Ditch The Desk – A Guide To Healthy Writing


Image courtesy of Grant Cochran / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We are trained to sit in a chair from preschool up until we are about to retire. Sitting is tangential with learning, education and having a successful career. Those who use their hands andare on their feet all day are typically seen as having jobs performing manual labor, acquiring less pay and are simply considered less educated as those who sit in a chair at a desk and click away on a keyboard all day.

But the joke is on us. I’m not sure when someone decided that the less movement you perform during the day the more intelligent you are but society seems to have gravitated towards that belief. This applies to everyone who sits at a desk all day, but I will apply it to writing, since that is what I am doing right now.

Here is a small list of the problems that sitting in a chair all day can cause to our bodies and overall livelihood:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Deadly blood clots
  • Slowed metabolism
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Back problems
  • Shorter life expectancy
  • Higher risk of cancer
  • Increased waist size

It’s not a question of how it affects our bodies, it’s a question of how writers can work to avoid these deadly repercussions.

As writers we are embarking into a profession that requires us to spend countless hours hunched over a keyboard, or a piece of paper and shutting our bodies down, exposing us to harmful side effects.

Honestly, I love writing, but if it means shortening my life, I’d rather go work on a construction crew.

I propose one simple (yet possibly scary) suggestion for all writers in order to avoid the pitfalls of sitting at a desk all day. And this goes for freelance writers as well, who maybe go to another job during the day and then write afterwards.

In fact, when I had my fulltime job and wrote on the side, my situation was even worse. I slouched at my desk for 8 hours, would take the bus home and then plop right down again at my at-home office to hammer out some blog posts or articles. This was not healthy.

Here is my proposal: Ditch the desk.

Literally take your desk and get rid of it. Donate it to charity, throw it out, sell it on Craigslist or give it to a friend.

Then your search begins. Seek out places that will allow you to lie, sit or stand in a more relaxed, natural position.

Some suggestions:

  • A couch
  • A reclined lazy boy
  • A bed with two pillows to prop up your head
  • Standing at the kitchen counter (this can be done for maybe 30 minutes to an hour, but I always get the most writing done while standing).
  • On the beach
  • At a park, sitting against a tree (great for inspiration and relaxation)

The bottom line is, writing should be treated as work, but it is actually a combination of work and leisure. Writing requires an exponential amount of inspiration and unique experiences. Therefore, writers should not be working in the same environment as an accountant. Explore your surroundings and embrace what the world has to offer you in comfort, inspiration, creativity, while still keeping a professional setting.

Ditching the desk is not enough though. Although lounging on your couch is considered a healthier, more natural position to write, we should also try to create a consistent regiment of moving our bodies around.

One myth is that even if you sit in a desk for 8 hours, an hour of going to the gym a day will keep you healthy. It’s just not true. Long periods of training your body to shut down and go into sleep mode cannot be counteracted by simply running or lifting weights for an hour. The damage has already been done.

Therefore, create a schedule for body movement. Stand up and walk around your house, apartment or office at least once every hour. Simply walking around, stretching and contracting your muscles is proven to reduce the many risks of sitting in a chair all day.

If you are working another job besides writing, and your company has not yet embraced a movement cycle like this, make it a priority to get up every hour or half an hour for a drink of water. Talk to your co-workers across the office and maybe even do some pushups or jumping jacks. Petition for your company to create a schedule where everyone has the option to do jumping jacks or pushups every hour. If your company hasn’t created a program yet, inform them that it is not only proven to increase the life expectancy and decrease health insurance costs, but it increases company moral and worker productivity. Honestly it astounds me when companies have not picked this up (have you been living under a rock?) But sometimes it just takes one person to speak up and make a difference for an entire organization.

As for us writers at home. Ditch the desk, perform some exercises every hour and do yourself a favor by keeping yourself healthy during your writing adventure.

See ya next time…

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About Joe Warnimont

I am a writer, marketing expert and adventure seeker. I help people write, market their writing, live truthfully and embrace their lives through creativity. You can find me riding my bike around the streets of Chicago. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

Comments

  1. Standing desks are starting to look good to me, although the ones with built-in treadmills are a bit much. I’m afraid I’d pause, forget to run, and get flung off the back.

