Keeping a nimble mind through a nimble body
Office workers, thought workers, desk workers, or anyone who uses a computer for work, is actually using their brain to do the work. The body, mostly fingers, are just a conduit through which that work makes its way from the grey matter and out into the world.
This is true for everyone here on the TextExpander team, developers, marketers, designers, sales reps, customer support-ers, we all do our work mainly with our minds, through the tools of our bodies, and computers of course. Even if you use tools, such as TextExpander, to help increase work efficiency, that doesn’t mean you spend less time at the computer, it just means you get more done.
If you are like us, that means your most valuable resource is your brain, and to get the best work out of it, you need to keep it in the best condition possible.
A catch 22 of desk work is that the habits it encourages are also keeping you from your best work.
Over the coming weeks we’re going to examine how you can combat the habits that are keeping your brain from performing at your desk.
Stretch It Out
Start taking better care of yourself at your desk with a few key stretches. It might sound silly, but moving your body in the smallest of ways can have a positive impact on your muscles, circulation, metabolism, and posture. Plus, not to court the curse of the dreaded “c” word, but carpal tunnel is a repetitive use injury that will be easier to avoid by breaking up the old routine with some stretching.
Chats with a chiropractor, and some googling, will reveal some helpful stretches to practice at work. We suggest VeryWell’s list of 10 stretches as a good place to start. You can do all of them sitting down, except for number 8.
Over the months and years, people have a tendency to assimilate some of the aches and loss of mobility that result from the perpetual sitting of desk life. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how your body responds to some stretching if you’re out of the habit now.
VeryWell’s list covers the key typist tension areas.
- Stretch out your chest to counteract the typists hunch.
- Shrug to relieve shoulder and neck tension.
- Release tension in the upper back.
- Twist out the lower back.
- Stretch the whole torso for more anti-hunch.
- Forearm stretches help combate repetitive typing injuries.
- Necks hold a lot of tension.
- This standing stretch helps the hips.
- Sit and stretch the hips.
- Finally, don’t forget about the lower body.
Tools to Take Breaks
Stretching is a strong start. But getting into the habit of taking better care of yourself will benefit greatly from a multi-faceted approach. The next step to take is away from your desk. Get up, to the extent that you can, and move around at least a few times a day. Usual recommendations vary from once every 30 minutes to every hour or two. Summary takeaway is: as often as you can, at least a few times a day, something is better than nothing.
This will help to get your blood flowing, engage your muscles in the myriad ways they need to stay in working order, and generally keep your body active in some basic ways we lose by sitting around all day.
“But,” you might think to yourself, “what if I’m just plain busy most of the day?” “What if I’m the type to get lost in my work for hours at a time?” Sometimes the ability to step away for a couple minutes simply comes down to our lack of habit or sheer inability to remember to do it. Maybe an external aid can help.
For Mac users, try BreakTime. It’s a menu bar app that reminds you to take breaks at a chosen interval. If you need a little extra nudge it can lock your Mac’s screen for a short time, default is two minutes, with varying levels of authority. This can include removing all options to escape or cancel the break. If you choose, the only way BreakTime will let you back into your Mac during a scheduled break is if you shut it down by force and restart.
On the Windows side, try EyeLeo, similar to BreakTime in approach, features, and optional authority. EyeLeo also includes optional eye exercises for your breaks, which can help ease strain and keep your eyes in good shape with the rest of your body.
If you have an Apple Watch, or similar health-conscious wearable, switch on its alerts to stand or perform other exercises. The key here is to actually listen to these alerts, which we understand can be part of the struggle. One advantage for wearables, in this case, is that they are always with you, even if you’re working on a different computer, a mobile device, or otherwise away from your typical environment.
Minimum Viable Actions
We know that not everyone works at an office with a yoga hour.
Takeaway: Something is always better than nothing. If you need to start small, try stretches numbers 1, 4, and 5 to feel some of the best improvements of the bunch.
Pair these activities with others to help you remember to do them. At the beginning of lunch, and before and after every bathroom run, stretch it out. You can also set a reminder on your phone for mid morning and mid afternoon. Your body will thank you.