Want to boost productivity in the workplace? Get out of your chair

April 28, 20164 Minute Read

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You’re going to want to read this one standing up: Sedentary behavior like sitting isn’t just unhealthy—it kills productivity in the workplace. It might sound counterproductive, but spending more time away from your desk can help you get more done.

Sitting is worse for you than smoking, according to James Levine, PhD, director of the Mayo Clinic – Arizona State University Obesity Solutions initiative. In his book Get Up!, Levine, who also invented the treadmill desk, claims that you lose two hours of life for every hour you’re in a chair. But it’s not all bad news: Levine says cool leaders are starting to understand the effects of a sedentary workplace, and they’re making changes to their work environments. “The cool companies, cool executives are not driving BMWs, they’re on treadmills,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2014. “This is about hard-core productivity. You will make money if your workforce gets up and gets moving… The science is not refuted.”

Because you work in IT, you’re required to spend a lot of time in front of your computer, but you don’t need to be sedentary. Here are five ways to work in some movement:

Sell your conference room chairs

Or at least move them out of the room. Standing during meetings not only combats sedentary behavior, but also makes you more creative and open to new ideas, according to a study out of Washington University in St. Louis. In the study, researchers had participants hooked up to sensors that measured activity levels. The groups that were standing had greater levels of excitement during the meeting, and they were less “alpha dog” about their ideas than those in the groups that were seated.

Take a hike

For smaller meetings with two or three people, consider taking it outdoors. A study from Stanford University found that walking as little as 10 minutes a day increased creative skills in 81 percent of its participants, and that has a positive effect on productivity in the workplace.

Here’s the science: Walking distracts the brain’s prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain responsible for the flow of information—which allows alternative ideas to bubble up. If you have trouble getting people on board with outdoor meetings, try namedropping: Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, and even President Obama are all fans of walking meetings. Love them or hate them, they know a few things about productivity.

Practice human interaction

Enforce a new rule at work: If you’re physically capable of getting away from your desk and speaking to coworkers, don’t send them an email. Give your legs and vocal chords a workout—maybe go email-free one day a week. At PBD Worldwide, a fulfillment company headquartered in Alpharetta, Gerogia, CEO Scott Dockter declared Fridays an email-free day. The decision came after Dockter had a long, back and forth email exchange with an assistant, who happened to be in the next room. He felt like an idiot. Dockter was surprised at the results of email-free Fridays. “Employees like it because we get things done faster. Instead of the back and forth, things are solved quicker,” he told Fast Company in 2015. Need more convincing? Dockter said Fridays now have a looser feel, and employees have a chance to clean their inboxes and start Monday with a clean slate. “Email can be stupid,” Dockter says. Don’t be like email.

Make the case for standing desks

Instead of having one workstation per employee, shell out for some standing desks. A study from Texas A&M found that students who used standing desks were 12 percent more engaged than those who sat. But don’t stand all day. Workplace activities involving fine motor skills are more difficult to perform when not seated, according to U.S. News & World Report’s Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University. Hedge also says there are health risks associated with standing all day, including back problems, and urges workers to find a balance between sitting and standing. “If what you’re doing is replacing sitting with standing, you’re not actually doing your body any favors,” Hedge says. “In fact, you’re introducing a whole variety of new risk factors.” So install standing-desk stations for tasks like checking email, making phone calls, or (let’s be real) watching cat videos.

Hang out with the lunch lady

Everybody knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but you’ve got to start showing lunch more respect—and not by wolfing down a microwave burrito at your desk.

The American Dietetic Association found that 75 percent of office workers eat lunch at their desk at least two to three days a week. If you reclaim this midday meal, you’ll have fewer crumbs in your keyboard, and you’ll increase your productivity in the workplace. A report from consulting firm The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review found that employees who get away from their desks, especially at lunchtime, report feeling 40 percent more engaged in their work and 40 percent more creative.

We all love technology. It makes work and life easier. But it shouldn’t take the place of everyday activity. You’ll get more done, be more creative, and add hours back to your life. You’re welcome.

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