    • It’s funny you say that Jeffrey, I actually tried walking on my treadmill and writing at the same time, and let’s just say the results were not that pleasant. I’m sure using a treadmill that is built for writing would be more suitable though. One of my friends has a standing desk at his job and he loves it!

  2. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Joe. Just love your posts in here. Great stuff! Especially love the “Ditch The Desk” one. I’ve posted a link to this on my site. Happy New Writing Year 2013! MoonWynd
    moonwyndstudio.com
    P.S. Did you know Hemingway did a lot of his writing standing up? If you go back to my blog, and I will re-post a couple of photos that I took of his writing spaces at his ‘Finca Vigia’: Wonderful place that was. Amazing writer, for sure. His “economy of style” is truly the way to go.

  3. Sitting all day is deadly. I hate it. I try to go for a walk on my lunch breaks, eating lunch at my desk when I return, but sometimes I just can’t get away. It honestly makes such a difference when I am able to get my walk in.

    I totally agree with what you’ve said here, and have also read that once you’ve sat all day, the damage to your body is done. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be running, lifting weights, and doing yoga after work, though!

    Love your blog, and am now following you in my feed reader.

  4. lindseygendke says:

    You do “most of [your] writing standing up”?! Wow, I’ve never even thought to try that! But I do agree with the need to get up and move! I’ll have to experiment with some of these ideas. Currently, my writing gets done at my desk, kitchen table, or in coffee shops. I use the couch or my bed for journaling…but maybe that could translate to my actual work…hmmm.

  5. Getting a laptop was a great thing as I truly enjoy a relaxed position as I write!

  6. Great suggestions… but I seriously do my best writing sitting in my happy comfortable office…at my desk. And I’m a personal trainer! 🙂 I’m also a creature of habit… oh well!

  7. I have to agree with Delancey. Until I got a desk, I really struggled in my attempts to maintain my writing regimen. I can write not at my desk, but I am at my most productive and best when writing from a chair in front of a desk/table.

    Still awesome suggestions. I try to get up for water, pushups, housework etc, every hour or so. Thanks for checking out my blog!

    P.S. If you think 8 hours is bad for you, try 12 hour shifts. No, on second thought, spare yourself and take my word for it 😉 They are terrible.

  8. That was incredibly helpful, thnx.
    I walk a lot and I don’t use my desk (not properly, even when I study. I mostly use it to keep my legs on something) But I think my whole family will be weirded out if I start typing while standing. :p

  9. Great article! Considering that sitting for desk work has been bothering my back, I will be working out of my 3-ring binder and using paper and pens for extended writing/creating. These are good suggestions for different ways to protect the body while being productive in a cerebral/creative way.

  10. I don’t write for a living, but I have endless true-life stories on which I am frequently working.

    I have no choice but to keep my $15 Salvation Army-purchased desk in my life right now, due to the fact that I pay my bills by transcribing reports from doctors.

    Your reasons for ditching the desk are valid, but the first thing that came to mind for me, which I didn’t see mentioned, was that my creativity often flows from places that are not my desk. Some of the best songs I have written, for example, were conceived while I was lying in bed en route to sleep.

    Thank you for visiting and following my blog, sir.

  11. elkemurphy says:

    Hi Joe –

    Thanks for liking my post about book reading and following my blog!

    Love your blog – thank you for sharing your writing tips! Very helpful and inspiring.
    It feels good to not be alone with the writing.
    I took away: making writing fun, being comfortable while writing, getting up every hour and scheduling to write. I am most comfortable with my laptop in my recliner, a cushion under the computer to get the right height. It relaxes my neck; and I got neck problems from my day job sitting hunched over my desk.

    Love writing!

  12. Love this idea. I never could write at my desk for very long, always made me feel like I was at school again and being forced to do something. I love to move around when I write, from writing on the couch and in the summer I love to write in the park. My desk is really just a storage space now 🙂

  13. You know, I completely agree! As a writer, I find myself brooding over my computer so often that I forget to take walks outside, or forget to go to the gym, or forget to stretch every now and then. Combined with the fact that I work at a desk doing social media, you can really see how desks can be detrimental to my health. In order to combat this, I try to stand when I write these days, and even though my coworkers think I am weird, it honestly gives me more energy throughout the day, and does not leave me sluggish at days end.

