The 13 Tools You Need to Work Healthier—Not Harder—and Get More Done
A version of this article previously appeared on Skillcrush, an online education program for creatives, thinkers, and makers that gives total tech newbies the tools to make major career changes.
Haele Wolfe, Skillcrush
What makes a great designer or developer? Is it the right credentials, education, or tools? Or is it something less tangible, like determination or a great sense of organization? Or maybe it's even simpler than that: Success in any field has a lot more to do with your daily work routine than you might think. And as the workweek shifts from the standard 40 (or 50, or 60) hours to something more closely resembling the natural fluctuations of our individual lives, our concept of how we work needs to shift, too.
Taking care of yourself is critical to a successful career: You can't expect to deliver top-quality work if you're constantly exhausted or sick. In that vein, I put together a list of habits and tools for busy tech pros (or really—any employee) to implement into their daily routines so that they can work not just harder, but healthier. There are cheap buys, splurges, and free hacks, but in any case: It's your health. Treat yourself.
1. A Better Desk
We know—everyone loves standing desks, but trust us, your brother-in-law who can't stop raving about his new desk has a point. It's indisputable that sitting for long periods isn't good for our bodies, but for employees tied to a computer, it can seem like there are few feasible solutions. Enter the Standing Desk, a concept designed to give desk-bound workers a healthier option for their workday. Keep in mind that if you're eager to try a standing desk, don't go from sitting all day to standing right away. Ease into it until your body gets used to the change. Check out the Ready Desk for an inexpensive, easy to implement upgrade to your work space.
2. Shoes That Do the Work
Even if you don't decide to invest in a standing desk right away, you need good footwear. Whether it's for just around the house, or at the office, good shoes go a long way towards healthy posture and helping combat joint pain. For a sturdier slipper, try this model from LL Bean. Want something a little trendier? This Clark's loafer is subtle, durable, and fit for the office. Not sold? Maybe it's the Unicorn slippers then. And yes, they light up.
3. Great Lighting
It's scientifically proven that light has an effect on your mood and decision making. Get ahead of the curve by looking into some smart lighting for your workspace so that you stay motivated and productive. Fixtures like the TaoTronics Desk Lamp offer you timer options, an LED lifespan, and different brightness levels, among other features. Protip: Check out apps like Eyeleo and F.lux to help combat eye-fatigue from staring at a computer screen. Your eyes will thank you later.
4. Something Green
Studies show that plants make a positive difference in our ability to concentrate. Worried about a lack of a green thumb? Try something from this list of sturdy plants to find the right companion for you.
5. A Boss Chart
What really motivates you? A trip to the beach at the end of the month? Your family? Your pet? Whatever the source, it's important to remind ourselves of what keeps us going, and to make sure that source is a positive thing. Even a small reminder, like a photo or list of goals, can help you find focus in moments of stress or anxiety. So tack up that list, remember you got this, and go get it.
6. A Daily Plan
Organization is the key to fighting stress. Get the ball rolling with this list of productivity apps, or, if you're more of an analog person when it comes to organization, a nice journal and a good pen are often the perfect ingredients for time management. (Bonus: Writing has been linked to improved memory and making a to-do list every day will give you a sense of what your workday really looks like.) I love this planner from Etsy. It's a download so you can print on an as-needed basis.
Speaking of planning your day—make sure you work in some time for food and water. The benefits of staying hydrated are inarguable, and once you integrate this easy self-care tip into your workday, you'll be asking yourself why you didn't do it sooner. If you're looking for a project, buy loose-leaf (or grow your own) and get a cute teacup friend to keep you company and remind you to keep sipping.
8. Smart Snacks
We covered hydration, but what about food? There are easy, fresh snacks you can fold into your daily eating habits that will make it less of an effort to be productive during those crucial work hours. Nuts in particular have been found to have significant health benefits when consumed in regular, small portions. Salmon, steel-cut oats, and blueberries, make almost every list of healthy snack options. But really, the most important thing is to find what healthy options you like (Ed. Note: Go for the dark chocolate covered acai berries from Costco) and create an eating routine that works best for you, instead of accidentally working through lunch and grabbing the first thing you see, health be-damned.
9. A Solid Backup System
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but if something can go wrong, it usually does, right? Nip chaos in the bud with a solid backup plan for your digital information. CrashPlan and Backblaze are monthly services you can subscribe to for cloud protection that will automatically back up and store the data on your computer. Another option is a separate hard drive, like a Lacie or a SeaGate. Either way, have a plan. That way, no matter what goes down, your work will be safe and you can rest easy.
10. Laptop Protection
While you're at it, increase the chances of a long, healthy laptop life by popping a protector on your mobile workspace—and do it ASAP. Toting around expensive digital equipment is something a lot of us take for granted these days, but the stress that would come with the giant bill following even a small coffee spill just isn't worth the ulcers. For something sturdy, try Speck, who offers a range of protective screens and carrying cases.
11. Some Damn Company
If you work from home, you might find that you get lonely: Chatting with the UPS delivery person for way longer than is appropriate, disputing credit charges just to hear another voice, or keeping the TV running at all times. Give loneliness a run for its money with weekly dinner plans with a friend, some penciled in time to email non-work contacts, or even listen to podcasts while you work. Try Design Matters with Debbie Milligan for something design industry-heavy and interview based, or Code Newbie podcast with Saron Yitbarek, which follows people on their coding journeys.
12. The Right Workout
You probably saw this coming from some of my earlier points, but seriously—what are you doing to maintain your physical and mental health at work? Apps like Move and Big Stretch Reminder are free and let you customize your type and level of exercise reminders, and are catered to personal goals and workplaces. Awareness is an app that helps users become more informed about their computer use (and helps them to take breaks) by gently tracking patterns of screen time.
13. A Regular Refresh
Here's where I'm adding in my own personal recommendation: if you're still having a hard time figuring out how to implement these healthy routines into your workflow, I'm going to suggest totally mixing it up. Sheet masks or face wipes are an easy (and often times hilarious) way to build in a quick, refreshing break to your daily schedule. These Animalz masks are quick, easy, and an uplifting activity to add to your workday routine to get you through that afternoon slump. It'll force you to take a break, reset, and probably take a bunch of selfies.
Remember, an ideal workday starts with conscious, healthy choices. Whether you're just beginning to strike out on your own as a freelancer, or trying to find the motivation to make a career adjustment, these routines are meant to help you find focus, and bring you closer to reaching your goals.
Do face masks and unicorn slippers sound amazing but you haven't made the jump to working from home? Download the free Ultimate Guide to Getting a Remote Job You Love to learn more about steps you can take right now to get ready for the remote job market. The guide also includes a step-by-step plan for learning the digital skills you need in order to land remote work.
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
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