Mary Harper: head of customer and digital marketing at Standard Life
Mary Harper: head of customer and digital marketing at Standard Life
A view from Mary Harper

Standard Life's Harper explains why walks are her secret work weapon

This secret weapon has led to a number of career breakthroughs, writes Standard Life's head of customer and digital marketing.

When I got my first job as a web developer, I would spend hours staring at lines of code, trying to figure out why something wasn’t working properly.

I got the same advice over and over again: "Take a break. Change your perspective. It’ll look different when you come back."

Being (a lot) younger then, this felt like a stupid idea. I had deadlines to meet and, besides, I wanted to get out of the office and back to my social life.

I had to stick with the problem. Needless to say, this approach led to a lot of missed deadlines and pizzas-for-one in the office instead of cocktails with friends. I didn’t last long as a web developer.

Fast-forward a few years and I’m a million miles away from my old role and also that old fixed mindset. The way you perceive a problem or an opportunity has a vast impact on your ability to solve it. Context is everything.

Although I’ve picked up a number of tricks for altering my context over the years, my favourite by far has more benefits than just a fresh pair of eyes – it’s also good for my health. It’s as simple as going for a walk and getting some fresh air. I’m addicted to it.

I’ve found all sorts of imaginative ways to sneak more walking and fresh air into my day. I get off the bus early, I arrange meetings on the other side of the building, I have "walking meetings", I even walk to and from work when I can despite living almost two hours away from the office.

And the more I walk, the freer my mind becomes, so I can think differently and positively about almost any challenge.

I’d like to believe this secret weapon has led to a number of breakthroughs in my career, whether it be a particular result I’m trying to deliver or a change of company or role.

It has also led to a huge stockpile of stiletto heels under every desk I’ve ever sat at. Because who wants to sit around all day in smelly walking shoes? 

Mary Harper is head of customer and digital marketing at Standard Life.