A plug for smol afternoon walks

You’ll feel better when you get back, I promise

Harris Sockel
🏡 wfh

--

Most of my weekdays follow a predictable rhythm. I wake up. I lie on my stomach and realize I am alive. I press the big side button on my phone to silence my alarm for five more minutes. I try to fall back asleep, fail, and rise from bed. Then I walk approximately 10 feet to my laptop.

I do all the normal stuff, too, like make coffee and put clothes on my body, but my laptop dominates my consciousness.

It’s wild to me how easily I lose track of time when I’m working. Some days, it really does feel like I fall into a laptop-sized hole… only to emerge vaguely disoriented at 6 p.m.-ish. To counteract that sense of time slipping away, and to force myself back to reality, I walk.

I’ve been taking a smol afternoon walk (TM)* at least 2–3 times a week, on weekdays, since early 2022. For me, there’s usually a lull in my workday around 2 or 3 p.m., and that’s when I go a-walkin’. I work with people on the East Coast, West Coast, and France, so the peak meeting times are usually 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those hours are always pretty frantic for me. Afternoons are typically a bit more chill.

Why 2022? That year, out of a sense of desperation and pandemic-induced depression, I decided to put all my things in storage and live remotely for a while. (I don’t have many belongings; 10 boxes total, I believe, thank you Piece of Cake Moving & Storage! Not remotely sponsored.) Medium had gone remote a few years earlier. My vibe was basically: Why not? Also, I’d never lived on the West Coast.

I would shed my Brooklyn skin and become a d*gital n*mad. I cringe typing that phrase, but that’s basically what I did.

Honestly, it was pretty sweet.

Scenes from assorted mid-afternoon weekday walks in San Francisco. It looks so much different than Brooklyn, y’all. The air is naturally balmy and humid, too. My skin was way better over there.

My first stop was San Francisco. Walking for short bursts in the middle of my weekdays was a way to explore.

Photos from mid-afternoon walks in Seattle, 2022. I was there in August and it was pretty hot, surprisingly! Like, high 80s some days. I wish I had a better selfie.

Then: Seattle, and eventually LA, and back to San Francisco. On my walks, I discovered unfamiliar flora and fauna, got lost (not really though, because phone). I always felt refreshed when I made it back to wherever I was staying and opened my laptop again.

That’s the thing about a mid-afternoon weekday walk: It always feels a little like breaking the rules — there’s a vague “skipping school” vibe to it — yet I can guarantee you’ll think more clearly afterward.

:: leaves for a quick afternoon walk ::

:: okay now I’m back ::

I returned to New York last year — and my walking habit came with me. Lately, I’ve been strolling over to the Elizabeth Street Garden in Manhattan (it’s not exactly in my neighborhood, but close-ish). The city wants to turn into apartments… so I’m enjoying it while I can. Getting there and back takes around 30 minutes.

Elizabeth Street Garden, my “mid-afternoon weekday walk” spot as of late. Taken on a Thursday at around 3 p.m.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Taking a short walk to and from a designated nature-y spot in the middle of a workday is a bit like taking mini-PTO: There’s never a perfect time to do it, which is why setting a time in advance helps. Block 30 minutes in your calendar, set your little 🚶 or 👟 emoji as your Slack status, and go. I love to be super-specific about what I’m doing in my Slack statuses. For a while, early in the pandemic, I’d emojify whatever I was eating for lunch that day whenever I was eating lunch. That was fun. Putting a little 🌽 next to my name, for example, if I were having corn that day.
  • Whenever I leave my computer screen, I immediately come up with the answer (or an answer) to whatever I was trying to figure out when I was sitting in front of it. Most of my best thoughts are things I’ve emailed to myself whilst on walks.
  • There’s something about the pressure of “I can’t be out too long, I have a meeting in 20 minutes” that focuses my walk and my mind. There’s also the power of “prospection,” a fancy word for mental time-travel or envisioning what you’ll do next. Humans have a prodigious ability to envision things — I often use my walks as mini-visioning exercises, essentially dedicated to time to amp myself up for whatever I’ll do when I get back. I think about exactly what I’ll type, what decision I’ll make, who I’ll Zoom with and what I’ll say, which pesky task I will cross of my list, etc.
  • If you can do a walking 1:1 with a coworker, that’s great too. I went on a smol afternoon walking 1:1 with once and that’s when we decided to do The Daily Edition, if I recall correctly.
  • I recommend knowing where you’re going. Get there, spend five minutes realizing that you got there, and then turn back. This is enough time to throw a little wrench in your day and make you less sleepy when you return.
  • Not directly related to afternoon walks, but walks at the end of the day can be nice too.
  • Sometimes, you can just call a friend! Or your mom! In the middle of the day!
  • If you’re brave enough to leave your phone at home, do that! I am not. Also, the point of these walks isn’t to escape work. It’s to become more aware of work. It’s to approach work from a different angle, literally. Today I went for a walk and stopped on a corner for 10 minutes to type out a Slack message, which felt different than typing out the same message inside my apartment. The beauty of remote work is that you can do it anywhere, even while you’re not sitting down. If I had a big enough phone, it might be possible for me to do more of my work while walking — because most of the work I do is just listening, typing, talking, reading, and thinking. (And, hey, if Apple Vision Pro slims down enough, maybe that’s how most of us will work in the future! We’ll work while walking or standing or folding laundry.)

That’s pretty much it. When the pings and knock brushes and “let me just share my screen”s all get to be a little too much, close your laptop, walk to a point on Google Maps, and walk back. You will feel just different enough afterward that it will be worth it.

*For further reading, I highly recommend Emily Delaney’s “I’m A Short Afternoon Walk And You’re Putting Too Much Pressure On Me.”

--

--