Depositphotos_26362793_original pain-hand-small
February 19, 2016

Ergonomics

Sitting is the new smoking

Source: Mirror.co.uk

They say sitting is the new smoking and they may be right. Listen to your body.

I am currently in the write up and editing stage, and in the midst of a tonne of reflection as the result of wandering through the valley of sh!t. To be honest, I’m probably more limping through this valley, as I am feeling the effects of sitting at my computer supposedly writing. ‘Supposedly’ writing – but it’s more like this:

Source: PhD Comics

Source: PhD Comics

I like to sit cross legged on my seat for long periods of time, and this has resulted in hyper extension of ligaments around ankles and knees – leaving me with very sore feet and ankles at the end of the day. I’ve also had a notable increase in knee pain in ascending and descending stairs.

I’ve also noted issues in my hands. Not so much with typing, but with my mouse. I started with a Trackpad, and have moved through a few alternatives with varying results:

  • My Apple trackpad is great for fine control on my computer, however I noted pains shooting down the back of my hands up towards my wrist – probably due to the strength required to click.
  • My Logitech mouse – totally love it, however I have noticed that my thumb can get tired over time due to the heavy reliance on the thumb for scrolling, and I have pain now even when I’m not using it.
  • Now I’m back to a traditional mouse – it’s too early to report any change in symptoms, but I probably have some sort of RSI in my hands by now. I am going to look at some exercises to reduce the impact of these instruments.

From Trackpad, to Logitech ergonomic mouse, to regular Apple mouse

In terms of sitting, I now have adjusted my seat and have a foot rest – it still needs improvement as I am always itching to put my feet up on the seat of my chair. I have sat cross legged most of my life and I am very uncomfortable sitting with both feet on the floor. I probably need to look at exercises like finding my primal posture, as per the video below.

I have tried a standing desk, and that is great for short bursts. However if I stand too long I need to sit as my feet start hurting. I have aquired some rubber thongs (aka flip-flops or jandles for the non-Aussies), as I realise the long standing time on the marble isn’t doing me any good. I had been using a carpet to stand on, however the help of that wears off pretty quickly.

While the experts may not agree, it seems we ultimately need balance and variety of movement, and I think this is more relevant especially as we get older.

“What’s best for your muscle and joints and your mind’s productivity? Sit for no more than 20 minutes at a time, Hedge recommended, and stand in one position for no more than 8 minutes. You should also take a two-minute moving break at least twice an hour to stretch or walk around.” —Boston Globe

Buffer, a company I respect a great deal has a practical work philosophy towards movement, and while it’s not practical and highly disruptive to my already disrupted writing to implement all at once, I’m going to start to slowly implement some of the suggestions. I’m starting this week with work breaks: I am now setting my timer to 25 20 minutes (the Pomodoro technique recommends 25 – I’m changing this to 20) and alternating positions or just taking the time to get up and go look out a window. We’ll see how that goes.

Depressed and lonely teenage girl with hands over her face sitting on the railroad

Recently I was reading a post on The Muse, an online career resource website, and I was drawn to this post because of the title: “How to Work Hard When You Really Just Don’t Care Anymore”. Unfortunately this is where I am at with my PhD.

In doing this PhD I have been very fortunate in that I have had mostly positive experiences in getting through milestones. I did well at proposal acceptance as well as our HDR Conference. I also received positive feedback from case study participants as to the worth of the research that I am doing. Even set backs with regards to access that required I reassess how my research methodology was going to work was not something too daunting, and I was able to reframe my approach to meet the limitations that I had encountered.

However the writing always bugged me. I have been back and forth between people that have said that my writing style is straightforward and easy to read (very positive in some people’s opinions in academia) and others that say my writing lacks the academic weight (they would say gravitas) that is required in writing at PhD level. I’ve been trying to argue for the inclusion of stories, as that is a key part of the cultural/sociological aspect of my research, and have met reactions to this that vary from extremely negative to those that just don’t get it in the academic environment.

My writing has been my insecurity throughout this whole process, and now that I reflect on this, it probably overflows from my professional life as well. I have been requested to produce articles, however in writing professionally (in industry magazines) I am hesitant to put my opinion out there as an expert. I have done articles and such, however not with the frequency of some of my male counterparts. In writing for magazines, I am exposing myself to be criticised for my claim of expertise. I feel that I might be criticised for a variety of things – my writing style, my lack of specialisation in my career (although my career has been tremendously rich and fulfilling and I see every job that I have done as something that gives me a rick, holistic view of organisations), my lack of experience in one aspect of the topic that I am writing (although who can really claim to have a full view of every perspective?). These all lead to tremendous insecurities about writing and being criticised for what I am putting out in to the world.

However as the post stated:

As Leandra Medine, the founder of Manrepeller.com, says on her podcast “Monocycle,” “We have to reframe our methods of thinking. Because everything has the potential to be good. Everything has the potential to be seen as a learning experience and a tool of motivation to make us better.”

Ultimately, I think I need to adopt the perspective of writing as a conversation. This is different to my verbal conversation style. I have in the past tended to adopt what I call an absolute tense… where I have phrased questions as statements and invite people to contradict me. Somewhat confrontational, I guess. :-) I think with writing I am perhaps less certain and possibly very tentative, couching statements and limiting what I am willing to say about my perspective as a result, in case I am criticised.

What has resulted is me wandering around in the valley of shit – a phrase that is famous in PhD circles – where my confidence is at an all-time low. This is not helped by the fact that during the end of the write-up period we are generally trying to find a job. I have been told by many to hide my PhD research if I am applying outside of academia, so on top of the rejections, it makes me feel like the work I have done over the last few years has been for naught. Freaking awesome.

I need to work out how to frame this as a learning experience, focus on transferable skills, and just bloody write. I need to get over this paralysis.

This too shall pass, I guess. :-(