Author Murray Newlands is the founder of Due, an online invoicing and time tracking companies helping millions of freelancers and small business owners across the world get paid online.
Like many companies, we're always trying to be more productive and a little bit more health conscious while at work. A couple of months ago, I read that Stanford recently conducted a survey that concludes that daily walks improve productivity and creativity, so I decided to put this idea to the test. For 30 days, we asked that everyone (if physically able) in our office take two 15-minutes "walkies" (aka 15-minute walks) per day -- no phones allowed. The result was a quantifiable jump in productivity of 30 percent.
Let's Talk Results First
We track a lot of things with our employees. Engineers put down tasks, marketing has metrics and posts, finance has bills, etc. We also try to track time to complete a task. On average, each task was taking around 7 business days to complete. After we started doing our daily walks for about a week, we noticed that average dropping to 6 days, then to 5 days after about 20-30 business days of having daily walks 2x a day. Even customer service call times are down by almost 20 percent on average. While this isn't exact science, it's helped our business grow significantly.
In the six months since we started, this jump in productivity has remained about the same.
- Decompress and de-stress: Aerobic exercise gets the blood pumping and calibrates the hormones in a way that research has found calms those frazzled nerves and combats burnout and depression. Simply stepping away from the environment that may be giving you that stress, including that pesky smartphone, and getting fresh air and social conversation soothes the mind, readying you to come back and face what's waiting at your desk. And the calmer you are, the better you are to think and act in an efficient way. I've found that requiring the cell phone to remain behind really helps with this. Those employees who took their phones were not as productive as those who didn't take them.
- Put the mind at rest: Even after a regular workout at the gym, any trainer will recommend that you include rest days. The same goes for our brains - when we wear it down and push that muscle every day, eventually it gives in and productivity wanes. I've found that that when my mind is put to rest, I return to work feeling refreshed and have a lot more energy to work with no distractions. I take my first walk around 10 a.m. and my second around 4 p.m. This helps me break up the slower parts of my day where my mind is typically shot.
- Boost satisfaction: An article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine summarized a research study that found employees that spent at least 2.5 hours each week (that time adds up to the two 15-minute daily walks) at work doing some type of health-promoting activity were more satisfied with their work. We asked employees before and after our walkie experiment if they were more satisfied at work, and the results were staggering: Almost 100 percent of people in our company said that they were much more satisfied with their work.
- Improve focus and attention: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers determined that sitting at our desks and looking at our computer screens all day deplete our "attentional resources." The result is that our brains stop registering surroundings and tasks because there is no stimulus. However, stepping away and going on a walk provides different sights, sounds, and feelings that re-energize the brain. When we return to our desks, what we see and experience feels new again, so attention and productivity increase. The research study confirmed the same findings that we were able to find in a couple weeks.
Personally, I enjoy these walks because it gives me time to informally talk with staff and catch up on what they are up to. I try to stay away from too much "shop talk" and focus more on the person. This helps me better understand who is on my team and what makes them unique, plus I also get a chance to share. The engagement builds working relationships and stimulates new ideas, which also go a long way to greater productivity.
Now, it's time to get up and take a walk.