Monday, February 15, 2016

In search of sit stand desk solutions

Numerous health related studies the last few years have pointed to sitting for long periods as being extremely detrimental to good health.  One Canadian study has even described sitting as "the new smoking".  I don't know if I'd go that far but too many years of sitting at a desk writing code has taken its toll on my back, and my health in general if I'm being honest. More and more, back related pain is forcing me to take frequent breaks and interfering with my focus.  As a true believer in "the zone", I know I do my best work when I'm hyper-focused for long stretches. Getting into "the zone" is hard enough but maintaining that level of concentration with an aching back is impossible.

The solution to my back pain is most often just standing, moving, and stretching. Of course, the longer I put off the break, the worse the pain and longer it takes for me to get comfortable again. The solution is obvious, work from a standing position.  At home, I've begun working on my laptop standing at the kitchen island and so far, no pain. In fact, I feel great but I do worry that a full eight or nine hour day might be too tiring, at least until I can build up some strength. To begin at least, I'm going to focus on "sit stand desk" solutions that transition between sitting and standing positions without a great deal of effort.

Work will provide a standing desk solution for anyone who asks but my situation is a bit more complicated.  I spend most of my day working in a customer lab where I can't permanently modify the setup. Worse, I often must change computers in order to use some specialized equipment. So my attempted solution going forward is twofold.  First, I requested a standing desk at my office. My IT guy thought he could find me something in the company warehouse.  Google and Amazon have raided my company for the last few years and we just can't seem to keep up our headcount. Maybe the only good thing is that there are many old computer desk setups just waiting for a new owner. Second, I'm now searching for a portable solution I can carry with me. The solution must be easy to setup and tear down and, since I intend to pay for this experiment, it has to be inexpensive. Time to get creative.

UPDATE: Sometimes people surprise me.  Word got out that I was looking at standing desk setups and both my work locations jumped up and offered to provide me with a sit stand desk solution. I must admit I was humbled by their response.  Both locations even went with the same desk: the Varidesk Pro Plus 36.

My primary office unit was installed almost immediately and the first day I started to feel the benefits. After just a few days standing roughly 90% of my time, I feel great and I swear I have more energy and better focus.  My legs are tired at the end of the day but it's that good tired that comes at the end of an intense workout. Given a few weeks, I think I'll build up my endurance and I'm betting I won't even feel it after that.

I was skeptical of the standing desk fad but I am now a believer.  I only wish I had done this years ago. I thought it might be too hard to focus while standing.  I was so wrong. It may not be a fair comparison given where I started but I feel just as focused.  Time will tell.  I'll update this post after a few months and tell people how this lifehack works long-term.  Till then, I'll be on my feet. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mi Band - My $15 fitness tracker gets the job done

If you're looking for a simple fitness tracker to count your daily steps, provide simple sleep tracking, work with the Google Fit app, and run for over a month on a single charge, look no further than the Xiaomi Mi Band.

I paid only $15 with free shipping from GearBest and only just missed a sale for $11. In my eyes, that makes the Mi Band too inexpensive to pass up.  I've started 2016 with the goal of walking 10000 steps every day.  I won't always reach that goal but I will be able to track my progress and that does wonders for motivating me to drive up my step count. I always forgot my pedometer but the Mi Band stays on my wrist, even in the shower, so I can't forget it.

This ultra barebones wristband gets the job done.  Program the Mi Band with your daily goal and the Mi Band provides three leds that indicate your progress in thirds toward your selected goal. Raise your wrist and the Mi Band displays your current status.  One led blinking means your working on the first third of your goal. One solid led and one blinking says you've finished the irst fthird of your goal and you've working on the second third.  Your goal has been completed once all three leds are solid.  Need an accurate count?  Just use your smartphone and read the step count over Bluetooth LE. Want to track your steps over time?  Google Fit will automatically download and save your daily results.

So if you're not trying a fitness tracker because of the cost, don't wait.  If it ends up in your top drawer with all those other gadgets, you won't have wasted much money.  On the other hand, you might use it.  Who knows, maybe someday I'll "upgrade" to a better fitness tracker. Oddly, I don't even know what that means.  For me, this works.  If it broke, don't fix it.