How to Survive Eight Hours Sitting and Staring at a Screen

girl sitting at the desk

In a perfect world, no one would have to spend eight or nine hours sitting in an artificially lit room staring at a computer screen. We would all have the luxury of natural light and limited screen time (even if you love working on your laptop, it’s definitely not good for you).

But alas, such is not the case for many of us. We sit. We stare at a backlit monitor. We don’t move enough for hours on end. And it’s horrible for us. Dreadful. It’s easier said than done to read, hear, and know that we shouldn’t do that, and that we should take steps to alleviate the strain put on our bodies.

With that mind, here are some quick tips and ideas to make sitting and staring at a screen all day just a little more tolerable. I call it Desk-ercise...but that’s really just a working title. Feel free to not call it that.

Your Eyes

Staring at a backlit screen, such as your tablet or laptop, can be tremendously difficult on your eyes. If you’ve ever experienced dry, itchy, scratchy, irritated eyes over the course of the day, then you know what eye fatigue feels like already.

Luckily, there are a few quick ideas to help.

Install a program like f.lux. This ingenious little program makes adjustments to your screen lighting level throughout the course of the day. It uses your location (for sunrise and sunset times), time of day, and the lighting in the room where you’re working (which you have to enter in the settings) to provide the most appropriate and easiest lighting for your eyes. During the day, your screen will mimic natural sunlight light. Once the sun sets, though, the program will automatically adjust your screen to mimic indoor lighting. You won’t be blinded while working late. The next morning, it returns to natural sunlight. Repeat. Set it, and forget it.

Beyond that, you should also be practicing the 20-20-20 Rule. This rule, or suggestion more accurately, stipulates that you should take a break from looking at your screen every 20 minutes (give or take), and during that time you should focus on something 20 feet away for roughly 20 seconds. 20-20-20. Remember to blink frequently, and stand up during this as well. Your eyes - and your back - will thank you.

Your Body

You absolutely must find the opportunity to get up during the workday. Sitting for extended periods of time is proving to wreak havoc on our bodies. You should stand up and stretch at LEAST once every hour, and more frequently is better.

If you can’t remember to do that, install something on your computer to remind you. The simplest trick is probably using a Pomodoro timer (which we’ve discussed before). This runs a basic 25 minute-5 minute cycle. Work for 25 minutes, focused on one task, then take a short 5 minute break. Stand up. Stretch, Do the 20-20-20 regime.

You should also perform a few easy stretches at various points during the day. Sitting hunched over at your desk is doing you no favours, so try and minimize the discomfort with some simple exercise and by assisting blood circulation.

Head and Neck - move your head gently forward and backward, and look to the left and right. Avoid “rolling” your head. Even though we were all taught that move at some point, it seems to cause more problems than it solves, and could cause damage.

Shoulders - Here, you can roll. Simply roll your shoulders forward 10-15 times, then do the same backward.

Chest - Open your arms wide, rotate your hands back (so your thumbs are pointing up and back), and pull your shoulders back. This gives a great stretch across your chest, which is especially important if you tend to hunch over while sitting.

Wrists - Again, roll to your heart’s content. Roll your wrists both clockwise and counterclockwise at least once an hour. This is even more important if you spend a good chunk of your day typing.

Ankles - Rock ‘n roll. Roll each ankle clockwise 3-5 times, then counterclockwise 3-5 times. This one really helps to increase blood circulation when you spend a lot of time sitting.

Calves - While sitting at your desk, “stand” on the balls of your feet, pushing up and flexing your calf muscles. Relax and repeat. Do this until each leg feels slightly tired.

The nice thing about most of these is that they are small and relatively unnoticeable. You can do them at your desk without attracting too many odd looks from your colleagues.

The Quick List

So, over the course of a typical day spent sitting at your desk and working, try to follow this routine:

  • Stand and stretch every 30 minutes or so. Use a reminder program like Pomodoro if you have trouble remembering to do so.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 Rule to avoid eye fatigue. Install a program like f.lux to adjust your backlighting.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Refilling a water bottle or glass is a great reason to frequently stand and take a little walk.
  • Perform the Desk-ercise tasks throughout the day. Rotate your wrists even more frequently to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome if you spend a lot of time typing.  
  • Be mindful of that pins and needles feeling in your legs or arms. It indicates poor blood circulation. When you feel it, stand up, walk around, and stretch.
  • If you can swing it, consider investing in a standing desk. Much better for you. It feels a little weird at first, but once you get used to it, you'll wonder how you ever did without it. 

Sitting all day in front of a computer screen may be unavoidable in the modern workplace, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel miserable and sore. Follow these simple tips for better overall health, enjoyment, and productivity.