Hack Your Schedule: 20 Simple Ways to Build a Better Body at Work

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Standing DeskIt’s not always easy to find time.

As we know, time (or lack of it) is an issue for many.

We work long hours, face congested schedules, and have a million and one things to do before we find time for ourselves.

Understood.

But, I don’t think lack of time should hold anyone back from building a better body.

We just have to be a little creative with how we spend our time.

If we do some out-of-the-box thinking, it’s actually fairly easy to find ways to incorporate healthy habits and activities into our already busy schedules.

So let’s think…

Where and how is most of our time spent?

Simple: at work, sitting at a desk behind a computer and dealing with emails, spreadsheets, models, and attending more meetings than our bodies and minds can handle.

So why not kill two birds with one stone?

If we’re already spending 8-9 hours a day at work, why not incorporate simple strategies that will help us build a better body while we’re there?

It’s easier than you think.

Today I’m going to show you how you can hack your schedule. I’m going to show you 20 simple ways you can build a better body at work.

Let’s dig in…

1. Set up your workstation properly

This is incredibly important.

If you have a poorly designed workstation from an ergonomics perspective, you will drastically accelerate the problems that occur from prolonged sitting and poor posture.

Think about it.

You sit all day in front of your computer. If your chair isn’t aligned properly, you’ll be sitting awkwardly all the time. If your monitor is too low or too high in comparison to your eyes, your neck will constantly be strained. If your mouse, keyboard, or phone aren’t positioned properly, you’ll create excess stress by having to awkwardly reach for those items all the time.

If you set things up properly from the start, you can drastically reduce potential for chronic problems.

Here’s a really good resource from Open Ergonomics explaining how to set your workstation properly: It’s a Setup.

I recommend you print that page and post it somewhere in your cubicle so you’re always reminded of what’s important.

2. Set reminders to move

I already talked about this in my post on Interval Sitting and Micro-Breaks. We all know the debilitating effects sitting can have on our body. And we need to do whatever we can to counteract these effects.

Moving is essential. We need to regularly get up off our chairs and move around. Movement will re-engage the muscles in your posterior chain. The best strategy is to use interval sitting with 50 minute periods of sitting alternated with 10 minutes of moving.

But the problem many of us face is we forget to move.

Sometimes we get so bogged down with our work that we forget to get up. This is why I recommend you use software tools to set up reminders to move. Here’s a snippet from a previous article that outlines some useful tools:

If you work at a computer, you can use simple (and free) reminder tools such asWorkRaveBreaker, and EyeLeo (for Windows), or TimeOut and Coffee Break (for Macs). These tools will allow you to set up reminders for yourself to get up and move. Some more (free) options are listed here.

3. Change up your posture regularly.

The best posture is the one that constantly changes.

Trying to force yourself to sit with “good posture” all day can be counter-intuitive  Any position you maintain for a prolonged period of time will place excessive stress on a certain area of your body.

What you want to do instead is constantly change the way you sit. Change your posture and, by doing so, you will shift where that stress is imposed.

Over the course of the 50 minutes you spend sitting down, you should be shifting your sitting position every 10 minutes or so. The stress is going to be placed somewhere so you might as well ensure that it is being shifted around the body so it doesn’t do as much damage to one specific area.

Sit with your back up and straight for a bit. Move over to one butt cheek. Then the other. Get down on your knees for a while (you know what I mean lol). Move to a swiss ball. Get back on only one knee. Then the other. Keep switching things up constantly.

4. Bring in a balance ball

A balance ball (or Swiss ball) is an excellent tool to have at work.

The instability of the balance ball engages your core while you sit on it.

Once again, sitting on a balance ball the entire day is counter-intuitive  Instead, use it as an intermittent chair that you sit on for 10-20 minutes of every hour. Remember to constantly be changing things up.

5. Bring a water bottle and fill it regularly

Water is life.

It’s essential for keeping all parts of your body lubricated, particularly the joints which are at risk of losing mobility from tight, weakened muscles.

Have a water bottle by your desk and drink as much water as you see fit throughout the day.

‘Nuff said about that.

6. Ease up on the coffee

As good as a cup of coffee can feel in the morning, remember why it’s so good.

It’s a stimulant.

And a stimulant triggers neuromuscular activity and resulting tension through the body. Coffee will also make you dehydrated meaning you will have to take in more water to ensure your discs are well lubricated.

Enjoy it, but don’t overdo it.

