Why Walking Meetings Are Good for Your Brain, Your Life, and Your Job

What are you doing right now?

I bet my butt that you’re sitting. You might think I’ve gone bonkers, thinking ‘how is my sitting any of her business’. It’s not my business.

It’s your problem.

We sit for about 9.3 hours per day — that’s more than the 7.7 hours we spend sleeping. Sitting has also been found to increase the likelihood of developing some diseases like cancer and diabetes. Horrific, really.

In the words of Nilofer Merchant (from her TED talk):

Sitting is the smoking of our generation.

This is why people all over the world have been thinking of solutions like the standing desk — remember when that was trending? Another simple enough solution is: just stand up and walk about a bit. It’s a common practice at Wellness & Prevention, where employees are required to do so for one or two minutes every half hour. It was found to increase productivity.

Nilofer herself adopted the practice of walking in her busy schedule: by turning one-on-one coffee meetings into “walking meetings”, which were also popular with tech giants like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

So let’s see why you should add walking to your busy schedule.

A change of scenery

Context shapes behavior. You’re like a walking reflection of your surroundings, and the more you stay inside the stuffy office or board room, the more you’ll feel stuffy and closed up.

If you’re looking for a re-charge or new ideas, walking outside can literally boost your cognitive function and even your memory. Furthermore, changing the scenery makes you snap out of your “work stupor”.

But beware, if you walk out into a busy street, you’ll probably start to feel stressed, so it’s better if you find a park. Stepping into Nature provides immediate relief, acting as a “reset” button. And because we spend our lives in artificial environments, our brains become even more eager to reconnect with Nature. This is why some people surround themselves with green — to trick the brain into believing it’s there, but the real thing is better.

A blast of fresh air

How many times have you taken a deep breath today?

Your brain needs tons of oxygen to operate properly. While breathing is mostly an unconscious process, you must remember that you CAN control it.

Like, for example, when you’re stressed. When you’re stressed your heart rate goes up, pumping blood like there’s no tomorrow, making you take shallow breaths. If you want to de-stress, you need to take deep breaths. Then the heart goes back to its normal rate, the adrenaline subsides, and the brain calms down, ready for the rest of the work day.

Obviously, the quality of air you inhale is also important — the stale, recycled air of the office is not good enough —  so I suggest taking a walk in the park (don’t forget the sandwich on your desk). And breathe deep.

A dash of creativity

Research shows that walking enhances creativity. In a study of students completing tasks, those who walked showed greater creativity than those who sat. When you walk, your mind naturally wanders and comes up with new ideas. Perhaps this is why so many famous creators of the past took long walks in Nature — to get their creative juices flowing.

It’s an amazing discovery, especially now that the bulk of our working lives is sedentary, both for office workers and remote workers. Also, this changes the game for brainstorming sessions. They shouldn’t take place inside the office, after hours and hours of work, they should follow a power walk!

Granted, I’m not impartial on this subject — I am an avid walker. Which is why this article — Why Walking Helps Us Think in The New Yorker — sparked the idea for my own. Give it a read if you’ve got the time.

A bit of perspective

This is where things get interesting.

Your brain makes powerful associations. For example, your desk screams work and your bed screams rest, right? Right.

What happens when you walk side-by-side to someone?

They become your equal. The brain automatically throws away the hierarchy, the prejudice, and just assumes that the person sweating and puffing next to you is someone who is working with you.

Perhaps this is why Mark Zuckerberg likes to walk new hires around Facebook Headquarters. Maybe this is his way of bonding with them. Whatever the reason, if you want to meet with someone face-to-face and drop the corporate mumbo-jumbo, try a walking meeting.

Just remember, walking too fast or too slow might not produce the best results. The perfect pace is your natural pace. Hopefully, your walking buddy will have one that’s similar to yours.

A few considerations

First of all, if you’re considering to pick up walking meetings, you know that they’re most effective when it’s just you and somebody else. A whole group of people walking together will never reach any consensus because they’ll have to out-scream one another and make a scene on the street.

Secondly, I have found that if you’re considering to taking these walks alone, the process itself is not only beneficial for creativity, but it can also act as an incubation period when you’re solving a problem or making a decision.

Finally, you need to stop making excuses — I’m not fit enough, I don’t have enough time, people won’t like that — and start taking care of your health. You don’t have to compromise your health for the sake of your job.

