If we total the number of hours we sit each day — including time commuting, surfing the net, watching TV, reading, eating, and working — it becomes obvious that we have become creatures of habit, and that habit is sitting.
Many people I speak to feel chained to their chair or desk — both by habit and expectations at work.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most common questions I have been asked is how to sit less without buying an expensive standing desk or looking like someone who is either not doing their job or just being a rebel.
Here are 5 tips that you can do at work to beat the seat and sit less this week:
Tip 1 – Schedule Breaks
Taking breaks is essential to maximise efficiency during work.
You need them for productivity purposes (yes, you do!)
Everybody needs a break, but they easily get overlooked.
I know I’m terrible when I’m sitting at a computer, it’s like a black hole in time. I just get lost in there and I have no idea how long I’ve been there, especially when trawling through the internet.
Distractions like the above make it so important to schedule breaks.
The system that has been most effective for me at the office is the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a workflow schedule designed to maximise productivity, and as a happy bonus (!!), health.
You begin with 25 minutes on, then 5 minutes off.
For that 5 minutes, get up and move around.
Make sure you move, don’t stay at the computer and don’t reach for your smartphone (I mean that!) – remember, the goal is to sit less! Then come back and do another run of 25 minutes work.
The Pomodoro Technique recommends doing 3 runs of 25 minutes with a 5 minute break in between, and after the fourth run, take a 10 minute break.
The key is to stand for the entirety of the break time.
Trust me, you’re going to feel better for it.
I recommend using one of the following apps, or something similar, to schedule break times:
- Tomato-Timer.com – Tomato-Timer.com gives you a timer that you can use in any web browser. You click start for a 25 minute run. Then, after the 25 minutes, depending on what you choose, it will give you a beep like a digital watch to tell you to take a break, and then you just simply click the start button for the short or long break.
- WorkRave.org – If you’ve got admin privileges** on your computer at the office then you can add free software called Workrave from workrave.org. Install it, and set it up as a Pomodoro Timer with breaks every 25 minutes; or set it to alert you at any interval you prefer
- **Here’s a pre-written e-mail you can use to request admin privileges – if you’re short of time – it worked for me!**
- Strict Workflow – This extension for Google Chrome actively prevents users from wasting time online by blocking social media and other time drains. It also has the same pomodoro time setting ability as the tomato timer website.
Try out at least one of these free pieces of software and sites to take and schedule those breaks.
I know my workday and productivity have improved dramatically by not compromising on breaks, even when deadlines are looming!
What to do During Break Time
Following a regular routine during break time makes it more productive and takes away the guilty feeling of taking a ‘break’.
Breaks are meant to be relaxing and healthy, but they can also throw you off your work.
However, a routine for your breaks helps to ease this and reduces the guilty feeling you might have about taking breaks.
For my break time I like to go to the toilet, have some water, walk around and have a light stretch.
Often, I just stretch in the toilet. It kills two birds with one stone and I can sit back down knowing I have done everything I can to prevent feeling bad later that day.
Often, I also eat a healthy snack like a fruit or some nuts.
If you have tasks to do, go over and chat to a colleague instead of using the phone.
There are lots of other little things you could do like this.
Keep a list and do them in your breaks!
Tip 2 – Replace Writing with Voice Typing
Voice typing is as easy as it sounds. I use it often.
I actually ‘wrote’ the first draft of this blog post.
All you need is a smartphone, or tablet, or laptop or whatever, as long as it has a microphone, and a quiet place.
If you have a good idea of what you want to type, that helps a lot too as it is much faster than typing at a computer.
As most of the software isn’t perfect yet, doing it on your phone and then editing later at your computer later might be necessary but will still likely be faster overall.
I did a quick test and found that I type at 40 words per minute normally, but voice-type at 140 words per minute.
More than 3x my usual speed!
Punctuation doesn’t get auto-inserted when voice-typing but a quick Microsoft Word spellcheck can sort this for you later.
Voice typing also allows you the freedom of being able to walk around and have a bit of a stretch while you’re doing it, so there is another added benefit there.
Here are a couple of ways you can set up voice typing to further help you sit less at the office:
- Dictation.io – This is similar to the Google Doc app, but you do not have to download an app to use it. Just go to the dictation.io website, set your language and start speaking. It recognises a number of different languages other than English, too.
