Friday, February 17, 2012

I hate sitting still, a.k.a. How not to go crazy at work

If you're like me, you've been dreaming about Friday afternoon since you opened your eyes on Monday morning. It's not because my job is so onerous or difficult (maybe a little boring), it's because I work a desk job. And I really, really, really can't stand sitting still. I've never been able to. Now, as far as I know I don't have ADD or anything like that. It's not the concentration part I have trouble with, it's just that I don't like to be sitting still. Even when I'm sitting and doing something active (like playing in the Symphony) I have a foot tapping. I need to fidget, and I need to be active.
So having a desk job is possibly one of the worst things I could have done to myself. It's a special kind of torture we people have invented for ourselves, and many studies and articles have shown that it's not good for you to sit all day. (There are four different links in that sentence.) I do get to do some things which don't chain me to my desk, but they're few and far between. Summer things, mostly. Or once per week tasks. So how do I keep myself from going crazy every day? I have a few tips for others like myself.
The first is making reasons for myself to stand up frequently. We have a coffee pot at work which I use to make tea in the morning. This serves a dual purpose since I not only get up to fix my cup of tea, but I then have to pee a whole lot. :) (And it helps warm me up when it's cold out, and it ensures that I get enough liquid...ok, so maybe more than a dual purpose.) Even just the short break to stretch out my legs is helpful. If you don't like tea or coffee, just go get yourself some plain water. But be sure to get up frequently, and make reasons if you have to.
Next, I go to the bathroom at the far end of my building. There's one right next to my office, but that doesn't give me much of a chance to move. The other one isn't so far away that anyone would notice me taking an extra long bathroom break or anything, but it's definitely more of a break from the sitting.
Once I'm in the bathroom, provided it's empty, I do a few simple exercises. My favorites are easy to do while I'm washing my hands. The first: I lift my leg out to the side, fairly high to work my obliques a little bit. I do fifteen reps on each side. (This also gives my hands a little chance to dry, since I've stopped using paper towels at work.) Then I do a sort of mini squat. Legs together, I just bend my knees a little bit, doing another 15 reps of this. It doesn't take long at all for these moves but it helps me a lot.
Even if you don't take a lunch, everyone gets 15 minute breaks. Use them! I take one of mine to go for a short walk after eating (which I do at my desk, since I don't take an actual lunch). It helps me digest, gets me out in the daylight for a few minutes, and gets me moving. Rain, shine, snow, -50, whatever. I always get out for at least a short walk. If you take an actual lunch hour, how hard would it be to spend 15-20 minutes of that walking or jogging? Especially if you pack a lunch, rather than going out to eat.
The final piece of advice: sit on anything except a chair. It's too easy to slump over in a chair, no matter how ergonomic it is, and it's bad for you. After just a few months of working at my job I would go home every day with my back hurting. The very day I switched to sitting on an exercise ball instead, my back stopped hurting. I've never since gone home with my back hurting from sitting. Of course, the ball also provides a way for me to fidget. I don't know how much of a core workout I'm getting, but I certainly have new ways to move around. Mostly I bounce, but sometimes I'll sway side to side or front to back. I've read many articles saying that switching to a ball can help you lose weight. Well, I don't know about the losing part, but I definitely stopped gaining weight after I made the switch.
One note about the ball, though. Be prepared for odd looks from your coworkers, questions, and if you work in a public area like I do, stupid comments and jokes. (And I do mean stupid.) Even people peering over my desk to see why I'm bouncing is very common. In fact, I think I've only had a couple of days go by without a single person mentioning it or asking about it. So be prepared.
Sometime soon, I want to ask about getting a standing desk instead. I'm sure the surplus department has at least one, and an appropriate chair in case I do need to sit. This is something Shane has been urging me to do for a long time, but it's never been the "right" time to ask my boss. Moving the furniture would disrupt operations in my office for at least a few hours. So I'll probably ask this summer, when things are quiet.

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