Surviving IT: Caring for Your Health in Technology Work

Knowledge work can be deadly.

Information workers face a new set of challenges. You used to worry about getting hurt by the elements or some errant industrial machine. Today, the biggest dangers facing IT and knowledge workers are the dangers of not moving around, our furniture, and our food!

For thousands of years, men and women have worked mostly with their hands, and many worked exclusively outdoors. With the dawn of the information age, however, those days are gone. As automation takes over our food production (and even construction!), more and more jobs move inside to desks. Here are 7 strategies that will help – so come with me if you want to not die!

1. Get off your butt- literally.

Sitting is dangerous. Most people in the U.S. sit an average of 7.7 hours per day including their commute, working, and home life. Some people sit more! If you sit this long, you are around 48-94% more likely to die sooner! It’s killing you.
You still have to work, but try to interrupt your periods of sitting as much as possible.   Take a quick walk to another part of the office to talk to someone instead of emailing or calling. Anything you can do to break up long periods of sitting goes a long way.

2. Switch mousing hands.

Using ergonomic stuff can help. I’m a righty. I used to have a lot of pain in my right elbow and thumb. I tried an ergonomic mouse, and it helped some, but the change really started when I switched my mousing hand. That’s right, I mouse left handed now. Try it!

Try out some different ergo mice at the office supply joint. Even mixing up your basic mouse will help keep you from being locked into the same positions, which can lead to repetitive stress injuries. I will go back to right-handed sometime, but giving that arm a rest has made a huge difference- My elbow and thumb don’t pop any more.

3. Try working standing up.

Working standing up improves just about everything. It does takes some getting used to. There are many ways to spend money to do that, but you can cheaply cobble something together that will give you the same result.

If you do stand at work, you can do more to improve the way you feel. Anti-fatigue mats are nice underfoot right by your desk. An adjustable desk, like VariDesk, is a great way to move your work surface up to you.

4. Take a walk at lunch (if you’re not too busy learning PowerShell).

First of all, take a lunch! Your body and mind need a break. If you haven’t heard of the Ingress game, it’s pretty cool, and I used that as an excuse to get up at lunchtime and go walk around my downtown area. If you don’t like games, just go walk around and look at stuff or talk to people. Depending on your climate, you might want to bring an extra shirt to work so you don’t smell bad when you get back down to business.

5. Be safe around physical infrastructure.

I love hardware. I don’t mean a crush, either. I mean head-over-heels into-you-hard for hardware. There’s something about touching the physical side of IT that gets me going and helps me visualize the logical parts even better. Working with infrastructure can be dangerous, however.

Lift with your knees, and team lift when necessary. A server’s shape coupled with the component density can make them difficult to handle. Take extra precautions when putting your hands into cases and near wires, and be wary of very hot or cold surfaces you can come into contact with in datacenters.

5. Bring good food to work

You should avoid eating at your desk. Reasons include not getting it all over you and your desk and avoiding offending your coworkers with your home cooked food (yes, this is really a thing). The only time I recommend it is when you are going to work out or take a walk during your lunch period.

You can also improve the way you look and feel by putting some thought into what you bring to eat. Preparedness is lean meats and vegetables. Unprepared is Hot Pockets and other frozen stuff. Eat fresh food whenever you can. Bring some healthy snacks to keep at your desk also. They’re nice for you and can make you popular if your peers come around hungry.

6. Take breaks every so often.

Take a break. Staring at your screen for hours a day wears out your eyes. I won’t go so far as to say it’s hurting your vision, but don’t take any chances. Get up, go outside and get some fresh air. Go look at some trees and birds and stuff.

There are numerous apps that can remind you to get up and move. There’s also the Pomodoro system of productivity that can help you if you can control when you take breaks. But please- for your sanity- take breaks.

7. Listen to your eye doctor.

Get an annual eye exam. Believe it or not, sometimes they’re covered by your health insurance if you don’t have dental. Score! If your eye doc says you need glasses when you work on the computer, listen to him. You want to stave off the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome as long as you can. Special computer glasses are silly- just use what the doctor ordered.

You can survive at work if you think about your health and put some effort into it. Want to share a technique I may have missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Also- if you know someone who might benefit from this information, please use the sharing icons to let them know. I want to help you maximize your IT career potential- let’s connect!

Photo Credit: Ryan at – CC Zero

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