What I’m working on: Sitting less, splitting shifts, AC horror stories

I had limited ambitions for this past weekend. I wanted to sort the mail pile, and that happened. I wanted to go for a run, and I did. A few other things did not pan out quite as intended, but more on that in my monthly newsletter essay (out near the start of August).

I’m working on a few stories for a few different outlets right now that I’d love help with — anecdotes, interesting studies you’ve seen, ideas of experts to interview.

* Ways to sit less. Following a few studies showing worse health outcomes for people who sit a lot (even if they exercise), publications featured a rash of stories on treadmill desks. It’s a nice idea, but I’m guessing 95-plus percent of people are not going to wind up working all day while walking at 1.5 mph. So, failing that, what are some other ways you’ve found to sit less?

* How to “split shifts” well. Fast Company’s been doing a soft launch of a working parents section that I’m writing for. In my Mosaic research, I found that 45 percent of logs featured “split shifts” — that is, the parent going back to work for at least 30 minutes, on at least one weeknight, after the kids went to bed. It’s the way a lot of people preserve evenings for family time while still logging longer work hours. If you do this frequently, how do you minimize the downsides? (e.g. having no time with one’s partner, staying up too late or having trouble winding down).

* AC horror stories. For a potential USA Today column. Every time I visit an office building, hotel, or event space during the summer, I have to remember to pack a sweater. The AC is cranked up so high that going outside is a relief. I’m looking for stories of people who’ve worked in office buildings where such inefficient energy use is going on, forcing them to resort to mittens, blankets, space heaters, etc. I think it’s that office temperatures are set for men in suits, though it may also be about poor planning too (the temperature is set for the building being at maximum capacity — but it usually isn’t).
As always, feel free to post here or email me: lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.

25 thoughts on “What I’m working on: Sitting less, splitting shifts, AC horror stories

  1. Sitting less – one option besides a standing desk is to kneel on a cushion, either on one knee or two. Standing in meetings/talks/etc also makes a lot of sense even if people might think you’re weird.

    Split shifts – I have a high activation barrier to going back to work in the evening once I “break” for the day. But once I start, I want to keep going, and then it’s easy to stay up too late. The key for me is to have a cut off time and stick to it, so that I allow myself wind down time so that I can actually fall asleep. Probably not a problem for everyone, but I have pretty bad insomnia, and it has gotten a lot better since stopping working until all hours of the night.

    AC – no good ideas, except that this happens all the time and I hate it! It’s insane going from 100 degree weather on the walk to my building (and the drive) and then having it be sub-70 inside. Why can we not agree to a comfortable 75? What’s a woman to wear?

  2. As a guy who sometimes wears a suit, we’re freezing too. My suspicion is that managers have heard that being too warm makes you lethargic. So making everybody freeze is going to make them more productive, right?

    1. @Jack – maybe – though it’s hard to sit at a desk and concentrate when your teeth are chattering!

  3. I was checking out books at the library on Friday and our librarian commented on how her rings fall off when she’s at work. I guess her rings are fitted for a certain amount of activity and swelling and the library is so cold that her rings are loose all the time! She said she wears scarves and cardigans. I thought about this blog and how this came up recently and asked if they can control their temperature. It is an all-female staff and I kind of thought they would all be able to settle on a warmer temp. She said it is all controlled off-site and she is afraid if she complains then they’ll burn up!

    1. And re: sitting less, my husband and a friend both created standing desks using cinderblocks. He liked it a lot- felt like it kept him more alert and energetic overall. Not to mention the health benefits. I don’t think he would want to meet with clients in a treadmill-desk-office, frankly. It’s a little out of the ordinary and I don’t think he’d be looking for that discussion every time he had a new client in.

      1. @Katherine – yep, it is impossible to have a treadmill desk without people talking about it. There was an article in Runner’s World a few months ago written by someone using a treadmill desk, and he said he got stares *even in the Runner’s World office.* If a bunch of runners think it’s weird, I’m pretty sure the larger world isn’t going to go for it yet.

  4. My work has offered, and I have taken advantage of, the standing desk thing, but standing doesn’t work for me long — makes my back hurt. I wanted to try a treadmill desk but those things are expensive and I ended up buying a “stepper.” If I really use it, it’s hard work and not conducive to my other (brain) work — though available for short interludes, if I want to go there. But if I just stand on it and rock back and forth (side to side) it works pretty well for me as a comfortable way to stand and move without overdoing or getting sore (from standing).

