A couple of years ago, I’ve started experimenting with walk meetings for the first time, and briefly wrote about them in my blog. Little did I know back then that I would suddenly have way more time to walk, and that being outside was the only relatively safe way to talk to people face-to-face, and to limit risking an infection with COVID-19.
At work, spending an entire day in meeting rooms at the office or in a Teams or Zoom-meeting at the home office is certainly not very appealing, and spending that time sitting is actually quite unhealthy. After all, our bodies are not made for sitting, but we’re nonetheless sitting on average 9.3 hours a day, and this was before the pandemic!
My Walk Routine
Since I started thinking about walk meetings, I’ve had the opportunity to experiment more and develop different walk routines, not just for meeting with others, but also for relaxing and brainstorming. My current walk routine on workdays depend on the type of work I have planned for the day. I split my days into personal focus days and collaboration days (inspired by our findings on developers’ workday types). Personal focus days are the ones, where I try my best to focus on making as much progress as possible on my most important work. By limiting my own exposure to email, IM, social media and news websites on those days, I am trying to reach a deep work zone (inspired by Cal Newport’s book on Deep Work). To reduce external interruptions, I either close all distracting apps or I set myself to Do-not-disturb (DND) in FlowLight, which also updates my DND state in Teams, Slack and Zoom. Collaboration days, on the other hand, are when I meet and collaborate with others, and reserve the time in-between meetings for light work.
As `collaboration days` are usually busier and draining my energy faster, I (try to) always start them with a 45-60min meditative walk in the morning. I am actually looking forward to those walks a lot, since I am not bringing anything with me that could distract me (no phone, no podcasts, no music) and my brain just has time to wander and relax. Unsurprisingly, my mind usually tends to wander towards some of the meetings I will moderate or attend that day, which is helpful to mentally prepare for them – especially if they involve an important discussions or argument I want to make. I tend to get the best ideas for approaching a meeting during those walks! In addition, they help me to get going and properly wake up, especially on cold fall/winter days when staying in the cosy and warm bed is quite tempting.
On `personal focus days`, I usually work from home to minimize distractions and external interruptions and usually go for a 30min jog and 15min walk sometime during the day, ideally when the sun is shining or when it’s not raining. And I am often surprised how after after staring at a notebook page for hours and not coming up with anything useful (e.g., a good brainstorming idea or getting into a writing flow), I get a great idea during this jog or walk and am more creative afterwards.
The positive benefits from walking outside were demonstrated by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz from Stanford in their research on the impact of walking on creative thinking (up to 60% boost in creativity!). In multiple experiments, participants were asked to take standardized tests (GAU, CRA) in different combinations of walking or being seated inside and outside. In the conditions when participants were walking outside, they created the most novel and highest quality analogies
My Walk Meetings
While I strongly believe in the positive benefits of walk meetings, they have been a bit more challenging to apply in practice for me. One reason is that I didn’t find a great way yet to use the meeting notes and update them during the walk meeting. I could audio record the walk meeting, but that’s a bit awkward and I rarely have the time to transcribe the recording and go through it later on. Checking my notes on the phone is possible, albeit with the risk of being distracted by incoming messages and other distractions. And typing while walking bears the risk of bumping into something. So if I go on walk meetings, I usually end up printing my notes and scribbling some additional notes on them.
Recently, I’ve found a walk meeting app, Feeting, that was actually developed in Switzerland. Unfortunately, I only had very limited opportunities to use the app in actual meetings, since I almost never attend meetings where we are not sharing our screen or collaborating on a document. What makes the app super useful is the automated transcription feature, which is taking the notes while the attendees walk. You can also set timestamps at important times during a meeting to quickly find them later on.
By far my most productive and enjoyable walk meetings are the ones that require little preparation and notes – brainstorming meetings; such as discussing how to approach a challenging problem or thinking for the first time about a new project or study design. These usually work best with just one other person or within a small group: I’ve found that groups of more than 4 participants are often not ideal for walk meetings since it’s more difficult to include everyone equally in the conversation. These larger groups can however split up into smaller ones, who come back together at the end of the walk to exchange the ideas.
The positive effects of walking on creativity and problem-solving skills has been scientifically proven, for example by Dr. MD Ted Eytan who showed that our brains are more relaxed during walks. This is because physical activity releases certain chemicals and increases the blood flow to the brain, providing it with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function at its best.
This is why many successful companies and leaders are already encouraging their employees to incorporate walk meetings into their work routines. For example, Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn CEO) wrote in a LinkedIn post that “in addition to the obvious fitness benefits, this meeting format essentially eliminates distractions, so I find them a more productive way to spend time”. Sundar Pichai (Alphabet CEO) uses walks to jumpstart his thinking process. Also the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs, held brainstorming meetings while walking, especially if the discussion was about a serious subject.
Incorporating walks and walk meetings into your work routine can be a simple and effective way to boost productivity, and improve the health and wellbeing of you and your team. So why not give it a try and see the benefits for yourself?