For this month’s Word Carnival, we’re all talking about PRODUCTIVITY, and i’m excited to learn once again from the genius-tank of carnies. My context as i approach this topic is that i’m a full time parent and part time work-from-home graphic designer and social media helper. It’s EASY for me to get distracted…in fact, it’s a rule of the game. i started out trying to minimize and eliminate distractions, but…
So my productivity tip #1 is:
Plan For Distractions
That’s right, EXPECT to be distracted and interrupted, and decide as best you can ahead of time how you’ll handle those situations. Decide what’s worth being interrupted for (Is it bleeding?) and how much time you can devote to such distractions. As a creative person, i find that when i’m in a good artistic space you BETTER NOT interrupt me, because that flow can be hard to get back into. On the flip side, when i’m not feeling creative or inspired, i may need to initiate a creativity-inducing distraction in order to find that flow (and not waste the client’s or my own time struggling when it just ain’t happnin’!). There’s a lot already written about this (My neighbor David Allen comes to mind), so i’ll leave it at that. Kind of surface-level, i know, but my focus for this article is on long-term productivity.
i recently had the amazing fortune to purchase my first home, and it >GASP!< has enough rooms that i get my own office! Finally, i at least have a physical space that i can set up specifically to suit my working needs...and shut myself off in when needed. Just previous to that move, i had been reading about and experimenting with a standing workstation. There's a lot out there about this, and the spectrum seems to be from "Good GAWD, how could you stand up ALL day?!?" to "Sitting down is killing you!". As with most polarized issues, both ends hold some measure of truth, while the healthiest answer lies somewhere in the middle. My experience of setting up a temporary standing station (literally a stack of books and boxes to get the monitor to the right height) was that it felt great in my legs, back and shoulders...exactly where the strains are of the admittedly unnatural position of sitting. Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple has a really great article detailing why this is, and what to do about it. An excerpt:
But what chairs actually do is make sitting in a harmful, slumped-over position for a dangerously long period of time possible. We bypass our built-in feedback system (you know – pain, fatigue, a sore back) that would usually direct us to correct our posture (or even, maybe, stand up and move around) and we’re able to sit relatively pain-free for hours on end – but the damage is being done. We’re getting progressively weaker and more reliant on the backing of the chair, and when we’re in a sitting situation without added back support, we can’t handle it. Instead of sitting erect, shoulders back, back strong and straight, head held high, we just slump over and use the curvature of our spine to support our bodies. If you don’t believe me, start watching for it.
So i knew i wanted an actual standing workstation in my new office. The trouble was that my internet search for how to make this happen had just two results:
- Buy One for hundreds to thousands of dollars, or
- Make One by stacking boxes, books, and other discarded office paraphernalia.
Neither of those options appealed to me, so i designed my own and paid a carpenter friend to build it. Again, the solution ended up being somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. i started with an oak entertainment center that was no longer in use, and figured out the exact height it needed to be cut down to so that when my laptop sits on it, the screen is the right height – my eyes are even with the top of the screen, so that i’m looking ever-so-slightly downward when i’m working. [NOTE: this design is not adjustable, so the monitor is perfect for me only…not so great for my 5’1″ wife.] We also redesigned one of the existing shelves to slide in and out (which places my eyes at the correct distance from the screen), and placed it at the exact height so that when i’m using my keyboard my elbows are at my sides and close to 90˚ angles and my wrists are straight.
Clearly, all of this is better for my body, especially as i intend to make a career out of being in front a computer for most of my working time (i eventually invested in a good ergonomic split keyboard as well), but even after a full day, my legs and feet are still TIRED. So the real genius – that powerful solution between the two extremes – is that i ALSO have a sitting workstation. It’s got an older desktop computer at it, but that’s mostly the “family computer”. i sit there when i’m making phone calls or when i use the slide-out keyboard tray as a writing or drawing desk. The answer is to mix it up, to vary your body’s positions and levels of activity throughout the day. Now, i must make sure to acknowledge that this is a somewhat luxurious setup. Like i mentioned, having the proper space and resources and know-how to put this all together was not mine right out of the proverbial box…i definitely had to work my way up to it. But having acquired said resources, NOT choosing to make these valuable changes would have been foolish.
But what does all of this have to do with productivity?
There are two main ways in which using a standing workstation improves my productivity: immediate and long-term.
- Immediate – As i mentioned, i have kids and i work from home…so i literally get called upon to leap into various types of action all the time. When i was sitting, i felt much more entrenched in my little work-pod, and getting up meant thrusting away from my desk on wheels that rolled less and less well over time, and hauling myself up into a new body position. When i’m standing up to work, i’m already more than halfway there when i need to break away to do something else quickly. My blood is already circulating the way and where it’s supposed to and i’m already nimble and limber. “Hey Dad, I just broke a glass!” I’m on it. “Dad, I need you to wipe my butt.” Bam, done. (My office is also adjacent to a bathroom. Nevermind.) Standing while i work minimizes the time that distractions and interruptions take, which in turn minimizes the amount of time and effort it takes to slip back into work mode.
- Long-Term – i hope it seems obvious, but investing in healthy working habits and an office structure that supports my body’s needs means that i’ll be ABLE TO BE PRODUCTIVE for a longer time – not just during a given day, but over my working career. The standing station (and the sitting option) is not the total solution, and i’ve written about several other quick, easy tips for prolonging your body’s productive life HERE. Here’s to your health, and please let me know what ergonomic/productivity changes you’ve experimented with or even just pondered, or those you’ll make in the future!
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