Human beings are meant to be outside – study after study has shown that spending time outside reduces stress and anxiety, improves your memory, lowers inflammation, and makes you generally feel more alive.
In 2010, scientists at the University of Essex reported that even five minutes of “green exercise”, or active outdoor time, can improve your mood and self-esteem. Nature offers many other cognitive benefits as well – taking a walk outside can improve your creative problem solving by 60%, and looking at green scenery boosts concentration by 8%.
Despite all this, an EPA study reports that the average American spends 93% of their life indoors. A study conducted by L.L. Bean found that 57% of office workers spend less than half an hour a day outdoors. 65% of their respondents said that their job was the biggest barrier to spending time outside.
The Outdoor Office
Before COVID19, companies like Google, Facebook, Etsy, and L.L. Bean had started including design elements like rooftop gardens and outdoor recreation centers in their office spaces. Working from home, there’s a little more flexibility for anyone to incorporate the outdoors into their makeshift workspaces. I wanted to try it out for myself, and see if it was worth the hype.
There are so many scientifically proven benefits (Vitamin D! Fresh air! Less stress!) to being outside, but I admit at first I was worried that they wouldn’t outweigh the possibility of getting distracted, getting overheated, and the difficulty of getting set up outdoors. So, to test it, I took my laptop and work materials outside for a day, and here’s what I found out you need in order to succeed.
At first, I made the mistake of sitting out in the sun and soaking up some rays while working. Not only did I start to get overheated quickly, but my laptop did too. The internal fan started whirring like it was trying to fly away, and the screen went dark until I could bring it back inside the a/c for a little to cool off. Definitely leave the sunbathing for the beach, and set yourself up in the shade for a day of working outside.
Prepare A Little Ahead of Time
Some of the things that made me most productive outside, I prepared the night before. Charge your laptop fully, so you won’t have to hunt for an outlet right when you get in the zone. Check the weather for the next day, to make sure you won’t get rained on. Throw an iced coffee or other cold drink in the refrigerator to make sure you have something to keep you cool and hydrated.
Even if you’re in the shade, you’ll still want to layer up with sunscreen. UV radiation can damage your skin from underneath a leafy canopy, or on a cloudy day. If you’re planning on settling down and being productive for a long time outside, you’ll definitely want to wear sunscreen, and possibly also a hat.
Before corona, getting WiFi on the go was as easy as summoning up the courage to ask the café barista for the password. Working 100% outside, I had to get a little more creative. Instead of finding public WiFi or setting up a WiFi extender, I connected my WiFi to my phone’s mobile hotspot. Particularly with unlimited data, this hack is by far the simplest and most reliable way to extend your coverage to work anywhere.
Take Short Breaks
Author Florence Williams of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, writes, “The frontal lobe, the part of our brain that’s hyper-engaged in modern life, deactivates a little when you are outside.” The problem is, we usually need that frontal lobe to be at full capacity when problem-solving, decision-making, and communicating – functions we rely on heavily while at work. Because of this, I was worried about getting distracted or “zoning out” while working outside.
I found that I was most productive when I gave myself little breaks to truly appreciate that I was outside. Looking up in between emails to admire the sky and stretching my legs for a 5-minute walk took on new meaning when I realized I didn’t have to go back inside afterward. Working outside you don’t have to squeeze in refreshing moments – they happen alongside you.
Obviously working outside isn’t an Eden – there were a few moments of being annoyed by bugs that wouldn’t quit, the midday heat, or noise. If you live in a particularly extreme climate, I might recommend taking short breaks outside throughout the day instead of setting up there for the long haul. But I found that by the end of my day outdoors I had been just as productive, if not slightly more so than I usually am inside. I also enjoyed the day much more. It seemed to pass by more quickly, and yet I was much more aware of the world around me than I usually am while at work.
Turns out, the research doesn’t lie – working outside can make you more productive and feel better. You don’t have to work for Google in order to reap the benefits of working outside. Just heading outside with a blanket or chair, Wifi, and shade can be enough to break you out from the rut.