7. Use micro-breaks

I already mentioned the effectiveness of getting off your chair and moving around regularly throughout the day.

A micro-break is just a break you take away from your desk.

It’s very effective because it not only helps bring life and energy back into the body, but it also helps your mind calm down and relax. It helps improve your focus when you get back to your desk.

There are certain exercises that I like to use during my micro-breaks. Feel free to use these as often as you like throughout the day. The more the better!

I’ve outlined them all here for you: Interval Sitting, Micro-Breaks, and the Myth of the Perfect Posture

8. Prepare your lunch the night before.

Many of us complain that we don’t have enough time in the morning to prepare lunch for the day.

So we end up settling for quick, highly-processed, nutrient-lacking foods that play with our emotions.

The solution is simple: prepare your lunch the night before.

Turn off the TV, put your kids to sleep, shut off the computer, and find 20 minutes to prepare yourself a healthy meal. If you’re strapped for time some nights, plan ahead and prepare lunch for the next two or three days!

If you want to build a better body, this is by far the healthiest habit you can build for yourself.

9. Ask for a standing desk

Standing desks have been around for a while now and I’ve seen more and more companies starting to implement them.

They’re becoming popular because companies are starting to realize the damaging effects prolonged sitting has on the body. By giving employees the ability to stand while working, they promote movement which helps improve blood circulation and decreases mental fatigue. This all helps boost productivity.

But the idea isn’t to spend your entire day standing. This can have its own implications. What you want to do is create an environment that allows you to constantly mix things up. Remember that best posture is one that is constantly changing and so an adjustable desk is the best way to approach this. Being able to spend some time standing and some time sitting will give you ability to continue shifting the stress across your body.

I’ve yet to try a standing desk myself, but I’m fortunate enough to work at a company that is willing to install one for me and my colleagues. I’ll be posting my experience with this sometime in the future.

10. Take advantage of walk-and-talk meetings

I’ve always been a big fan of Steve Jobs. Sure, he wasn’t the kindest soul and his diet was worse than that of a college freshman, but he was a genius and he left a big impact on the world.

One of the interesting things I noticed when reading his biography was that Steve loved to hold walking meetings.

All of his meetings were held outdoors while strolling through the neighborhood. I thought it was pretty cool but I didn’t think much of it until I read an interesting article on Forbes recently titled “How Taking More Meetings Could Save Your Life.”

Talk-and-walks (as they’re called) are a great way to get out of the conference room, stretch your legs, move around, and still get your points across.

The author notes that studies show walking in nature for 30 minutes enables a person to solve problems they might not otherwise be able to.

“Walking meetings are great for brainstorming, giving feedback, and hashing through tough problems.” -Nilofer Merchant, Silicon Valley Executive

If you’re looking for ways how to incorporate walking into your next meeting, some interesting notes are presented here.

So next time you have a meeting, if possible, suggest you go outside instead of the conference room.

The meeting will be more effective and definitely more memorable.

11. Give your eyes a break

Many of us spend a good chunk of the day with our eyes glued to screens of all sizes. Monitors at work. TVs at home. And smartphones in between.

This puts a lot of stress on the eyes and is one of the leading causes of nearsightedness (poor distance vision).

It’s important to give your eyes regular breaks at work and so here’s a simple eye relaxation exercise you can use throughout the day:

Every couple of hours, close your eyes, tense your body (squeeze your fists), and breathe in deeply. Hold it for a few seconds and then slowly release your breath and your muscles at the same time.

By forcefully contracting and releasing major muscle groups, you trick your involuntary muscles (like the ones around your eyes) into relaxing as well.

Neat, isn’t it?

12. Change your environment.

If you’re part of the 9-5 crew, your cubicle is your environment.

You need to set it up so you are both motivated to build a better body and restricted from making poor health choices.

If your drawers are filled with junk food and pop, that’s all you’ll be eating and drinking all day.

The fact is that you can’t resist the food that’s in front of you.

Biologically, we are still very much so in survival mode and our body still thinks that there might be a period of famine looming around the corner. So, as a protection mechanism, it triggers hunger when we see food.

There are also a lot of psychological factors in play here. Highly processed, supernormally-tasting, and nutrient-lacking foods are highly addictive.

So we need to set up our environment just right.

Remove all garbage foods and replace them with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and all other foods that don’t require a medical dictionary to identify the long list of ingredients.

The next thing you want to do is make your environment efficient.

