In this weekend’s assignment for our October health reset, we’re going to look at the place where you spend most of your day: your workspace. Health isn’t just a thing that happens when you’re away from your desk; you deserve to support your well-being even while you’re working.
We’re focusing on small tweaks to home workspaces in this instalment, although your health is important no matter where or how you work. In many traditional workplaces, organising with fellow workers to demand healthier working conditions is one of the things that should be on your mind.
But for now, let’s take a look at your desk or study space at home.
Check your chair
First things first: Are you comfortable when you sit down to work? If you’ve been making do with an uncomfortable chair, treat yourself to a better one or take steps to make the one you have fit you better. Adjusting your chair’s seat depth, height and back support can make a big difference, as our own Abu Zafar found out when he invited an ergonomics expert to review his workspace.
But if that’s not your style, good news: you don’t have to find the perfect chair and the perfect position. You can simply move around during the day if that feels better to you. What matters is that you feel comfortable, not the exact way you find that comfort. I sit in a wooden chair with a pillowy footstool and shift position every few minutes. That’s not in any of the ergonomics guides, but it works for me.
Tweak your positioning and peripherals
Is your keyboard too high? Your screen too low? Do you struggle to work with the trackpad on your laptop for precision tasks? All of these things are fixable. It’s totally fair game to get a separate mouse or keyboard if that will make you more comfortable or help you get your work done, and you can prop up a laptop or monitor on a stand — or even a stack of books.
Also, remember that you can do different tasks in different areas, and optimise each accordingly. For example, a cheap folding table with a stack of books on top makes a great Zoom call setup — just carry it to the spot in the house that has the nicest looking background.
Break up the monotony
Not long ago we shared some suggestions to get exercise while you work or during your breaks. Besides setting up a standing or moving desk, you can make the time and space to get a fit mini workouts in, and dress at the beginning of the day in a way that facilitates that (sweatpants + a Zoom-appropriate top are a classic combination).
Plan your meals
I don’t mean that you need a supply of meal-prepped lunches in the fridge (although that would be great). I’m thinking about whether you’ve given any intentional thought to when, where and how you’ll eat during the workday?
If you always mean to step away from your desk for lunch but end up eating at your desk anyway, there’s probably room for improvement. Either figure out how you can keep your promise to yourself, or rethink your expectations — and be kind to yourself about it.
For example, you might want to keep napkins and a coaster at your desk so that you can eat those meals neatly, and so your plate has a space of its own instead of getting plopped on top of the books and papers that are already there. Or maybe you eat at your desk because you get hungry in the middle of deadlines; in that case, keep some healthy snacks on hand to tide you over until you can take a real break.
Clean your damn desk
Finally, the one thing you’ve been neglecting: just clean your desk already. If your desk is anything like mine there are things you have placed there intentionally, like a dying spider plant, and then there are things that have just accumulated.
Earlier this year, I spent a mere 10 minutes cleaning my desk with the emotional support of my coworkers. The payoff was incredible: a year’s worth of detritus, gone in a flash. But my desk is once again looking like the “before” picture, and I’m thinking I might actually… do it again? And maybe I will feel calmer when I look at it, instead of stressed by the mess and by the papers I printed out and haven’t done anything with?
Your results may vary, but a clean desk is a nice thing to have. You could even spruce up your surroundings — hang a new picture, water that spider plant. While you’re at it, give yourself a routine to follow. Maybe remove dirty dishes and unneeded papers at the end of each day, and empty the trash each week. I know, big steps. But if you’re happier and maybe a tiny bit healthier, it’s worth it.