This summer I spent an inordinate amount of time behind a computer, and decidedly limited amounts of time outside, exercising, standing, doing anything beyond the screen. I did do some physical work on the cabin to transition it to a full-time rental property, but even that was limited. It wasn’t my plan, but somewhere around the end of June I realized that it was going to need to happen and I just kind of knuckled down and did it.
Sometimes we have a season like this. When the demands of life are just so that all you can do is work through them. I was very blessed this time around that a) I saw it coming and b) by seeing it coming I could put plans in place to create a defined end-time to this type of living (namely September!).
Despite being absent here on the blog, not setting my foot to a single trail since June, and generally disappearing for over two months behind the glow of my screens I learned a lot from my time in the tiny cubicle.
1. Stand up.
Humans were not designed to sit 8 hours a day, especially this human. 8 hours is one thing – you get used to the devil you know and it is hard to recognize what is causing you to be sore every day. On those days where I’ve had to work extra it gets very pronounced. The longevity of my soreness from sitting and being stationary this summer has been worse than I’ve ever had from exercise or physical activity. When I’m sore from physical activity, it’s a ‘good sore’ and 3-5 days later it’s better again. Being sore from sitting all the time feels like being stuck in mud and unable to move.
This realization fueled a lot of my other thoughts below.
2. Ergonomics are a thing.
I didn’t really believe in ergonomics until I started working full-time at a desk last year. One of the desks I was sat at had been designed for someone over a foot taller than me, so it was about 4 inches higher than a standard desk (which is already about an inch too high for short o’le me.) Within two weeks I was flat on my back from pain caused by working there.
Ever since then I’ve been careful about setting up my desks to fit me, but I worked at a lot of different locations doing a lot of different things (deploying computers, setting up cell phones, etc) this summer and I often (usually) neglected the ergonomics of my temporary work locations. Because they were temporary I didn’t get laid out flat again, but every time I returned to my personal desk, I would breath a sigh of relief.
Beyond my desk, I’ve begun to take notice of the ergonomics of my living room (we re-arranged with the cabin transition and it’s not working yet), my car (did you know you can adjust the steering wheel?!!!), and my kitchen (I’ve started wearing shoes more often when I cook on our hard tile floor).
3. Go outside.
I’ve made it into the wilderness roughly 0 times this summer. That said, going outside is still important to not just my physical health but also my mental health. When I lived in the Midwest, I would get cabin fever during the winter, stuck inside by the snow and the cold caused me to run from car to house to car to store and back again. Hot summers in Southern California do the same thing but from the heat.
I usually get my outside time during my lunch, but this summer I started brown bagging my lunch more often. Which is great for the health and the pocket book, but it keeps me trapped inside. It took me most of the summer to realize that this was an issue, so now that it’s getting cooler (102 instead of 112 degrees Fahrenheit) I’m trying to find ways to be outside for at least a little bit each day.
It’s just good for everything. I knew this, but somehow I forget still.
5. Get away from screens whenever possible.
You’ve heard about the negative effects of screens, but there is nothing like staring at one for 10 or more hours a day to realize just how much they are unhealthy to a vibrant life. How do I know this? When I walk outside to my car at the end of the day there’s a weird feeling of emerging and ‘re-entering’. Like when you come out of a movie, or when you return from a vacation. That dissonance between reality and screen life – it lets me know that there is something both alluring about screen life and dangerous for me. I can easily get sucked in and miss the extra bits of life.
I’ve made the transition almost entirely to ebooks, something I knew I was going to do back when they were first proposed in 1999 and I was working at a bookstore. We speculated how bookstores would change, or transition as ebooks became more the norm. It’s crazy to think that was less than 20 years ago – I used to go to the bookstore weekly but I went into one recently for the first time in over a year. That said, I pulled out a paperback book the other day and even though I’ve got great ereaders, there is a very big difference reading a physical book. It gets me away from the screen and engages in the physical world just a little bit. I’ve decided to spend more time at the real library and less time at the eLibrary now that the physical library is on my drive home and re-embrace my love for physical books as a way to get away from screens more.
6. I hate cell phones… but they’re just so handy!
I have this fantasy… where I live my life without a cell phone. I have a land line and people leave messages. I check email only when seated at a computer. Social media works FOR me instead of sucking away energy.
It’s only a fantasy.
This summer I spent an inordinate amount of time fixing/setting up/trouble shooting cell phones. Scratch that – this YEAR I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on cell phones. I’ve begun putting mine down more and more at the end of the day and I’m liking it. Trying to use it only as a phone when I’m at home, instead of as another distraction device, is going well and provides a lot of end-of-the-day relief. Now if I could only get away from it more during the rest of my life.
However, without my cell phone I would have lost contact with even more people this summer, I would have forgotten numerous appointments and I would have no idea where I was going. I am grateful for all the things that having a cell phone makes simply ‘easy.’
7. True friends are there when you come back from hibernation
Any of my friends who have known me for a while know that I work in this pattern – intense busy, then reconnect with life, then intense busy. Some make an increased effort to see me when I’m busy (for which I’m super grateful) some just accept that my disappearing doesn’t mean I don’t love and care for them.
This used to be a problem with my friends, but I’m finding that as I get older (and better at making/keeping/choosing friends) it is becoming more a normal interaction level. My true friends are the ones who understand and are there for me when I come back from hibernation.
8. Take your breaks.
I am an hourly employee. As such, I have a long history of workers who suffered, fought and even died to win me the right to my breaks and my lunch. There is no reason I should feel guilty and like a slacker because I take my breaks and yet that has been the culture in every single office I’ve ever worked in. There is a growing culture in America to ignore breaks and work through lunch, eating at your desk. It isn’t healthy for anyone nor does it breed good work.
I’m trying to reframe taking my breaks in my head as a counter-cultural statement. I set timers and try to take my 2 short breaks. I make sure that I get away from my desk at my lunch (and out of the building if I can!).
9. Walk. Every. Day.
This isn’t about ‘go to the gym’ or ‘work out’ or ‘exercise to lose weight’. It’s simply about moving.
I’ve been trying to get better about walking more. My goal is to walk the dogs every day, but that dropped a lot this summer between Watson having a paw injury and my long work days. I try to get up and walk during my work day, but sometimes I look up and 4+ hours have gone by and I’ve not moved.
Einstein says that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Those days I walk, I feel better – my joints move better, my brain is clearer, my muscles move smoother. It’s so easy and yet so hard. For me, the draw of a sedentary lifestyle is so strong at this point it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get the motion going.
10. Drink more water, less coffee.
My co-worker literally carries a 1/2 gallon jug around with him every day at work. We tease him that it’s his baby (because he cradles it like one) but he is onto something. One thing that became very pronounced to me this summer is just how tired I get when I’ve not had enough water. When I’m outside and moving around it’s easy to remember to drink, but at the desk it doesn’t feel like I’m getting dehydrated, it just feels like I’m getting tired and dull around the edges. So I grab a cup of coffee or a soda. For the caffeine.
Turns out water works better most of the time.
It’s made me wonder how many ‘symptoms’ in my life are caused by a lack of hydration. I even went out and bought myself a new water bottle to help me remember to drink more all day long. Usually I manage to do about 1/2 my goal, but I’m working on it.
What helps you stay sane when working at a desk for long periods of time? How do you stay motivated to get out and find adventure when you’re overly busy?