Writing Fitness

I spend a lot of time at my desk, in front of a computer. My office is brightly lit. I don’t like to listen to music when I’m trying to think, so all day long I hear the steady hum of my desktop PC. By the end of the day I have a headache behind my eyes, stiff shoulders and an aching lower back. I complain to my husband when he gets home and he asks me the same things every time:

“Did you take eye breaks?”

“Um, no.”

“You should go for a walk at lunch.”

“Yeah, I forgot.”

“Why do you sit on one foot? You should use that footstool I built for you.”

“Sorry, I know.”

It’s the same, every time. I bought an expensive ergonomic chair but it’s no good if I don’t sit in it properly. I’ve adjusted my monitor to the correct angle but I forget to take eye breaks. I get so wrapped up in my work that I don’t move unless I’m hungry or need a bathroom break. No wonder my body is upset.

I’ve started using a few strategies to help me be kinder to my body.

1. Mindfulness.

It seems to be the popular term in psychology these days. I simply use it as a term for focusing on what I am doing. When I leave my desk to make a cup of tea I am completely there in making that cup of tea. I feel the cold ceramic cup. I measure the sugar. I listen to the tea leaves rattle into the diffuser and the hot water gurgle around inside the cup. In that moment I am not thinking about the editor I have to contact or the half-formed idea I am about to expand on the page. I am there, making my tea.

The same goes for if I am staring at the neighbour’s lovely gardens on my eye break, or quickly pulling the clothes off the line before the rain starts.

2. Scheduling.

I love having a to-do list. Because I only get to write one day a week (soon to be more), I have to be organised. So I keep my to-do list open all week to record all those things I suddenly remember. The night before my writing day I prioritise my work and break it down into 50-minute blocks. After each workblock I have a 10 minute break – be it a cuppa, a trip to the bathroom or just a wander around the house to stretch my legs, my eyes and my mind.

3. Errands.

A work-from-home dad once told me that he works best when he only works six hours a day and squeezes his errands into his workday. The key is to schedule them in. Rather than spending your writing time procrastinating over a messy house or something else that needs to be taken care of simply schedule it in for 11am and that way you know you will get to it. The bonus is that your day is more flexible than those working office jobs. There will be less traffic, shorter queues – and you get a break too!

4. Physical Exercise.

I will admit I am not the best at keeping up my physical exercise regime. The days of long walks with the pram are over now that the toddler wants to explore everything. But collapsing onto the couch after a day of sitting in front of the computer will only make me feel worse. I like to finish work while the sun is still out and run around the park or backyard with my kid. Climbing on the fort is always better than sitting back and watching. A few squats and lunges in the office always get my blood pumping. If you can do some yoga or an exercise class, great (a goal of mine).

The best kind of exercise for desk-bound workers? Stretches. Just get up from your desk on your breaks and stretch our your legs, arms, neck.

It’s important to do your writing exercises to keep your mind strong. It’s also important to work smart and keep your body strong.

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