How A Slow Walk In The Woods Made Me More Productive At Work: Lessons From An Acadian Forest

I rarely walk in the woods. Our home is surrounded with woods where our dogs playfully run but I stop at the edge of our lawn and holler to them when I need them to return to avoid thrashing thru the bush. Recently something changed. Last week, through a series of audacious circumstances, Windhorse Farm in rural Nova Scotia has come into my life. Part of Windhorse Farm is on Acadian old-growth forest that reminds us of what the majestic woods of Nova Scotia once were. Besides being a reminder, and teacher, that forests can be managed both differently and productively, it is an inspirational and beautiful place to walk; especially alone. I ventured out just before sunrise so I could be part of the forest waking up. Like any meditative practice, a walk in the forest also speaks if we can still ourselves and listen.

In this 3 part blog, I will share what the forest offered me on this particular morning.

As I began my walk, I immediately began to worry I wouldn’t be able to relax and quiet the chatter of my mind – much like the first 4-5 days of vacation for me! It took some time and an intention to slow my walking and breathing, but once I did, humorlessly all I could really hear was the chatter of squirrels! Lots of them. Many of you will know the now popular reference in companies, meetings and homes to hear someone yell “squirrel” as a way of calling out a distracted employee or friend – made popular by movies like UP and Ice Age. More so than ever, we are easily distracted and respond to whatever is front of us, running in multiple directions and often feeling (and being) quite unproductive. It is hard to resist the ding of a text message or email, a call or something crossing our mind that encourages us to now run to google and look it up. Any excuse to abandon a project and chat with a colleague or quickly check Facebook is all too common. In fact, the average worker now gets only 11 minutes of continuous work before being interrupted. All around me I could see squirrels running about, chattering and different calls and voices,  and it was loud and very noisy; a direct reflection of my own daily work life, mind and routine. I suffer seriously from SS (Squirrel Syndrome). The squirrels were the first thing I heard in my walk, like the solo violin of a orchestra or lead guitar in a band. But there is much more to the music of the forest; the songs of birds, the distant babbling of the brook, the soft wind moving thru the trees – when you listen deeper and beyond the chattering squirrels. Now, not to take away anything from squirrels, or lead guitarists for that matter, but the music is richer when we hear all the instruments, when we can see and hear the totality of what is occurring around us.

Squirrels have a place in the forest as do text messages and emails, but true presence and productivity asks us to see the whole forest. What is my intention for the day? In the big picture of my work, what are the priorities I need to focus on that will get me the result I am really after?

My LessonResults begin with clarity of intent. Be aware of the squirrels, the distractions and temptation to respond, but don’t let them run your day or game plan. Note they are there, part of your day, your forest. Taking a moment to quiet your mind, listen in and think about your whole day, can do wonders for focus. Productivity is a direct result of our ability to focus on those things that will move us closer to what it is we want to create, what result truly matters. 

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