Are those plants on your desk helping you focus?

Yes, plants can help you perform better at certain tasks, maybe.

A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology asked 34 students to perform certain cognitive tasks.  Half had four plants on their desk (including some flowers) the other half used the same room, performed the same task, but had no plants to keep them company.

The student’s attention was tested three times: when they arrived in the office; after a difficult task; and after a five min break.

Attention improved after the difficult task for those with plants but not those without plants!  Attention did not improve after the break for either group.

So why did plants seemingly aid attention? Was it the inner ‘omm shanty shanty’ magic of plants?

Interestingly the authours of the study propose a different potential explanation: Directed attention (the sort you need for attention tasks) gets depleted.  Nature has a complexity about it that triggers an undirected (wandering) sort of attention – this gives the direct attention system a wee rest and recharge.

So what about the science

For those that have not noticed, I have a mission to promote critical thinking of scientific methods in this, post-truth world (for which I blame The Donald).  I am a campaigner for the truth.  I always start with science, however, one must bring their critic’s hat even here.

What are your thoughts about what could be the flaws in this study? Or even just the things that make generalising difficult?

In this instance, the small sample size is a clear limitation. Something else is the fact that both conditions had a nature view outside the window by the desk.  This may have interfered with the results.  Another issue is the no-plant condition was a terribly barren one.  Hence, perhaps the improvement in attention was nothing to do with plants and just to do with ‘things’ versus very bare.  Finally, there is that question mark about why there was not any improvement after a break – when the plant group could really have benefitted from all that nature complexity right there under their noses.  Fortunately, the authors know what they are doing and acknowledge and discuss all of these.

So on balance, I think I’ll be putting a few plants near my desk.

Links References and all that Jazz

FYI: This is part of our quick reads series; helping you stay informed without hogging your precious time.  This post covers the peer-reviewed academic paper shown below.

Raanaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., Sjøstrøm, G., & Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31(1), 99-105. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.11.005

Photo Credit

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Welcome to the conclusion of the science (or not) in the 7 habits of highly effective people.

Habit 7 involves sharpening the saw.  In this case, the saw is you.  You will only effectively cut that metaphorical tree if you are sharp as … well … a saw.

Covey’s opening parable drives this home.  We meet a hard working chap furiously cutting a tree with a blunt saw.  A passer-by suggests he needs to sharpen his saw.  He says (irritably I suspect) “I haven’t got time” and returns to his furious sawing.  This is laughable in its absurdity – who would do this?  Now, look closer where are you or someone in your life: working long hours; running from task-to-task; grabbing food on the run; skipping exercising; or drinking more than you should to unwind?

Time to stop the absurdity and sharpen the saw. Consider sharpening yourself in these four domains:

  1. Physical – sharpen by good eating, exercise and all that jazz
  2. Social – sharpen by connecting to others
  3. Mental – reading, writing, learning
  4. Spiritual – meditation, nature bathing (yes its a thing), prayer, art … whatever is your thing.

I can boldly say the science in this is there as I did my PhD in wellbeing and it covered most of this.  Email me for a copy if you want all the gory details (and an insomnia cure).

It is also a bit of a no-brainer to say that taking time to sharpen your saw is important to achieving all the other habits.

So Habit 7 has come good, not a moment too soon.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.  It has been a tricky one.  However it has also started me on a bigger journey, that will be tricker by far, but perhaps the most rewarding yet.

Yours as ever,

The Wellbeing at Work Dr.

References links and all that jazz

This is part of a larger series on Stephen Covers 7 Habits, being:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Photo Credit:

Habit 6: Synergise

Welcome to habit 6 on the science (or not) in the 7 habits of highly effective people.

Habit 6

Those following so far will know my larger conclusion is pointing to -> trying to find the ‘evidence base’ / scientific support for management gurus ideas, is a fool’s errand.  That is me in the basket, feeling a little sad and blue.

My quest is failing not necessarily because there is no science in the ideas, but because despite the squillion dollar spend on management guru advice, management researchers don’t seem to be researching the efficacy of such heavily implemented ideas and programs.

The good news is there is a book in this … so that will keep me and my co-author busy for many moons (true story we are going to do something positive in this space, stay tuned).

However, let’s just finish off with the final ideas as I have gone too far not to go further.

Habit 6 is about synergy – which is simply when ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.

Covey argued synergy means – the relationships the parts have to each other is also a part, and the best part to boot.

I have some concerns with synergy as a ‘habit of highly effective people’ as it seems to be more group focused and seems to breach the definition of a habit which google tells me is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”, which feels about right and doesn’t seem terribly connected to group synergy? Or is that just me?

It seems that the individual bit is being open to group synergy, for which thinking win/win would help.  I am sorry to say habit 6 is not really working out, I’m not even sure how to find the science in it.  See cat in basket again.

Let me be clear, I am not hating on synergy, the need for it, or the beauty in it – check out the video below for an inspiring tear-jerking story on the power of synergy.  This story speaks to me of creativity, humanity, courage and pride.  Maybe creativity is the other habit behind this ‘habit’.

I am simply struggling to answer my own question – what is the scientific evidence for the idea of synergy as one of 7 habits of highly effective people?  So I quit (which is almost certainly an anti-habit of effective people).  I am very keen for others opinions on this – please post below.

References links and all that jazz

This is part of a larger series on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, being:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Photo Credits:

Playdough Art by Rosie