Want to Improve Your Proposals? Go Take a Walk!

In the proposal field, we like to boast about how we pulled an all-nighter to finish a $100 million bid or the time we worked for 36 hours on a proposal minus a four-hour nap under our desks. We expect to spend long hours on proposals and are proud of our fortitude and ability to concentrate for long periods of time under the press of impending deadlines.

I do not expect this trend to change any time soon. In fact, our work days may be lengthening as proposal professionals.

Within this context of long and sometimes gruelling hours, I have a simple piece of advice for proposal professionals. If you want to maintain these kinds of hours and still be sharp and productive, you need to walk more during your work hours for a simple reason: walking helps us to think.

As Henry David Thoreau, the sage of Walden Pond, wrote in his journal, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! . . . Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Recent research has proven Thoreau right – to walk is to think.

When we leave our offices and go for a walk, our bodies change. The heart beats faster and circulates more blood and oxygen to our brains. Many physiological experiments have demonstrated that during and after exercise, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking also promotes the development of new connections between brain cells and the development of new neurons. In fact, people who walk or exercise regularly on average have better hearing, seeing, and mental acuity than those who get no exercise. This is especially true for older people.

For proposal professionals, walking has another important benefit. Because the act of walking is so natural and easy, our minds are free to wander, a mental state that is associated with the appearance of innovative ideas and flashes of insight.

In recent tests at Stanford University, students who walked through the campus came up with more novel solutions to a problem than those who just sat and thought. These kinds of experiments have been repeated elsewhere – walking is very conducive to free-flow thinking and solving problems.

Where you walk may be important too. Walking in green spaces, like parks, enables your mind to drift gently from one thought to another. But walking on a crowded city street provides more sensory stimulation, and more distractions.

Plenty of contemporary research demonstrates what Thoreau and others have known for centuries: walking helps organize our thoughts in new ways. For good summaries of the value of walking, see the articles by Adam Gopnik and Ferris Jabr in the September issues of the New Yorker, conveniently available online.

So, whenever you can, take a walk during your lunch hour. And whenever you can, take a walk in the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon. This is not time “lost” from work. Quite the opposite. It may be some of the best work you do.

It will be a time to relax, to rejuvenate, to improve your health, and to develop new ideas and solutions. You will feel better and be mentally sharper. And when you return from a stroll and sit down at your desk, you will realize that there is a deep connection between walking, thinking, and writing.

But, if you take your cell or smartphone on your walk, you will negate the mental value of walking. You need to walk and let your mind wander. None of us are so important that our emails and voice mail messages cannot wait until we return from a walk.

Enjoy your walks, and remember that by walking, you are helping to reorganize your mind and thoughts. This will benefit you as a proposal professional.

Want to improve your proposals? Go take a walk.

3 Comments

  1. Chris Simmons
    October 13, 2014

    Great advice Jayme. Getting up from our desks, stretching, walking, running, biking, or what ever physical exercise works best, is a great way to becoming a better proposal professional — and will most likely extend your career and life expectancy too.

    Reply
  2. Larry Newman
    October 14, 2014

    Chris, I’s go for biking since I well apart from running!

    Actually, I wanted to link this to some research that my son completed while completing his PhD at U of Arizona: http://arizona.openrepository.com/arizona/handle/10150/320000

    One fact was to assess the effect of nature (surroundings) when people took breaks, as you recommended. The calming influences differed based upon the person’s background. Seems that those accustomed to busy urban environments found breaks in similar environments calming. Those accustomed to quieter natural environment (such as here in Montana), found breaks in these types of environments calming, but not urban environments. So if you were raised in New York City, perhaps a busy city park or even city street with much activity is calming. If from a small town or farm, a city street will be much less calming than a quiet natural and more secluded park or forrest trail.

    Reply
    • TheProposalGuru
      October 14, 2014

      Hi Larry,

      Good points. Enjoy your bike ride.

      Reply

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