- Google Docs App – For your mobile phone, install the Google Docs app for Android or iPhone, and voice type away. You might also have a voice-typing option by default on your smartphone – try hitting the microphone button on a message to get used to this!
- Rev.com: This is a paid option (but first 10 minutes are free to try!) and is only really for longer documents. It is a transcription service and so sends your document away to a transcriptionist who then types it up. Most come back to your e-mail within the hour. It also has a very simple app which makes things a breeze.
Tip 3 – Adjust Your Desk to Work Standing Up
All you have to do to work standing up is to put your computer high enough.
Of course, that could be a challenge if you are tall, or if you work in a busy environment.
But, if you think outside of the box you might just find a way.
For example, if you have a laptop you could place that somewhere high up such as a windowsill, or on top of a small table stacked on your desk.
There are even ergonomic standing desks available for sale.
The ones I mean here fit on top of an existing desk and go up and down easily. At the time of writing, I am thinking about getting one for my office. I will update if I do get one!
Don’t forget to get permission from your office manager first for any changes!
I have even tried putting a coffee table on my desk at work but my colleague opposite felt like I was standing over her so I didn’t use it for more than 5 minutes!
If you face a wall, however, this shouldn’t be a problem.
For some more off-the-wall ideas, have a look at standing desk hacks over on Twitter!
Tip 4 – Arrange Standing Meetings (Even If You Are Not A Manager)
If you chair meetings, or are close with someone who does, try conducting meetings while standing up, another great opportunity to sit less.
If you don’t have this option, one way to get people to agree to standing meetings might be through a wellness event, like On Your Feet Britain.
This event happens once a year and is a good way to get people at least interested and trying something new – have a go!
I’ve begun to implement standing meetings myself (on the rare occasions I chair them!).
At my meetings, I don’t require everyone to stand, it’s optional, which is key to avoiding resistance, rebellion or simply making people feel bad about it.
However, I do make it clear that I would appreciate if participants stand.
It is also recommended that nudging people to make healthier options by having to consciously opt-out is an effective way of helping to change health and wellness behaviour in the workplace.
The meetings have always gone down well because:
- it’s a change from the norm
- standing keeps people attentive
- standing also cuts down time and it makes everyone want to get things done fasterfaster.
- many colleagues welcome the opportunity to stand a little more. You will probably find you are not the only one at the office who wants to sit less!
Tip 5 – Use an Exercise Ball
For times when you have to sit to get work done, you don’t necessarily have to sit on a chair.
If you can afford to buy an exercise ball, they’re great.
Then, rather than sitting in your chair all the time, you can alternate between your office chair and the exercise ball.
Although sitting on an exercise ball is still technically ‘sitting,’ it has no back support, so it requires you to engage your spine and lumbar muscles, which can help to alleviate some back pain from poor posture.
You will feel a difference from sitting on an exercise ball.
It’s more tiring, like having a mini workout.
And you will need a space for it.I was lucky enough to have a bit of space to store my ball while I wasn’t using it, which allows me to switch back and forth.
That gave me a nice break, and a bit of variation in the work I was doing.
I was lucky enough to have a bit of space to store my ball under my desk while I wasn’t using it, which allows me to switch back and forth.
That gave me a nice break, and a bit of variation in the work I was doing.
Before buying online, try to figure out if it will fit under your desk!
If not, check it is easy & quick enough to pump/deflate quickly and quietly at the office.
Remember – don’t use an exercise ball all day, only for short bouts.
It is, after all, an exercise ball and not a desk chair so use it wisely and in moderation.
Conclusion: Sit Less This Week
There you have it, 5 different ways you can beat the seat, get out of your chair, and do something a bit different during your work day.
Obviously some of these things I’ve suggested might not be suitable for your particular situation.
So, choose whichever suits your job or situation – adapt and modify and see how you go!
And of course, let me know how you get on and if you have been able to sit less at work this week!
- Tomato Timer
- Strict Workflow (for Google Chrome)
- Workrave (for Windows + users with admin privileges)
- Deskbound book (affiliate link) for stretches and tips on staying flexible with your desk job
- Follow James Levine MD on Twitter
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