Series: Nature and the Workplace: Part 4
So, even if we know that time spent in nature is restorative, how do we make that trade-off between getting things done and connecting with nature?
It turns out that the trade off isn’t time-costly at all.
Research into micro-breaks – little moments people take in their work flow to collect their thoughts – show that on average these are 40 seconds long. People will glance out a window, look across a room or stare at their computer screen to take a little break in their thinking. This is necessary because focused attention can be sustained for only so long.
Comparing two views during these micro-breaks, researchers discovered a startling difference. One group looked an image of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings. The other group were shown an image of a roof covered with a green, flowering meadow. On resuming the task, the group that looked at the concrete roof experienced a decline in concentration levels by 8%. The group that saw the green roof experienced an increase in concentration by 6%.
That is a concentration difference of 13%.
Spending even a few moments looking at an image of a natural environment can refresh our minds, allowing us to feel more alert.
One reason is because we have two types of attention; direct (focused attention) and effortless attention. Sustaining direct attention requires energy and is taxing over time – yet much of our lives involve this type of attention. Even walking down an urban street involves direct attention in order to navigate traffic and process the many distractions along the way. Viewing nature, even if it is just an image, and spending time in nature involves effortless attention, which is restorative.