Hack Your Workspace: Four Ways to Kick More Ass at Work

By: Dave Asprey
August 22, 2014

Hack Your Workspace: Four Ways to Kick More Ass at Work

The media has tuned in a lot more lately regarding the dangers of sitting. A lot of this coverage is because of a Swedish researcher named Elan Ekblom-Bak. He’s published a ton of research about how NEPA, or non-exercise physical activity, is important for healthier insulin, glucose, and fibrinogen levels. In other words, moving is good even though it’s not exercise, and it matters whether or not you exercise. That means you can save time if you figure out how to move more where you probably spend most of your time: in the office.

When you become more Bulletproof, you gain more brain power and endurance to deeply focus and concentrate for long periods of time while still feeling relaxed, balanced, and full of energy. And no matter how Bulletproof your body and mind are, no matter how adept you’ve become at traveling to the furthest corners of your mind to mine its creativity, passion, and ideas, you still have to park your butt somewhere to do your work. Here are some ways to hack your time at the office and be more Bulletproof at work.

Mix it up: stand and sit while you work

I spent way too much of my life sitting at work, to the point that in my mid-twenties I had ulnar nerve inflammation (like carpal tunnel) so bad that I had to wear a wrist brace all day long on both wrists. Physical therapy at Stanford barely helped, but it did encourage me to experiment with my first standing desk in 1997. I’ve used them on and off ever since.

Excessive sitting can lead to heinous posture (the longer you sit, the more likely you are to hunch over), which messes up your shoulders, neck, and lower back. That leads to a less responsive and effective nervous system (a nervous system that regulates…oh, let’s see…everything!). It restricts the flow of blood and lymphatic fluid. Too much sitting, especially on airplanes, can lead to a deep vein blood clot, which can kill you. It can cause weight gain and constipation. The list goes on and on — like smoking, it can negatively affect just about every system in the body.

It’s cool to see standing desks become more popular, but I resisted one at home because I don’t like to stand all day, and manually cranking a desk isn’t convenient. I found the  SitStand™ Desk when founder Steven Yu reached out to me. I tried it and it impressed me so much I’ve become an advisor to Steven’s company and am helping him with entrepreneurial advice. The desk switches back and forth from sitting to standing quickly using an electric motor, and at around $399 it’s really affordable. I’ll be helping Steven let you know as soon as it goes on the market! In the meantime, it’s a good idea to have a standing desk as well as a place to sit in your office. If you have only a standing desk, make sure you see a functional movement specialist to verify your posture is right. Standing all day isn’t a good idea if your knees or hips are going to take a beating because you stand wrong! (Mine did!)

Ergonomics rock

I got into ergonomics because wearing two wrist braces got to be just too annoying, and I found just raising my monitors made a big difference in how my neck felt. (Note: in the picture below that my monitors sit on an antique radio, which houses my hard drives.) When you’re sitting or standing, maintaining correct posture will help protect your back, promote optimal nervous system function, and reduce stress on your neck and shoulders. I use a high end office chair with ergonomic support from Steelcase, although there are many good ones. Ideally your chair should mimic the curves of your spine and should be set at a height where your feet sit flat on the ground. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor, creating a 90-degree angle to your hips. I don’t allow armrests on my chair because they tend to put pressure on the ulnar nerve (one of the three main nerves in the arm) and encourage bad posture and leaning. You also want a 90-degree angle at your elbows to keep your arms level with your keyboard. Your head should be in a neutral position — my PC monitors are positioned just below eye level so I can look at them without having to tilt my head up or down. I taught myself to be a left-handed mouser, even though I’m right-handed, because I want a neurological balance and I don’t want to get carpal tunnel in my right arm from excessive use. It takes about a week.

hack your workspace

Whether I’m sitting or standing, I sometimes rest my feet on a Bulletproof® Sleep Induction Mat, which stimulates acupressure points on the bottom of my feet. It makes me feel invigorated, and unexpectedly toughened my feet so that I’m comfortable walking barefoot over terrain that was too painful for my entire life. (I used to be too tender-footed…)

Take a break, bust a move, do what you love

Set a timer to remind yourself to take breaks to clear your head and move your body, or even try the Pomodoro technique. Anything that increases your circulation is a good idea. One of the team at Bulletproof uses a treadmill at her standing desk while she’s working. I have a Bulletproof® Vibe Whole Body Vibration Plate about five feet from my desk, and I’ll stand on that for five minutes or so just to get the lymphatic circulation going. Sometimes I’ll do a couple of stretches or yoga poses on it. I’ve found that occasional whole body vibration, even if I just do it once a day or once every other day, is enough to keep my skeleton and my body feeling good as long as I stand some of the time I’m working and I get fresh air. If you’re in an office building with windows that don’t open, it’s really a good idea to get outside, no matter what the weather. Fresh air is good for you. Take a walk. Taking some time to lie down (maybe on the Sleep Induction Mat?) is a great way to relax, encourage good circulation, and restore your energy.

They say if you love your work you’ll never work a day in your life (or maybe you’ll work just four hours…). Either way, it’s still important to have some outside-of-work fun, even when you’re at work. My calendar is so full I schedule breaks or I don’t get them. I work with my EA to schedule a “personal upgrade” on most days, and I’ll do some experimental software brain training exercises, NeurOptimal® training, heart rate variability training, electrical stimulation, or…plain meditation. Sometimes I’ll do rep training with a Powerlung®. All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy, so find something cool to keep in your office that reminds you of things you’re passionate about. I have two coin-operated proto-biohacker bar arcade games from the eighties in my office, one is a biofeedback game and one is a memory test. My son, who’s five, comes up to my office every day to play the memory game because he just loves it. His highest score used to be 112, but today he hit 156!

Connect with nature

Speaking of high performance, work to find a way to experience the beauty of the world around us. It’s a no-brainer that spending time in nature has a positive effect on health and mood, but if you’re a skeptic, there are a lot of studies that prove it.[1] I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to live in a rural area (Vancouver Island, Canada) where it’s possible to have a view of the ocean, forest, and an island right out my home office, even though I’m close to an airport. Even in an urban environment, there’s usually some way to connect with nature – trees, flowers, plants, or some type of water, whether it’s a nearby river or just a fountain. Getting out in or near nature, even just for a few minutes, can help you clear your mind and open up some space for inspiration – you might find that new solutions to overcome a challenge or fresh insight comes to you once you’ve taken that time to be still. Taking time to relax, empty your mind, and appreciate what’s right in front of you is also part of being Bulletproof.

Sitting and staring at a cubicle wall all day simply isn’t Bulletproof. So get up, stand, raise your monitor height with a couple reams of paper, and check out some trees as you get your NEPA. Your mind and body will thank you, and you’ll thank yourself when you’re old!

[1] Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., & St. Leger, L. Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promot. Int. March 2006; 21 (1): 45-54.