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A Desk Job Doesn’t Have to Mean You Stop Moving

Just because you work a desk job doesn't mean you should be trapped at your desk. This former farmer found a whole new, inspiring way to stay active at work, and throughout the day.

My first full-time job was on an organic farm

We tracked the number of steps we walked each day, not with any devices and not with the goal to make sure we hit the magic 10,000. We aimed to reduce how many steps we were taking; luxuriated in the half-hour lunches, when we got to sit down; and felt no remorse over spending the heat of the afternoon sprawled for a nap or reading a book, waiting for the sweltering, humid Kansas sun — great for tomatoes, hard on human laborers — to break.

I often rode my bike to the farm, a 10-mile ride, before spending the day planting, harvesting, washing, sorting and boxing organic fruits and vegetables, then riding back home after the day’s work was done. Well, done enough — work on a farm is never really “done.” We stood still long enough to drink a cup of coffee and plan the day’s tasks. Nearly constant motion was part of my daily life, and I loved how that made me feel. But, after a couple of seasons, I was ready for a change, so I took a job as an editor for an organic-lifestyle magazine.

My brain was now in constant motion, in ways it hadn’t been used on the farm. That, too, felt good, like stretching and working a muscle in new directions. The rest of my body didn’t share my brain’s enthusiasm. My back and hips ached after only an hour or two of sitting at my desk. My energy dipped to a near-nap-like-state by midafternoon. And my commute was now a 40-minute car ride. My days went from nonstop motion to practically motionless, even if bookended by runs and dog walks and punctuated by walk and stretch breaks. I remember a frantic 22-year-old me calling my mom, lamenting that I would never cut it as an editor—not because I didn’t enjoy the work (I was enthralled by it), but because I just couldn’t sit for so long. But, everyone else with a desk job was accustomed, she pointed out, so surely I, too, would adjust.

I decided to take a stand

Like, literally, take a stand. I fashioned stands for my two monitors and keyboard out of books. I bought a mat to stand on like those used by my friends who used them when cooking in restaurant kitchens. The setup wasn’t perfect — it certainly wasn’t ergonomically optimized — but it saved my burgeoning editorial career.

Over the seven years since, my setup has become more sophisticated. It turns out, standing wasn’t the answer in itself. What I had on the farm that standing didn’t resolve was staying in motion throughout the day. For me, being physically in motion helps me clarify my thoughts, and I do certain tasks better when I am in certain positions.

I try to keep moving, all day long

For most hours of the day, I stand—but not still. I have an electric Jarvis Bamboo Adjustable Standing Desk, which adjusts to the right height so I can type without hunching my shoulders. My monitor is on a small shelf at a slightly higher level, so my head isn’t angled down or to the side all day long. My feet are situated on a Topo Anti-Fatigue Mat, which keeps me from locking my knees or leaning on one hip for extended periods by encouraging my feet to move and reposition on the mat’s uneven surface. Standing is my preferred pose for writing, sending emails and handling most of my daily tasks.

When I’m stuck, I walk. With the addition of a Lifespan Standing Desk Treadmill under one of the desks in our office, I move my laptop to my coworker’s space for periods of the day to take calls, read reports, or do a final review of copy. My body is busy, even if I am only walking incredibly slowly, so my mind is more laser-focused on the tasks directly in front of me.

When I need new focus, I sit. My feet, legs and back do get tired from being upright for hours on end. When I’m feeling stale and achy, I lower my desk, pull up my chair, and look at what’s in front of me with new eyes. I often do first-round or more major edits while sitting. The change in position resets my attention and cues my brain to turn it into a different gear, one that moves more slowly over each word on the screen.

I still take time to go outside and stretch. Sunshine and fresh air are my proven antidotes to lethargy and mental blocks. I try not to look at my phone, even if I have it with me, so I can take a quick 15- to 20-minute unplug session. Often, by thinking about nothing, I find when I get back to my desk, I have a clearer answer to the problems and projects I was working through when I stepped away.

In fact, I think I'll step away right now.

Article and farm photos by Jennifer Kongs - Bark Media
Fully workspace pictures/gifs by Nate Barber