So start today. Set an example. And stay healthy. 🙂

The Benefits of Boredom in Meetings — Daydreaming Vs. Doodling

So you’ve been working hard to organize a meeting. Finally, a dozen people show up and half of them don’t pay attention to a word you say.

OR you’re an employee, stuck in yet another understimulating meeting, thinking about all the things you’d rather do.

We’ve all been there.

Today I’d like to set some things straight. First of all, let’s talk about boredom: boredom can be beneficial. You can tweet this.

To quote Dr. Sandi Mann:

Boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity.

But how can boredom enhance our creativity? Well, let’s take a closer look at the people in the meeting. There are the usual types: the sleeper, the networker, the doodler, the daydreamer, the know-it-all, etc.

Let’s talk about two of them: the daydreamer and the doodler.

You might think that the daydreamer is just ‘out of it’ and the doodler is being outright ‘unprofessional’. According to science, you are wrong. Below I’ve listed Top 3 Reasons to Daydream and Doodle so we can bust the pesky myths and you can decide whether either one deserves encouragement.

Top 3 Reasons to Daydream:

  1. Daydreaming improves your working memory.
  2. Daydreaming at work (or anywhere) boosts your creativity.
  3. Great ideas come after some ‘down time’.

Working memory is the part which is responsible for retaining memories in the face of distractions. So when you’re distracted at work — all those emails, clients, bosses, meetings — you still manage to bounce back to your to-do list, no problem! This indicates that you have good working memory, which was found to be correlated with a wandering mind.

Other research (UK) suggests that daydreaming could be beneficial in the workplace because it enhances problem-solving and boosts creativity.

All those boring meetings might serve a useful purpose after all, they say, because they give the mind a chance to wander.

Furthermore, it might be the case that an overly-stimulating job with no down time could be counter-productive! Can you believe it? All this time we have been complaining about meetings, they were our friends!

Finally, did you know that some of history’s biggest scientific breakthroughs were discovered while daydreaming? Here are but a few:

Albert Einstein invented the theory of relativity whilst daydreaming about running to the edge of the Universe.

Isaac Newton stumbled upon the concept of gravity as he saw a falling apple in his mother’s garden.

And what is more iconic than Edison and his ‘light bulb’ breakthrough?

Top 3 Reasons to Doodle:

  1. Doodling improves memory recall.
  2. Doodling can make you more successful.
  3. Doodling is fun!

In 2009, everyone exploded with the news of Jackie Andrade’s study, which confirmed that people who doodle are actually paying attention while doing so and better at recalling the task at a later time! So not only is the doodler next to you paying attention, but he’s also storing information.

To quote Andrade:

Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial.

Furthermore, doodling helps you find new solutions:

Some of history’s greatest thinkers — from Steve Jobs to John F. Kennedy and Henry Ford — have engaged in doodling as a pathway for unlocking creativity

You can read an interview with Sunni Brown — doodle expert — to learn more about how doodling unlocks creativity. When CNN asks whether the business world will start to be open to it, Brown says:

That is my fervent prayer, but leadership and management need to drive it and they need to cultivate organizational cultures that recognize its value and apply it in a way that makes sense for that business context.

Finally, let’s face it. People upload photos of doodles on Instagram and twitter hourly. There’s a “worldwide community of sketchnoters”. People in meetings everywhere have white boards filled with mind-maps and doodles. Look at your papers and tell me you haven’t doodled. I dare you.

And here are some famous doodlers for good measure:

That’s Bill Clinton’s doodle, revealed by a hacker.

I especially like this doodle by David Cameron.

And finally, Ellen DeGeneres gave hers to charity.

Other known doodlers: President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mark Twain, Sylvia Plath, Franz Kafka, Bill Gates, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan.

There are probably many, many more.

In conclusion:

Both daydreaming and doodling seem to be connected to creativity. Both have been attributed to great thinkers. Then doesn’t it stand to reason that you have both of those “types” in your meeting? Hell it does!

As a Manager, you might be PRO doodles by now. So what if it seems a few people are not paying attention? Ask them some questions at the end — I bet you anything they were more attentive than you thought.

As an employee, you have a choice — you can stare out of the window and list all the things you have to buy after work OR you can engage in more productive activities, such as doodling or mind wandering.

P.S. Why not download the Meeting Facilitator Canvas! It has enough space for doodles.