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Do you sometimes think: How can I work smarter, not harder? Nature may help you with this.

I am very happy about my job, however, it may also be very hectic sometimes; there are several tasks that need to be done, meetings, the phone ringing, e-mails ticking in, a colleague stopping by my office, and when I think I have just got an overview of it all, a new urgent task lands at my desk. I don’t think my job differs very much from the job of many other people. When I talk to colleagues and friends they all describe similar work conditions. In order to thrive instead of burning out we need to find ways to work – not harder but smarter – and here nature may play an essential role.

When we spend time in nature it helps us reset our attention span and relax our minds. The Attention Restoration Theory (ART) by Steven Kaplan identified two types of attention. One refers to the direct attention system, which is used in unnatural environments, like urban environments, office work or when driving a car. In these situations our brains are ‘hit’ by 11 million bits of information per second, which demand our attention, while only 15–20 bits of information are cognitively adapted. The rest we have to sort out, and this demands energy, which will become mentally tiring (Kaplan, 1995). The other concerns spontaneous attention, or soft fascination, which is the ability to experience things unnoticed, thus stimulating the brain without being mentally tiring. In nature, this type of atten-tion is used and stimulated (Kaplan et al., 1998). There are four factors, in particular, that are important for a restorative feeling and they can all be found in nature (Kaplan et al.,1998):

  1. Being away: Settings that differ from the normal surroundings, making it possible to obtain a distance to the mental routines in your normal surroundings.
  2. Extent: Restorative settings are often described as being in a whole different world. It is about being in a large enough setting that its boundaries are not evident.
  3. Fascination: Nature is full of objects of fascination in flora, fauna, water, and the endless play of light. Humans also tend to be fascinated with natural processes such as growth, succession, predation, and even survival itself.
  4. Compatibility: It is about compatibility between one’s inclinations and environmental circumstances.

Spending time in nature, allows your mind to fully relax and unwind, and helps you focus longer when you start working again. Spending time in nature may also enhance our creativity as described in our article ‘The impact of nature on creativity – A study among Danish creative professionals’, published in the Journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, April 2015. As the ability to be creative is essential to the work that many of us performs, it is yet another good reason to go for a walk in nature.

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References:

Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S., Ryan, R., 1998. With People in Mind: Design and Managementof Everyday Nature. Island Press, Washington, DC.

Kaplan, S., 1995. The restorative benefits of nature – towards an integrative frame-work. J. Environ. Psychol. 15, 169–182.

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Images by Trine Plambech. The images are from my first trip to New York back in 2004. Streets were fascinating, inspiring and full of new impressions. Sometimes also hectic, noisy and crowded. When we needed to relax we found peace and tranquility in one of the parks.

Written by Trine Plambech

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