    Other than that, I just try to break up my work day by doing nutty things like, you know, a few times during the day walking to a colleague’s office to ask a question rather than sending an email.

    1. @Alexicographer – I think that last paragraph is key. Think to get up a few times, and you wind up sitting less. Drinking a lot of water can inspire the same thing if you have to go to the bathroom…

      1. That’s my trick. I go all the way across the building to fill my water bottle 2-3 times a daily, which necessitates going all the way across the building again for bathroom trips 2-3 times a day. That, in addition to the fact that my office is in another building from anyone else I ever need to meet with or any of my patient care areas, makes for a bunch of steps.
        The most sedentary day I ever had was a day I chose to work from home. I basically sat at my kitchen table, only needing to go 2 steps to the fridge for water & food and a few steps to the bathroom. It was productive, though…

        1. @Ana – that’s one reason I go for a run or walk during the day. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t get close to 10,000 steps on a day I was sitting and writing much of the time. My office is next to the bathroom which is next to the kitchen. I really don’t have far to go.

          1. Steps or not, I also could not stop snacking, with the snacks right at hand. I decided if I was going to work from home again I’d have to stick to my desk in the basement—just having to go up the stairs keeps me from constantly refilling on crackers & nuts!

  5. We’ve been doing a form of “split shifts” for years. My husband is a professional musician in addition to being a music teacher, so he often has rehearsals after-hours. Fortunately, weekend gigs are often in the evenings as well, so he can spend most of the kid-available time with us on weekends. Although it can sometimes get frustrating when he’s out a lot of nights in a row, I’ve found it helps me get my own work done after my son is in bed, and sometimes have a nice evening to myself. On the nights he is home, we make sure to take time together for frozen yogurt, a late meal, or a board game to catch up.

  6. My husband, who works in an almost entirely male environment, has a ridiculously cold building to work in.

    This is due to poor design, and not the sort of poor design that’s catering to men in suits (my husband wears long sleeve shirts and long pants to work year-round and sometimes wears a warm jacket while he’s working, even in the summer.)

    So at least in this case, it’s not a sexist thing.

  7. Re:sitting less….my jawbone helps! I have it set to buzz every 30 minutes of inactivity during the work day. It makes me more cognizant of stopping by a co workers desk or even just pacing on a conference call.

    Re:split shifts-I do this a lot but at the conclusion of the first shift I try to figure out if anything needs to get done or not. If no, maybe just a quick email check will suffice.

    Re office temp- guess I’m in the minority but our office is too warm. Even in a sleeveless dress I’m often warm. I don’t think it’s just me bc coworkers complain too. My opinion is that cold is better at work (you can add a sweater or grab a cup of coffee) but you’d think offices could get it right by now wouldn’t you??

  8. Ah, the freezing office. When my company moved into the new building, I almost quit within two weeks because my desk was directly under a vent. I was wearing a fleece, a scarf, and fingerless gloves at my desk. Since I live in San Diego, I actually had to go buy the gloves- I don’t wear them otherwise. They did eventually move me and I was able to ditch the gloves and scarf and switch back to my usual cardigan instead of a fleece. But then I quit anyway because I hated the new commute! One of the many nice things about my new work arrangement is that I spend two days a week at home, and can just open the windows. Or even sit outside. I’ve only ever worked in one office with windows that open. It was delightful.
    They did have the option of getting a sit-and-stand desk in the new office, and a lot of people took it. So while they aren’t walking, they are up on their feet. The desks adjust and everyone seems to really like them. But- the desks are a lot more expensive than regular ones, so I doubt they’ll become standard everywhere anytime soon.

  9. One thing to consider about cold offices is badly designed climate zones. I’ve worked in multiple offices where, in order to keep one area at a reasonable temperature, another area becomes unbearably hot or cold. This can especially be an issue in big buildings with lots of windows and interior spaces ( conference rooms or cubicles) that don’t get warmed up by the sun at the windows.

    1. Yes, I think the poorly designed climate zones is the issue more often than sexism (and I’m someone who is usually more likely to think of sexism than anything else). My dad worked for Trane forever, and said no one has really ever been able to design a climate control system that works, especially because building projects are put together so piecemeal, with contractors all chosen based on bids, not based on whether or not they work with the architects/engineers/whoever. I used to be a librarian, and it was insane to have a space heater on in the summer, but our library was a converted department store — so huge windows, an open first floor atrium thing, and then offices with low ceilings and few windows. Adjusting the thermostat one degree practically needed forms in triplicate, and then it took hours to see an effect.

