How To Stop Sitting

When I went back to work (two months ago, already!), I very quickly reached one inescapable conclusion:

I sit too much.

Not just in a “gee, I should get up more often” sense.

We’re talking “sit down in the chair and don’t get up again until four hours later” SERIOUS sitting.

Even though I figured this out very early on, I haven’t found any satisfactory way to solve the problem (and I know it’s a problem- I know sitting is really really bad for me).

I incorporate a walk into my commute- I try to walk to and from the station each day (barring extreme weather and/or running late to relieve the nanny). With dropping E. off at school in the mornings as well, it means I’m walking close to 4 km in a day.

In between those walks, however, I sit, in one library or another, at one desk or another, writing or reading. It all looks the same: me, sitting in a chair, hunched over my laptop or a book (although I try to be better with posture these days, especially since reading Amy Cuddy’s Presence).

The contrast between those work days and my day at home with P. could not be more stark. When I’m home with P., I have exactly one point in the day where I sit: when she is napping and I can prep my class. I make tea, sit down at the kitchen table, and usually don’t get up again until she wakes up because I’m trying to squeeze as much work as I can into those two hours (give or take thirty minutes). The rest of the day finds me chasing after her, prepping meals, cleaning up after meals, taking E. to school, picking E. up after school, taking both kids to a park, etc. etc. I go up and down our stairs easily 20 times a day.

In my original work plan, I’d intended to change work locations at lunch time each day, which would add in a ten minute walk from one library to the other. I haven’t done well with sticking to this, largely because I don’t like working in the big library because people don’t respect the silent zones. The library where I do like to work is almost always silent, and there’s a little room on the second floor with just enough space for one desk, with a window that overlooks the gardens where I eat lunch on nice days. I think of that room as “mine” and if I get in too late in the morning to claim it, I will set myself up as close to it as possible, ready to pounce if its occupant vacates.

Working in the little room means I can stand up at my desk and stretch without feeling silly, but it also means I can surreptitiously eat my lunch without having to go outside (which will become a pressing issue as the weather gets colder).

The fundamental issue is, regardless of which library I’m working in, it’s not an office.

If I want to get up, even just to refill my water bottle or go to the bathroom, I have to take all of my valuable belongings (laptop, wallet, phone) with me, which means I have to take my backpack (to carry my laptop) while still leaving enough items strewn around on the desk to show that the room is still occupied. My coat is helpful in this regard, but not if I’ve had to take it with me to go for a walk beyond the building.

Going for a walk, even a short one, is a bit of a process, and so I tend not to do it unless I have no other choice.

Q. has this year started working almost entirely in his office at the university (as opposed to only going in when he had to teach). Partly this is because he’s realized how easy it is to swim there, and partly it’s because the transit is about to get much more convenient and make the commute almost as short as it is to get to the other university downtown, but it’s also because he can work in his own private space in peace and quiet and if he wants to get up to do something, he just has to lock his office and everything inside is secure.

In a stark illustration of the differences between the lives of the tenured professors (like Q.) and those who teach classes on contract (like me), I have access to an office at the university for exactly four hours a week. The first hour is directly before my class and is my office hour when students can come to see me with their questions. The other three hours allocated to me are when I’m teaching (and can’t make use of the office). I’ve figured out this bizarre scheduling holds true for everyone assigned that office, which means I can perch in the office for two hours before my office hour without disturbing anyone, as the individual who technically has rights to the office at that point is teaching.

Yes, it’s absurd.

One eventual solution for me will be to work at home more, because at home I can make snacks and make tea and check the mail and find the cat and do any number of myriad things that distract from my work but also get me out of my chair. Provided I’m disciplined about when I take those breaks (and about how long they last), it’s a good system. It doesn’t work well right now with P. at home with her nanny- the house is too noisy and I’m trapped downstairs in the basement to make sure that P. doesn’t realize I’m there- and I will always have to clear out of the house before the kids get home from school if I’m not the one picking them up, but there are plenty of options near my house that would be suitable for a couple of hours work late in the day (when I’ve already used up my capacity for deep work).

Until then, I need to figure out ways to stop sitting.

Any suggestions?


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD

4 responses to “How To Stop Sitting

  1. I am not sure, but I will watch the comments/future posts for any good suggestions, because I know that I spend WAYYYYYYY too much time sitting too! I sat a lot when I was working, but I did have my twice-daily sprint to & from the GO train (which also included stairs) as exercise, and we used to walk more when we lived at the house, especially after we both lost our jobs. There is so much construction hereabouts right now, we haven’t gotten into a walking routine yet. I keep saying I want to get back to a yoga class, too, but haven’t done that yet either. :p

    I know some people swear by Fitbits or something similar to count their steps. I think you can also build in reminders to get up & move every hour. I suppose you could do that with an calendar reminder or app on your cellphone?

  2. I know I tried to leave a comment on this one, but it disappeared into the ether. Trying again. 🙂 Just wanted to say that I can relate. I sit way, WAY too much. At least when I was working, I had the twice-daily dash to & from the GO train, which also involved stairs. 🙂 We also used to be much better about walking when we lived at the house… there was a high school nearby that had a beautiful paved track behind it, which was used by the whole neighbourhood. We would walk up there, do a couple of laps & then home again. Where we are now in our condo is right on a major thoroughfare with a ton of condo construction roadwork & traffic around us. I suppose we could go walking on the sidestreets nearby, but we haven’t gotten into that habit yet. There is a small exercise room with a treadmill downstairs, but I haven’t used that yet either. There are really no excuses because being retired, we certainly have the time…!

    I know some people have had some success with a Fitbit or similar device that counts steps, etc. I think there are ones you can program (or you could even use your phone reminders, I suppose) to tell you to get up & stretch & move around for a couple of minutes every hour. Every little bit helps…!

  3. Turia

    @loribeth- I found your comment- it was languishing in my Spam, as well as two more from you on other posts. Thank you for mentioning that issue on your blog- I wouldn’t have known to look for them otherwise.

    Yes, I have thought a pedometer might be helpful, even for a couple of weeks to see if I’m right to think that the walks to/from home on work days don’t make up for all the sitting when I’m at work.

    My mum is looking at downsizing and moving into a condo closer to us, and the issue of walkability is one I keep raising- she’ll walk much more if there’s somewhere good to walk to!

  4. You were one of the people I was thinking of when I wrote that, Turia 😉 so I’m glad you found my lost comments! I suddenly started being able to post comments again, here & elsewhere, haven’t run into any issues in a couple of days now. Fingers crossed…!

    Walkability is definitely worth considering for your mom. It’s a bit of a mess hereabouts right now, with all the roadwork & other construction going on, and traffic is pretty busy — but if we wanted to, we could easily walk to a couple of plazas nearby with restaurants/cafes/fast food places, postal outlet, small pharmacy & other stores. There are a couple of medical buildings, including a facility where we can have bloodwork done when requisitioned by our family dr. And there are bus stops almost right outside our building, and we’ll soon be able to take the bus right to the subway. We looked at one condo that was in a quieter location — but we would have had to drive almost everywhere to access services & shopping. (Plus, this was just a much nicer condo, lol.) Good luck with the hunt!

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