Maybe you’re lucky, and you are in an area of research that requires very little sitting. You might be standing in a lab running biology experiments. Or out with athletes running some kinesiology studies. But, if you’re like me, and in computer science (and likely many other disciplines) you’re research generally ties you to your computer.
I find I’m always looking to find ways to put more activity into my day, and it can be really hard. Especially if I’m focused and getting stuff done. It’s one of the reasons that as much as I sometimes dread going to various meetings or talks or what not, I also enjoy the fact that it gets me moving – even if it’s just the short walk to the next location.
I spend a ridiculous amount of time on my laptop. I know that, because I use RescueTime to track my productivity. I know from the data when I’m having productive and unproductive days and weeks. But, the main (scary) thing I’ve learned, is just the sheer amount of time I spend in front of a screen. I’m usually almost double the hours of a regular RescueTime user. Now, I track 24/7, and I’m sure many users only track during their normal workday, which accounts for a lot of that time. But, it works out to a scary number of hours that I spend sitting each week.
I’m good, and I get out to exercise usually 3-6 times a week. And, those are usually decently long and vigorous session (not a 20 minute leisurely stroll). But, study after study keeps coming out and saying that even having a good exercise routine is not enough to combat the number of hours we sit. So, I know I need to focus more on getting up and moving away from the screen.
Yesterday, was a particularly long day at the computer. It was also a very productive day, and so I wasn’t very eager to get up and move away. However, I did force myself to try adding a few things in. Now, let me just say, that it’s freezing here this week (well below -10C/14F) and so going out for a run is not ideal (to me anyway). So, since I live in a fairly tall apartment building, I tried adding in running stairs for breaks. It only takes a few minutes to go out, take the elevator down (I got very dizzy the time I walked down and then ran up) and then run back to my floor (I’m near the top). Simple, easy and requires nothing more than my running shoes.
Now, if I was on campus, this wouldn’t be quite so easy to do. And I’d probably be looked at oddly if I was running up and down stairs. There’s also only three flights total. But, I could at least come up with a short walking route around the building. The point is to get up and get moving and away from the screen.
Another reason I’ve been thinking about this recently, is that my middle finger on my right hand has been bothering me. And this is usually a sign that I’ve been spending too much time on my computer (the scroll wheel on mice is particularly bad, which is why I try to stick to track pads, but it happens here too). So, the other thing I’ve done is installed an app on my computer to remind me to take breaks. The app I’m using is called antiRSI and is available in the AppStore on Mac. You can also use an earlier version for free found here. I’m using the free version for now, but will probably end up paying for the full one, just to support them if I continue to find it useful.
With this program you can set up two types of breaks – micro pauses and work breaks and how often and long each should be. When the break occurs, a timer appears on your screen to count down the time until you should resume working. It doesn’t disable your computer or anything, but it won’t count down if you’re using the mouse or keyboard. And the micro pauses restart until you wait out the entire pause. If you take natural breaks and pauses, and they cover the set time lengths you have, then it restarts the countdown until the next one.
Anyway, at the end of the day, more so than the actual time and length of the set pauses and breaks, it’s having a reminder pop up on my screen that I should move away from the computer is the best part. If I’m going to be tied to an electronic gadget, then I should be able to use it to help keep me healthy. Of course, it’s up to you to actually heed any of the suggestions and get up and move away.