Unnecessary, repetitive movements can cause excessive strain on the body. Change up your environment so all the things you regularly use are within reach. This all goes back to point number 1. If you have an ergonomics student/employee within the company, get them to help you set things up properly.

Lastly, place positive and motivating pictures and messages within your cubicle. Put up pictures and stories that inspire you. Put up the motivationa tools that you created.

You spend most of your day in your cubicle, so why not set your environment up right.

13. Plan your going out meals

Just because I recommend bringing your own healthy lunch to work doesn’t mean you have to skip out on every single lunch/dinner outing with co-workers.

You just have to do a bit of planning ahead of time.

If you know which place you’ll be going to, check out their menu online. Figure out your meal ahead of time so you’re not stuck at the table trying to find foods that suit your requirements. If you have questions about ingredients, call the place.

If you’re going to a place that doesn’t meet any of your requirements, suggest to your co-workers that you go someplace else because of your dietary guidelines. If they’re unwilling to do so, then you really shouldn’t be hanging out with them in the first place.

14. Skip on the free lunch at meetings

This is a big one.

Back when I worked in the automotive industry, I’ve personally seen what almost-daily free lunch meetings can do to a man’s body. I’ve witnessed grown men gain pounds so quickly that even they were baffled.

Yet when I brought my own lunch I got the funniest looks.

Most companies aren’t really up to par with healthy food choices and their lunch order is often based on cost rather than nutrient value.

This is why I always recommend bringing your own lunch to work.

Again, read number 8.

15. Stop putting sugar in your coffee

I mentioned that your best bet would be to reduce your overall coffee consumption.

But if you do choose to have a cup of joe (I can’t blame you, I love coffee), stop loading it up with sugar.

When I mention to people that I sometimes deliberately choose to not have coffee on random days (I don’t like the idea of being dependent on anything), the look of terror on their face makes me laugh.

So many people claim they’d die without coffee.

But when I see what they put in their coffee, it all makes sense.

They’re not addicted to the coffee itself. They’re addicted to the heaps of sugar they put in their coffee.

If you want to enjoy coffee for what it really is, stop putting sugar in it. It’ll be unusual and bitter at first, but the bitterness grows on you. If you want to take it to the next level, stop putting milk or cream in your coffee too.

A coffee is meant to be enjoyed black.

16. Take 2 min to do nothing

I’ve talked about benefits of mindfulness before.

The idea of doing nothing for a period of time every single day can help improve awareness and focus.

At work, there’s a simple tool that you can use (if you have Internet access) that can help you do just that.

Nothing.

For 2 minutes.

Check it out here.

17. Change up your means of transportation

If you live in a country that allows for alternate means of transportation, take advantage of it!

Up here in Canada, we only have about six months where the weather is nice enough to allow for biking, walking/running, or rollerblading to work.

With the nice weather approaching, I just recently got my speed bike polished and tuned up for the season. I plan to do a lot more biking to work than driving.

Changing your means of transportation will not only boost your health, but it will help you cut down on gas spending.

Do a quick search of cool routes you can take to work to motivate yourself to get started.

18. Make a smoothie before you leave for work

The average breakfast consists of an English muffin, a bowl of cereal, and an orange juice (or some combination of the three), all immediately followed by a large cup of coffee.

What an absolutely terrible way to get the day started.

If time is a factor, make a smoothie.

You can control exactly what goes in it and you can play around with all sorts of combinations of fruits, vegetables, oils, nut butters, and (since it’s best to get 30g of protein within 30 min of waking up) low-in-ingredients protein powders.

All that’s required is that you wake up 5 minutes earlier and you’ll have enough time to prepare something that will not only energize you, but will provide your body with a high dose of nutrients to start the day off right.

19. Find your place to stretch (and decompress the back)

One unique thing about me that you may or may not know is that I have no shame.

I don’t often care about what others think.

I know the importance of stretching throughout the day and I have no problem getting up and doing a short stretching session right beside my desk.

I’d go to the bathroom at times to do my air squats and I’ve been caught doing it.

And yea I get funny looks sometimes and the bathroom encounters become a little awkward, but who cares?

You need to stretch. You need to keep mobile.

If you’re not comfortable doing it at your desk (or it’s simply not appropriate in your work setting), then you’ll need to find a place where you can do what you need to do in private. Whether it’s a single-person bathroom where you can lock yourself up or a small unoccupied office, it doesn’t matter.

Find your place and use it often.

20. Bring life back to your feet

More than likely, your feet are stuck in shoes all day, unable to move or breathe.

