Can’t Concentrate? Head Outside!

We’ve all been there: You have to turn in the draft of an essay by midnight, but all you’ve been able to write is the opening line. Or maybe you’re trying to finish a reading assignment but find yourself reading the same line over and over. Sometimes, it can feel all but impossible to get anything done. Even when you set up a quiet study area and limit distractions, concentration can be a challenge. And when you can’t focus, it takes longer to get things done, you’re more likely to make mistakes, and your stress levels rise. Not to mention, when you can’t concentrate during your designated study time, it can affect your schedule for the rest of the day, sending your mealtimes, sleep schedule, and more out of balance.

There is a simple trick for improving your concentration, though: Go outside. Bringing your laptop and books outside can do wonders for your ability to focus, not to mention potentially improve your performance and your overall well-being.

The Benefits of Going Outside

Remember when you were a kid, and your class would beg your teacher to let you have class outside when the weather was good? And how much fun it was when you were allowed to be outdoors instead of cooped up in the classroom? As adults, we are expected to spend more time indoors, but that doesn’t mean the desire to outside goes away. Spending all of your time inside with artificial lighting, stale air, and the same scenery affects your mood and ability to think creatively. And it’s not all in your head, either. Multiple studies have revealed a wealth of benefits from studying and working outdoors.  For example:

  • A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that students who engaged in outdoor learning were more motivated and reported feeling more competent in what they learned.
  • According to a report in Mind, 95 percent of respondents in a survey said they felt more calm and balanced, and less stressed, anxious, or depressed after spending time outdoors. Other studies have shown that spending time outdoors is associated with more feelings of positivity, well-being, and meaning.
  • Studying outdoors can improve creativity and problem-solving skills. Spending time outside in the sunshine and fresh air reduces fatigue and increases energy levels, which gives brain function a boost. It can also provide inspiration and help you overcome creative blocks. In fact, The University of Arizona Global reports that taking a walk outside can actually increase problem-solving skills by as much as 60 percent.
  • A University of Michigan study found that spending time outside can improve memory, as measured by performance on tests. Students who took a walk in nature performed 20 percent better on memory tests after a walk. However, where you spend time outside matters. The students who saw improvement in their score visited an arboretum; the students who walked outside in the city didn’t have any measurable improvement. Still, the results suggest that heading to a nearby park to prepare for an exam could help you get a better score and retain more of the information you’ve learned.

Setting Up an Outdoor Study Area

As the University of Michigan study suggests, not just any outdoor study area will do if you want to get the maximum study benefit. Ideally, you should head to green space, such as a local park, botanical garden, or other places away from bustling traffic and activity. Even your own backyard will do, though, as long as it has some greenery and isn’t too busy. Even when you’re outside, ergonomics is important, so make sure you’re comfortable. If you’re going to the park, bring a chair or cushion to support your back. Set up in a shady spot; trying to read in direct sunlight can hurt your eyes and make it impossible to see the computer screen.

Don’t forget to pack the essentials you’ll need for studying, as well as bug spray, sunscreen, a water bottle, and a light snack. Although you might be tempted to listen to music while your work, try letting the sounds of nature be your soundtrack instead. Practice mindfulness– listen to the birds’ sounds, rustling leaves, and other sounds, which can give you a sense of calm and peace.

Finally, don’t forget to take breaks and stretch occasionally. Aim for a 10- 20 minutes break for every 90 minutes you spend in focused work. You’ll get more accomplished and help maintain your momentum and focus when you give your brain the chance to focus on something else for a moment.

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