Let it be known that May 8, 2014, was Chicago’s first “nice” day of 2014. More than a month after spring’s official start, temperatures rose above the 70-degree mark, the sun shone brightly and employees cooped up in cubicles and corner offices alike sought a way to get outside.
That primordial ache to get into the sunshine might not last all the way through August — the Second City has a tendency to go from snow storms to heat waves in less than a New York minute — but it certainly will stick around as long as temperatures cling to the 80-degree mark.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that work has to stay indoors while workers head out, however. On one of my brief escapes from fluorescent lighting in the afternoon, I saw groups of people conversing in our building’s courtyard. It reminded me of college days, where classes convened on the quad so that students could get their day’s dose of vitamin D and professor-led coursework at the same time.
An article in The Guardian discussed how outdoor learning not only increased attention but also helped students make a deeper connection with their teachers.
That’s one of the reasons behind the movement to get children to move out of the classroom and into the great outdoors. The U.K. has several organizations and research institutes, such as the Institute for Outdoor Learningand the government-run Natural England, that support outside classrooms. If a region known for cold, rainy days throughout the year can find time to get students out from under classroom ceilings, anyone can.
Before you roll your eyes and say, “We’re professionals, Kate, not 6-year-olds learning about bugs,” let me ask you this: how often do you in your hoity-toity skyscraper office find yourself staring out a window at the sunshine streets below when you should be listening to the latest returns on a company-wide survey?
I speak from experience, by the way – our 12th floor office overlooks Michigan Avenue and there’s no lack of entertainment on nice days to distract from a magazine issue review.
So maybe you’re too cool for school and still don’t want to lead a professional pow-wow in the park down the road. Consider enhancing your lessons with simple breaks outdoors. Make everyone leave the office for 15 minutes during a heavy learning session. There is neuroscientific research that supports taking breaks as a method to re-engage and gain focus.
According to an article in the New York Times, taking breaks during mental tasks — work and learning included — actually boosts productivity and absorption. Not taking those breaks can be detrimental to physical and mental capabilities.
Distraction affects everyone, from second-graders to senior leaders. Perhaps it’s time we kill two spring birds with one stone: take a break from the office, and take learning outdoors.