workspaces that work

What helps you be healthy, happy, and productive when you need to be in the zone— whether that’s at your job, in your creative workspace, or somewhere else? Many of us spend a ton of time working at our desks— almost as much overall as we spend in bed, sometimes. And as with sleep, work goes better if we get the environment right.

For me, a big piece is being able to move around. I fidget, shift position, stand, sit, stretch, cross/uncross my legs, squat, sit on the floor, sit in half-lotus on my office chair. . . as I’ve heard Kelly Starrett Say, the best position is the next position. While I’m all about the ergonomics experts who will adjust your mouse and your monitor and whatnot, I think the best solution is generally to avoid spending too much time in one position to begin with. Variations on office furniture that help this? Sitting on something like a ball instead of a chair, a standing/adjustable desk, a treadmill/bike desk, stools/footrests, and my personal favorite— the headset, so you can take calls while moving around.

What else? Continue reading

yellow safety first sign

How to keep yourself safe

  1. Stop worrying so much about being safe.

Life isn’t safe. Excellence isn’t safe. Innovation isn’t safe. Fun isn’t safe. And truly, what’s “safe” for the short-term is often not so over time. Staying at home and watching TV is safe, but it boredom and inactivity are perilous in their own ways. Staying in a job that you don’t love is safe, but burnout and lack of interest are real dangers.

It’s OK to get dirty, to get a few bruises, to get lost. These are often some of our most memorable and transformative experiences. Sure, there are limits. Common sense things— wear a helmet, tell someone where you’re going. But for pete’s sake, go! When I go to my krav maga class, I don’t take hard hits to the head, but I get hit. I get bruises. This is a good thing— it lets me know that I don’t need to shut down and freak out if I get a little roughed up. Because in life, you WILL get roughed up, even if you’re  careful. Continue reading

Basic Human Maintenance 101

I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:

Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.

Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like—  and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.

What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?

Continue reading

The joys of being a beginner

For many of us, the older we get, the less we do new things. We might learn a new hobby in college, but after that, it kind of levels off. If we’ve always been into running, we might still run. If we’re into sci fi, we read more sci fi. We already know what we like, goes the thinking, so we’re good. Why spend the effort to learn an entirely new thing? Isn’t being a raw beginner frustrating and difficult and just kind of not worth it? I find the opposite is true— being a beginner is freeing, and, dare I say, fun?

In zen Buddhism, there’s a concept called shoshin, or “Beginner’s Mind.” Continue reading

Do we need art?

I have always liked art– drawing, reading, museums. But I went through a very literal phase as a teenager where I sort of didn’t get it. What’s the use? I’d ask. What’s the benefit? That’s nice, that’s fun, but is it important? Do we really need art? Shouldn’t we study engineering, or microbiology, or something? Now, I think the answer is yes, and yes.

We all have feelings, thoughts, orientations to the world. These can arise seemingly on their own and sit there, uninterrogated, shaping our lives. They may or may not be visible to us. Are we at their mercy, or do we have the capacity to guide them, direct them, respond to them deliberately? And how does this impact our well-being, as individuals and as communities?

I think that art— experiencing it, viewing it, reading it, hearing it, making it— is a way to engage with our thoughts and feelings outside of the direct lens we usually experience through. Like maybe we can sidle up to them and get close to them before we put up our guard. Or we can see them from a different angle than the head-on way we usually do.

Continue reading

On Alignment

What do you think of when you hear the word alignment? The wheels on your car? Your body position in a yoga pose? I bet it’s not online education. . . but hear me out.

Because I believe breakthroughs come from cross-pollination among disciplines, I’m going to borrow this concept from Quality Matters— which is a system for evaluating the quality of online courses. In this context, alignment refers to the relationships among course objectives, unit or module objectives, instructional materials, learning activities, and assessments. Are the outcomes measurable and appropriate, at both levels? Are the course components aligned with those outcomes? This sounds basic, but it can be surprisingly challenging to achieve. Mapping out these connections can be difficult– and enlightening. I’ve done it as both a course instructor and a peer reviewer for other courses, and found it enormously valuable.

So let’s distill this idea down to the basic components: set high-level goals, set smaller goals to support the big goals, and choose actions and assessments that align with those goals.

Where else can we use this simple structure to improve things?

  • Clinical management. The patient’s “big-picture” goals are surprisingly frequently absent from the conversation. But patient-centered care demands identifying goals for health and for life. A care plan that doesn’t include an assessment of goals is in peril before it even gets off the ground. And I don’t mean goals like “get A1C less than 7%”. I mean goals like “extend my healthy lifespan so that I can travel in retirement”. That might be a radical shift and it might alter management. Or it might mean the same basic management plan is perceived very differently by the patient. I’ve written about the concept of concordance in healthcare before– it’s similar. Aligning our plans to treat, follow-up, and assess our patients with our shared goals, both long-term and more immediate, is crucial to effective care.
  • Career trajectories. I recently wrote about the challenges of focus in an academic/clinical career.  What if, instead of a single-minded focus on a narrow area, each opportunity is considered in terms of alignment with “big-picture” goals? This approach allows for more bricolage (which, BTW, can make work relevant and grounded), more cross-pollination, more serendipity, more diversity– without falling into a scattered mess. I have a couple of broad interest areas and goals, and I find that rather than continue to narrow into extreme sub-specialization, I prefer to exist as a practicing member of the communities I’m a part of, and participate in projects that align with those areas.
  • Self development. This is what tools like the Passion Planner promote– making big goals, identifying smaller pieces of those goals, and taking steps to move towards them. The act of identifying goals, and identifying small steps, is enormously powerful in making progress. It takes deliberate thought and reflection, but the outcomes of small actions over time that are all aligned with a goal can be mind-blowing.

So there you go. Take a simple principle, and see how powerful it can be in different contexts. Think about how Atul Gawande used a checklist strategy from aviation to improve surgery, and think about what big ideas might disrupt your regular practices.