    In any case, I sincerely appreciate you following my blog, and look forward to reading more of your great posts.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Jordan

  14. Hi there,
    Great posts! I love your Ditch the Desk article, but only because I have inherited a desk from my grandmother and could never imagine getting rid of it. Even though it’s heavy and cumbersome. However, I do most of my writing in bed, on the couch, or outside. So I am good to go! The desk ends up being a great place to put things I am trying to ignore. Like bills. Thanks for visiting and following me recently; I look forward to reading more from you.
    Cheers,
    Copenhavering

  15. Since I started reading this post I have switched my deskchair for my bosu ball, and have done 20 jumping jacks and also some stretching. I’ve written ‘jumping jacks’ in my diary as well, and am planning to do some writing outdoors this afternoon as per your suggestion. Thanks for the advice 🙂

  16. I love my laptop because it allows to me to chase the sun through the house and even outside the house in the summer. I spend a lot of time in my barrel chair in front of the window that looks out at the mountains.

    One caveat is that using a laptop in this way can be very bad for the posture and for your back and neck muscles. It’s important to not hunch over the keyboard for hours at a time and to raise the screen closer to eye level by plopping a pillow between your lap and the keyboard.

    • Hi Linda,

      I too work primarily off of my laptop, but like you said it hurts the back a little bit. I try to always make sure it’s not directly on my lap. So when I sit on the couch I place it on a stool in front of me, or like you said, putting a pillow beneath it. 🙂

  17. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for writing about this overlooked topic. I agree that prolonged sitting at a desk is a health risk. When I get into the zone, it’s easy to lose track of time and space. My doctor recommends a 10-minute body break every 50 minutes to stretch and alleviate eye strain. I set the clock on my iMac to audibly announce the time at the top of the hour. Pumping up the volume makes it hard to ignore a shouting computer! I also carry my iPad to comfy spots around the house. Getting in a bit of writing while standing at the kitchen counter waiting for dinner to come out of the oven is common. Only spilled food on the iPad once in the four months I’ve had it…

  18. The last time I got a deep tissue massage my masseur was silent for the first twenty minutes. Then in a very quiet voice he asked, “How did you do this?” Hunching over my laptop on a daily basis, that’s how! I don’t know what I’d do without yoga–or those deep tissue massages.

    Nice selection of posts on writing here. Cool.

  19. The only time I ever write at a desk is if I’m editing or typing up something I wrote on paper. I absolutely cannot get anything done if I’m sitting at a desk in front of my computer, it’s too distracting.

    Usually I sit at a table or lie on my bed when I’m trying to come up with something to write; it’s away from my desk, my computer, and like you said it’s more relaxing. I would really like to try writing outside too since it’s been so nice out, and I’m starting to ride my bike more often so I don’t feel so lazy while looking for a job.

  20. Hi Joe,
    Thank you for following my blog. I am so inspired by your site, writing style and wonderful tips. I really identify with you about the constraints of working in a 9-5 job, in my case it used to be 9 to 7 or 9 to 9 and never complained but deep down hated it and to top it up, was never appreciated :)..I really wanted to break free, and then I felt I needed to do something for me and started my blog which is my starting point, however I still need to be acquainted more with the methodology of making money blogging as I didn’t really understand how this works and in my part of the world…reading literature or about life etc is a challenge, but reading about fashion and socializing is very much in demand 🙂
    Until we meet again.
    Regards
    Nadine

  21. Hi Joe,
    Thank you for following my blog. I am so inspired by your site, writing style and wonderful tips. I really identify with you about the constraints of working in a 9-5 job, in my case it used to be 9 to 7 or 9 to 9 ..I really wanted to break free, and then I felt I needed to do something for me and started my blog which is my starting point, however I still need to be acquainted more with the methodology of making money blogging as I didn’t really understand how this works and in my part of the world…reading literature or about life etc is a challenge, but reading about fashion and socializing is very much in demand 🙂
    Until we meet again.
    Regards
    Nadine