As I mentioned last week, I’m now alternating working from home and at work. While this has presented some unique challenges with social distancing, I’m getting used to the new routine. What’s taking a little more time to adjust to are some changes in how I spend my days. Over the last six months, the long stretches of time spent sitting and working have slowly but steadily increased as the things that used to have me moving around the building (meetings, training sessions, going to the coffee room, etc.) were replaced with Zoom sessions, increased emails, and my desktop coffee maker.
In recent weeks, my training schedule has gotten back to something close to pre-pandemic days, but there’s a huge difference in how that plays out now. Before, I worked in person with groups of people, often with reference slides projected on a nearby screen, and I was constantly in motion, checking in with individuals and small groups. Now, I sit in my chair and interact through the computer. One day last week, I spent a total of ten hours in my home office and only got up four times.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of unshackling from the desk, both at home and in the office. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Working at home requires a lot less movement, because even just reaching my desk at work involves getting in the car, walking through the parking lot, going to the elevator, etc. Inside, everything is just a little more spaced out. Even heading down the hall to the restroom or to refill my water bottle requires more movement than when I’m home. Even at work, though, I’m sitting around more than usual (see above). Given that walking, even a little bit, has enormous health benefits, it’s something we don’t want to lose out on. So, it’s important to build short breaks into the day. Even a few laps around the room a few times a day gets our bodies engaged and contributes to our overall health.
Stretching can be done in short spurt so you get the benefits of moving without being away from your desk too long. If you, like me, are nearly constantly monitoring emails, online discussions, or Zoom sessions, try these simple stretches that you can do without going anywhere. Also, do some standing. Several of my colleagues swear by standing desks, although there are some mixed opinions about how long you should use them. At a minimum, health experts agree that we should stand up at least a few minutes every hour to help with circulation, blood sugar levels, avoiding muscle cramps, and gaining other health benefits.
Watch Out For Your Eyes
In the old days, there were more distractions, location changes, and in person interactions that pulled us away from our screens. These days, the computer is the gateway to just about everything. If you’ve had an increase in tired eyes and headaches, you’re not alone-many of us have been battling eye strain, a nasty byproduct of too much sustained screen time. Luckily, there’s an easy way to fight back: use the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This simple trick has an enormous, and pretty much immediate, positive impact. In fact, if you’ve been online for more than twenty minutes, take a quick break from reading this post and look away right now.
In addition to time, it’s important to be aware of blue light. This type of light travels the deepest into our retinas, and has been linked to cumulative damage. In the more immediate sense, it contributes to eye strain and headaches. Many devices have a built in option to filter blue light, but if yours don’t, consider either screen covers or glasses that filter it for you. I switch screens so often that the glasses work best for me, but my friend Mike wears glasses for his vision and so had gotten a screen cover for his monitor. You can also get prescription lenses that include blue light filtering. Blue light protection has immediately noticeable benefits. A while back, my mom started to complain about eye strain, so I loaned her my extra pair of blue light glasses over a weekend to see if they helped. It made such a difference for her that I told her to keep them and bought myself another spare set.
Watch Your Habits
One of my friends recently joked that she was fighting “the death of a thousand snacks”. She’s still working from home full time, and has realized that it’s a thousand times easier to walk to the fridge or pantry to get a snack than it is in the office (rummage for change, leave the desk, go down to the vending machine…). I’ve discovered that being back at work still involves a risk of unhealthy eating these days, because many of us have stocked up on non-perishable munchies in our offices. Fighting the snacking impulse can be really draining, especially if you’re feeling bored, lonely, or stressed (three hallmark 202 emotions). Instead of trying to eat less, I’m changing the options on hand, choosing veggie chips, granola bars, and fruit. Changing my grocery list has definitely started to change my day to day food habits.
Finally, be aware of your posture. Over the course of the pandemic, half of the people I know have started turning into bananas because of how much they’re hunching, and the other half are leaning back on their couches with their head awkwardly propped forward. Both of these postures put extra strain on the back and neck, and this can lead to short and long term. Try these tips for good posture, and be sure to change position (like standing, stretching, or walking) to prevent stiffness. If you’re experiencing a lot of stiffness and soreness, you might consider investing in a new chair. I have a great chair at work, but less so in my home office. I’ve been alternating between two, because one is more comfortable and better supports my posture, but the other allows me to swivel between two computers and an additional monitor. I think it’s probably time to get something that does both.
What’s your level of “sit and screen” time these days? How are you managing it?