I’ve just finished The Extended Mind by Annie Murphy Paul. As a work from home designer, writer and publisher I’m always keen to improve my working practices in the pursuit of greater productivity and a better work/life balance.
For me, parts of the book were fascinating while other bits were less so. As I work essentially on my own from home sections of the book were less relevant to me than others. My favourite chapter was Chapter 2: Thinking with Movement which talked about exercise and how you can use it to affect your brain.
I’m a keen runner and have long gone on and on to everyone I know about the benefits of running. I wrote a blog post years ago entitled, “The Surprising Habit that Makes Me a Better Designer”. That habit was running.
I was therefore delighted—as you can imagine—to discover proof in The Extended Mind that running does indeed help me be a better designer! Paul writes:
“Moderate-intensity exercise, practised for a moderate length of time, improves our ability to think both during and immediately after the activity.”
“The benefits of this include an increase in the capacity to focus attention and resist distractions; greater verbal fluency and cognitive flexibility; enhanced problem-solving and decision-making abilities and increased working memory, as well as more durable long-term memory for what is learned.”
She notes, these benefits can last for up to two hours! And, it turns out, running faster and harder has another benefit:
“Very intense exercise, extended over a relatively long period can induce a kind of altered state conducive to creative thought.”
Creative thought is vital to a writer’s and designer’s work. I make my living being creative. When you see me running, don’t think I’m slacking off; think of me as getting ready for work!
Final thought: can I claim my running shoes as a business expense?
I have a standing desk. I’ve had it for three years and love it. Now, I can’t imagine the horror of using a traditional desk for any considerable length of time.
It turns out, using a standing desk counts as low-intensity exercise and that you burn 13% more energy simply standing at a desk as opposed to sitting at a desk. Fascinatingly, she also writes:
“In adults, working at a standing desk has been shown to boost productivity.”
That fact alone is enough to justify the price of a standing desk, to me. Productivity is what it is all about; why spend more time working than you have to?
(If you are interested, I have a Bekant Sit/Stand desk that I got from Ikea. It’s not the biggest desk in the world, but it is easily large enough to hold my monitor, keyboard, trackpad and all-imporant notebook and coffee).
The Final Word
In Chapter 2, Paul was preaching to the choir. I’ve long believed exercise was a critical part of my work day, and I’m delighted to now have proof! If you are struggling to be creative or to focus go outside for a walk or run.