If you sit at a desk, take your shoes off.

Stretch your toes. Flex and rotate your ankles.

When we wear shoes, we lose flexibility and strength in our feet. An easy way to counter this (apart from simply walking barefoot as often as you can), is to bring in some simple SMR tools like golf balls, tennis balls, or baseballs (you’ll want to progress to harder balls as you go) and keep them under your desk.

Every now and then, throw your shoes off and start rolling your foot over the ball from front to back, along the arches and outer edges. Spend a few minutes on each foot a few times throughout the day.

This will feel like a deep massage on your arches and will help bring some life back to your feet by helping them relax.

Summary

Incorporating simple habits and activities into your already-busy workday isn’t as hard as you think.

You just have to be a little creative.

You can use these 20 simple strategies to build a better body even at work.

Now it’s your turn:

What are you doing at work that is helping you build a better body? Which of these strategies are you thinking of trying? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. patrick says:

    Srdjan, these are excellent. thanks. good reminders and good new ones to think about. I’ve had a stand up desk for a while in the form of a tall counter off to side in office and it is great. To change it up, I occasionally sit on a stool.

  2. Nicolas says:

    I’ve incorporated a little workout approximately every hour/every day while at work. I’m in IT, so I go into our IT lab and drop to the floor to do 20 pushups with a side plank and 30 squats every hour. I’ll mix it up and do 20 pushups with mountain climbers, or some other core strengthening move, and I also mix up hand positions for my pushups.

    I’ve wondered if doing pushups every day would be an issue. I spoke with some co-workers who were in the service, and they told me that they did pushups every day/all day when they were at boot camp, so I’m guessing it’s ok since i’m not lifting heavy weights to tear muscle tissue.

    I do heavy weights on Mon, Wed, and Fri and continue with the pushups and core while at work. Tues and Thurs are for cardio and the pushups/core work while at work. I also do yoga 1-2x a week and I jump rope after my workouts as well.

    Think I might be over doing it a little bit?? LOL! I’ll cut back on the office workouts if I feel my body isn’t feeling it that day. For right now, I’m able to keep up with it.

    • Nicolas, that’s pretty cool that you’ve set up your own little bodyweight training station in your IT lab. I like that. Keep it up.

      The only thing I’d be careful with is overdoing it with push-up volume. Performing push-ups every day can strengthen and develop the chest and front part of your shoulders. This is good, but only if you’re doing the same amount of work (if not more) for your posterior muscles (back of shoulders, lats, traps, etc. – essentially any pulling movements). If you’re not, then there’s a higher likelihood that you can create muscular imbalances which can lead to poor posture, poor performance and other related issues. This is further exasperated if you spend majority of your day sitting (which, like me, I’m sure you do).

      So just make sure you work your back as much as you work your chest. Maybe cut down on the push-ups a bit (not every day) and throw in some pulling movements (if possible) in your IT lab. If anything, make sure your Mon, Wed, Fri heavy weight training is posterior focused.

      Regardless, I’m jealous you got a cool set up like that at work :)

      • Nicolas says:

        Srdjan,

        I’ve never thought about that. Maybe that’s why I have tightness in my shoulders and back, which is probably why my glutes are also super tight. I’ll have to remember to do more lat pull downs, pull ups, and rows when I’m at the gym to balance out. I’m looking for a way to do pull ups while at work to mix things up a little bit, but I haven’t found anything that will support my weight or give me full range of motion without pulling down the whole shelf on top of me. I’ve also found that I can incorporate some standing deadlifts by holding a computer in my hands, which I could also use for upright rows! Wow, I’m coming up with all different kinds of things now! Haha!

        Thanks Srjdan!

  3. These are some great ideas. I like number 10 Take advantage of walk-and-talk meetings. It reminds me of the TV program West Wing – where they had meetings on the move and made decisions as they walked.

  4. Srdjan,

    As a cubicle worker, I can definitely relate to this post. One thing I’ve been doing lately is taking about an hour at lunch and either going home to make myself lunch like a salad or smoothie or running an errand or two like grocery shopping. Generally something where I’m at least getting up and moving around for an hour or so. This is a nice break during the middle of my day and it helps a lot with the sitting/standing ratio. I’m lucky enough to live very close to work to be able to do these things, so I try to take full advantage of that.

    Alykhan

    • Living close to work is a huge plus. You definitely have to take advantage of that. You could even get a workout in if you needed to with that kind of time!

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