Micro-Breaks Spent Looking at Nature Can Boost Your Focus, Study Says
Plus, how to get your daily dose of Mother Nature while stuck inside.
When you’re feeling trapped, sluggish, or unproductive during the work day, head to the nearest window to stare at a patch of grass or tree for a bit. Why? Research from University of Melbourne suggests that even just looking at greenery could boost concentration. What’s more, it doesn't require a long break—just 40 seconds can make a difference. That means you can still get the focus- and mood-boosting benefits of Mother Nature even when there’s no time for a long, luxurious hike (or you work in a city with little nature to immerse yourself in).
For the study, researchers gave 150 students a boring computer task, and then offered them a 40-second break halfway through the experiment. Half of the students were shown an image of a plain, concrete roof; the other half saw a roof with a flowering meadow. Once they resumed their number-punching activity, the students who saw the greenery made fewer errors and demonstrated higher levels of concentration than the other group. While this experiment used students, these findings, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, seem to apply to anyone spending all day indoors at a desk—a.k.a. anyone with an office or work-from-home job (and, these days, anyone dedicated to sheltering-in-place).
"It's really important to have micro-breaks. It's something that a lot of us do naturally when we're stressed or mentally fatigued," lead researcher Kate Lee, PhD, said in a statement. "There's a reason you look out the window and seek nature, it can help you concentrate on your work and to maintain performance across the workday.”
If you don’t work near a park, there are other ways to reap the benefits of greenery while sitting at your desk—a UK-based study, for instance, found that office plants were correlated with a 15 percent productivity boost. And even just looking out the window can help, according to researchers from Northwestern Medicine, who found in one study that workers exposed to natural light slept better and experienced higher quality of life.
What if you can’t get outside today or don’t have access to views of the nearest local park? Or maybe your at-home work setup doesn’t have any windows. Don’t fret. You can still create a nature-inspired atmosphere, even in a windowless room in the dead of winter—or during COVID-19 quarantine. Invest in a soothing light therapy lamp, like this Verilux Happy Light Lucent Therapy Lamp, designed to bring the perks of natural light inside anytime you need a pick-me-up. Outfit your workspace with low-maintenance indoor plants (here are some of the best places to order plants online). And while it’s not the same as strolling through the forest, you can always light a scented candle or spritz an aromatherapy scent to feel closer to your favorite spot in nature. And don't discount the benefits of hanging a photo or painting of nature near your work space. Results from a 2016 study, by Georgetown University psychologist Katherine R. Gamble, PhD, found that just seeing pictures of nature “significantly improved executive attention in both older and young adults,” thereby suggesting that “nature exposure offers a quick, inexpensive, and enjoyable means to provide a temporary boost in executive attention.”