A walk is so simple, yet so powerful for productivity

Nightly Walk

I was at my in-laws for Thanksgiving for about five and a half days. I know the term “in-laws” has certain types of mostly-negative connotations, but I do enjoy/love my in-laws as people, both individually and in a group. That said, you get any group of people together that involves some people who parented some other people, some people who grew up in the same house as other people, and some people that married/dated into the whole thing, there are certain elements that will get dramatic and dicey. That’s just life.

Now factor in the concept of working-remotely during that period (which I was, at least through late Wednesday morning) and having to check e-mail and respond to things periodically, etc. — and it can be a bit of a stressful time here and there. Thankfully, my in-laws live near a beach (the Atlantic Ocean, in fact). I went and took a bunch of walks. This allowed me to start, then get current with, the Serial podcast.

In the process of all this, I realized how simple yet powerful a concept the daily/nightly walk is.

Fast Company just wrote about this today — husband and wife team, $100 million in revenue for their company, three kids, and of course they owe it all to the nightly walk. I wrote about the Five-Minute Rule once, which is kind of a truncated version of the nightly walk — essentially it says, “Go do something outside of your desk/space for five minutes to recharge your emotional and physical batteries.” There’s also literal academic research on the idea that simply walking around more at work can make you a better leader.

Think about this for a second, then: a walk, on face, is a pretty simple concept. You get up and you walk around, or to a specific destination. Maybe you play some Pandora, or maybe you listen to a podcast, or maybe you’re alone with your thoughts. All good either way. (Or maybe you’re in the office and walking around to say hi to people in a more “organic” way.)

Regardless, the base idea — walking somewhere with a loose-ish goal in mind — isn’t that complicated.

And yet, it could be good for your business, your emotional health, your physical health, your relationships, your communication style, your perception as a leader, etc.

In short, you can do a pretty basic thing and reap a boatload of rewards.

So why don’t people do it more?

There’s tons of reasons for that, and tons of ways you can answer. In my personal experience, I’d say that most people you meet — especially in work settings, but sometimes more broadly — are very nose-to-the-grindstone people, at least in the white-collar-job-having, middle-class-seeking parts of America I’ve inhabited for 30+ years. This is all different in rural communities and Asia/Europe/Scandinavia, I’m sure, but I don’t claim to know those places well enough to talk deeply about what works and doesn’t work there.

Back to this nose-to-the-grindstone idea. I feel like people get caught up in things — being busy is a major one, but also deliverables and projects — and they believe they have to press ahead until they complete them, probably because they’re somewhat terrified of their boss or whatever. (It could be that they just want to do a good job, but I’d submit that’s not the real motivation in a large percentage of cases.)

The problem with this whole theory, of course, is that pushing ahead on projects — especially when distractions are everywhere — isn’t actually how the human brain works best. You need recharge and rest periods. Remember, there’s a five-day work week for a reason, and it’s not simply because of Henry Ford wanting to sell more cars. (That’s part of it, though.)

Consider this, again a personal example: I don’t typically have a ton to do at work, but I just came off this break with my in-laws and today I have more to do than normal. I could have just pressed on through until the end of the day. Instead, I stopped. I went and got a coffee and walked around for a bit. Now I’m back, and I have a few hours left in the day, and I’m ready to accomplish some things.

How simple was that?

Literally I got up, I spent $2.24 at Starbucks, and I walked around.

Now I feel better and can tackle my work easier.

Remember: you’re busy, and you don’t have time for anything, and you’re so over-extended and I totally understand that. But a 10-minute walk isn’t going to get you fired, or push you hours behind on a project, or add even more to your plate. Rather, it’s going to free up your mind to do better work on what’s standing in your deliverable queue.

When people talk about “working smarter, not harder,” they often literally mean “Working hard in a way that others notice.” This thing I’m describing above is actually what the phrase is supposed to mean — working legitimately smarter, meaning finding ways to maximize the work you’re doing without chaining yourself to it.

Embrace that.

Ted Bauer