      1. My husband TA’d a senior-level project class on exactly this topic. It is not an easy engineering problem. Especially since people heat the building up during the day even when it’s cold outside!

  10. Ways to sit less: I have a trashcan under my desk — but I purposefully DON’T use it. The cleaning crew has gotten used to my not having any trash and only the newbies bother checking. 😉 Otherwise, it’s much the same as others: get up to ask a coworker a question (esp. in another part of the building) instead of sending an email or calling. I don’t do it often, but I’ve also been known to stand up to answer the phone. I have an app I use that reminds me at odd times of the day to get up and stretch, too.

    Cold buildings: It used to be that I would have to dress OPPOSITE the season — that is, long sleeves and sweaters during the summer months and short sleeves with no jacket during the winter months. It was an old building and not regulated well. Since the move to the new building, it’s cold 24/7/365. I’ve got a space heater I use most days and often feel like Mr. Rogers (putting on a sweater when I first get to work). It’s gotten to the point that on those rare occasions I’m not wearing my sweater (I keep it at work except to launder it), I get harassed about forgetting something. 😉

    Interesting corollary: the better I am about taking care of the first issue (sitting too much), the less I’m bothered by and actually more I appreciate the cooler office space. I guess that means I just need to do a better job of sitting less. :/

  11. Re: sitting less, I know that sitting still for long periods saps both my physical and mental energy, so instead of indiscriminately resenting interruptions of any kind, I welcome and seek out reasons to get up and move around as an investment in helping myself work better by making me feel better. Since the less I use my body anywhere (not just at work), the worse I feel, I can’t help questioning the prevailing culture of the “convenience” and “efficiency” of avoiding as much physical effort as possible throughout one’s normal daily life–and then having to set aside time to try and make up for the toll this takes on your neglected body by paying a gym to get exercise that serves no other purpose. I’m a healthy, able-bodied woman, yet people react as if I’m crazy for choosing to use my legs to walk me to places I need to go and my arms to lift and carry things I need to move from one place to another, despite the fact that I’m stronger and more active as a result of seeking rather than shirking opportunities for physical exertion than many of these same people who’ve compartmentalized exercise into something that only happens at the gym. There’s no advertising pressure to exercise your muscles getting yourself to places you already need to go or doing chores you need to do anyway, since no one else makes any money off you carrying grocery bags home or laundry up and down stairs, but paying someone else for the privilege of moving machines pointlessly back and forth indoors where you don’t even get any Vitamin D for your trouble doesn’t seem time- or cost-effective to me, so instead of complaining whenever I need to walk up stairs–or anywhere–or lift or carry anything, I’m just glad I don’t have to pay a monthly fee to do so!

  12. If I remember All Joy and No Fun had some good interview level details about split shift parents (though didn’t approach it from that angle).
    Drop Dead Healthy had the funniest parts on standing desks. Worth reading more for the humor than the tips, though those are good too.

  13. I am often at the computer 8+ hours a day and work partly out of my home. While I take breaks to do the odd household task, the sitting has apparently been too much. After $2000+ out of pocket for 40 hours of PT for an ergo issue in my shoulder, I am an advocate for working while standing. I have a Kangaroo brand desk that raises and lowers for sitting or standing, a contour brand roller ball mouse, an ergo chair, and footrest. I have been pleased with all of the products, and while I don’t stand all the time, I do find that I am energized and more mentally alert when I’m standing. (And do I really care who finds it weird? Save my body and be able to work or have my equipment attract attention? The answer’s a no-brainer for me!)

    Having said all that, though, while I’ve fixed to some degree the mechanics of my situation, I ultimately want to find work that is more aligned with what my body and senses need to be happy and energized. I can’t imagine spending the next 20+ years of my work life sitting all day, having only plastic to touch, and staring at a screen. I went into natural resources education to be outdoors, and while I love the causes I work on, the day to day physical office situation doesn’t align with my values as they relate to beauty, movement, and overall wellness…

  14. I stand up during conference calls – nobody can see me in my office, and it makes me both more attentive and more assertive.

  15. To sit less I limit all my blog reading, Facebooking and fun emailing to when I’m on the treadmill. I don’t have an official “treadmill desk”, just a plastic shelf that I can velcro the laptop to.
    My husband has been doing the split shift since our first was born 7 years ago and she went to bed at 6pm. Without that, he would never see her. He comes home by 5pm for dinner, then the quick bath, books and bed, then back to work at 6 or 7 for an hour or two. It’s early enough in the evening that we still have time together after he’s done.

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