When exactly did “multitasking” become a thing? It might have been when we all first got computers on our desks. It happened for sure when we all started having those little computers called smartphones in our hands all the time. The word actually existed in the 1960s as an engineering term, but computer processing made it popular in the 1990s.
People brag about how great they are at multitasking, especially at work. After 20 years the laugh is on us, because we’ve learned thanks to scientific studies there is really no such thing as multitasking. What we are all doing is task switching. Whatever you call it, it doesn’t really work. And if you think you are a master multitasker, according to a 2013 University of Utah study based on using a cellphone while driving (the ultimate multitasking danger zone), you’re actually among the worst.
When you try to do two things at once, just like a computer it requires a lot of your working memory space in your brain, or temporary brain storage. When it’s being used up, everything slows down, just like with a computer. You might be able to get the basics of your task done. But if a task requires creative thinking, multitaskers have too much going on their heads to be creative.
When you multitask a lot, or interrupt one task to focus on another, it disrupts your short-term memory according to a UC San Francisco 2011 study. It gets worse as you get older, and as your brain ages, you have a harder and harder time getting back on track.
Is there any way to improve your short-term memory at work? In addition to focusing on one task at a time, there is a way to improve your memory retention: add a living plant to your desk.
An Exeter University (UK) psychological study found workers were 15 percent more productive when a few houseplants were added to their office space. When one plant was added per square yard of space, employee memory retention improved significantly. The British Royal College of Agriculture also found that adding plants to classrooms boosts learning outcomes. Improving memory retention allows workers to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently, which leads to increased productivity. This was the point of that whole multitasking idea in the first place!
Exeter University also found improving the design of a workspace with indoor plants can increase your positive psychology in the workplace – your attitude. This can improve your creativity by as much as 45 percent. Imagine being 45 percent more creative at work! This is a combination of attitude, brain power, and focus. Boosting your creativity will make you feel more inspired even when you perform those routine, boring duties you can’t avoid and will motivate you to cross items off your to-do list as quickly as possible. Take that, multitasking!
We recently wrote on this blog about quieting down visual and auditory office noise in the open office environment by adding office plants. There is also research which shows how interior plantscaping can improve concentration and attention span. The Norwegian University of Life Sciences conducted experiment which showed looking at natural elements like plants and trees can rest and reset the brain’s attention system. It’s nature’s way of rebooting your brain, which slows down when it gets tired from other types of activities like looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods of time. With all of the plants I have in my office, you would think I’d be a genius.
If your office doesn’t have its own plantscapers (hey, Google us!), and you have space on your desk or in a work area to bring in a plant to help improve your memory and focus, we have a few suggestions for you.
Spider Plants: Perfect if you work in a cubicle or away from a window as they grow well in lower light. Spider plants also look great if you’re allowed to hang one from the ceiling over your desk. Spider plants are one of the best choices for cleaning the air of indoor toxins and can also decrease dust in an indoor environment.
Peace Lily: If you prefer flowering plants, choose a Peace Lily. Our friendly researchers at NASA call Peace Lilies one of the best plants for purifying indoor air. Flowering plants reduce stress and improve your mood. Although they are tolerant of shade, Peace Lilies do need a little more attention since they like moist (not soggy!) soil.
Lemon Balm: Lemon balm has a sweet but not overpowering scent which has been shown to be a mood booster. Bringing the fresh scent of the outdoors into your office can reduce workplace stress. Lemon balm is forgiving and will thrive in either sun or shade.
Avoid plants that require a lot of light, high humidity or are sensitive to drafts. These can all be problems in an office environment. If you have to spend every break fussing over your plants, you might get cranky and so will your boss.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who thinks your desktop should be as clean and clutter free as possible. Try adding a plant to your desk, or even a living wall. You may be surprised how it affects your productivity and your overall satisfaction in the work environment. Isn’t it worth a little experiment?
And if you need professional help caring for your office plants, give us a call. We can help no matter how many or what kind of plants you have – anywhere in the USA.