing around a room deep in thought making hand gestures to yourself.

2. We need to allow time for our subconscious mind to process information

You can think of your mind as having two states: focus and release. Focus is uninterrupted flow allowing you to consciously process and tackle tough challenges. Flow is that feeling of being in the zone, completely absorbed by the task at hand. Release is when your subconscious brain processes all the information your conscious mind has absorbed. It’s crucial to having breakthroughs. It’s where the eureka moment comes from, the moment away from the work where you have your revelation. Boredom is important for this. It’s one of the reasons Nietzsche came up with most of his ideas whilst out walking.

And so I leave you with an experiment for your week ahead:

  • 🏃‍♂️ Go for a walk/run during work. Plan for what you want to think through and count it as thinking time.
  • 📞 Do more voice calls than video calls and make sure you’re away from your desk. Go for a walk and talk.
  • 📵 Avoid picking up your phone when you step away from your desk to fill “empty time”. Allow your subconscious to mull things over.

Let me know how you get on and whether you feel more or less productive and creative at the end of the week!