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


Advice beyond “focus” for academics

I’m an early-career academic and clinician. As such, I need– and receive– a lot of guidance. I have mentors, I have bosses, I have colleagues. Everyone says to focus. Which is nice, but is it helpful? Certainly focus is critical to build a solid and impactful program of scientific research. Does it capture the goals of a long career for someone like me, with varied interests and broad educational preparation? Does “focus” give me the opportunity for impact across different areas or on different levels? Does this idea of “focus” get me to a place where I want to be? The use of the term is so pervasive, it got me thinking. I’m not a photographer, so forgive any technical errors, but what if we thought about an academic career with a more nuanced set of variables?

  • Depth of field. Can you have multiple objects in focus, even if they aren’t right next to each other? If you adjust the aperature, you can let in more or less light, and along with changing the exposure, this can make your focus shallow or deep. Often in a PhD world, you are compelled to bring sharp focus to a tiny part of an image (big aperture) and blur the rest. This can be a good thing, but it’s not the only way. Say, hypothetically, that you want a career with research and clinical practice both, and you also want to be a policy voice. Change the aperture to a smaller size and see— multiple object can be in focus at once. It’s not better or worse, but it brings a different quality to the image.
  • Shutter speed. So you’ve adjusted the aperture— to keep the exposure right, you need to think about how long the shutter is open. A smaller aperture means you need more time. That’s OK, but you have to be aware of it. You want more things in focus? You need to spend a little longer letting light in.
  • Composition. What’s in your shot? How is it framed? Is it a close-up, or a landscape? Is your subject in the center, or are you more interested in a rule-of-thirds kind of thing? The key here is that THERE ISN’T A RIGHT WAY. It’s all about what you want to show and how you want to show it.  That said, some institutions like certain kinds of images more than others. Does your picture fit into their album?
  • Frame rate. Are you shooting a single, perfect image, or a series? Do you want a smooth, seamless progression through a moment, or do you want to capture discrete pieces over time?

varied interests

you want me to pick just one??

So, what’s the upshot? Should we just throw out the advice to “focus” when it doesn’t suit us? No. . . but I do think we should consider it in a broader context and check to see whether our goals are aligned. I may not want to get on a rocket ship to the moon– I might rather be on a cruise ship through different ports.  Well, now that I’ve thoroughly mixed my metaphors, I suspect it’s time to sign off. What are your thoughts on the ups and downs of focus?

take care of your basic needs.

I know a lot of folks who are feeling stressed right now. World events, personal issues, work (always work). What’s going on here?


  1. 1.
    pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
    “the distribution of stress is uniform across the bar”
    synonyms: pressuretensionstrain

    “the stress is uniform across the bar”
  2. 2.
    a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
    “he’s obviously under a lot of stress
    synonyms: strainpressure, (nervous) tension, worryanxietytroubledifficulty;

    “he’s under a lot of stress”

A little stress can be a good thing– it spurs us into action, motivates us, challenges us. think about exercise– you apply stress to your body, your body adapts. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

This stress response can go haywire, though. Sometimes it’s because of the duration and severity of the stressor (toxic stress, trauma). Sometimes it’s because something has gone wrong in our body’s or brain’s mechanisms for handling stress. And sometimes, it’s because we haven’t paid attention to or prioritized our basic needs.

3XtRvMany are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” But how many times have you sacrificed something from that crucial bottom rung of the pyramid– physiological needs– for something external, like a work deadline? Everyone has done this– but when it’s the rule rather than the exception, it will start to impact your ability to cope with stress.  Skipping meals, shorting on sleep, forgetting to hydrate, neglecting to move around, going days without setting foot outside, even forgoing sex with your partner– these behaviors chip away at our resilience. The hierarchy of needs is built on a base of physiologic needs, safety, and social connection– the peak of the pyramid, self-actualization, is built on these less glamorous but critical parts.

Think about a toddler having a meltdown in the middle of Target. The kid’s mom probably said no, you can’t have that toy. Is the full-on tantrum that ensues for the next twenty minutes entirely about that plastic ninja turtle? Or is the kid probably overdue for a nap, crashing from a soda earlier, hungry, and antsy from sitting in the car? We’re not that different from the screaming toddler when we get stressed out.

So next time you feel overwhelmed and stressed out and unable to cope, ask yourself this question: “have I attended to my basic needs?” Before you enter full-on freak-out mode and quit your job and move to a commune, try a quick audit:

  • When did I last eat? When did I last eat fresh, healthy, and tasty food?
  • Do I have to go to the bathroom?
  • Did I shower recently?
  • Have I had a glass of water today?
  • Did I sleep for a reasonable amount of time last night?
  • Does my partner remember what I look like?
  • When was the last time I went outside and moved my body?

If you spot a deficit, fix it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t put anything else first (you’re the one who gets to decide– even if it doesn’t always feel like it). And remember that you are responsible for your own well-being.


Love what you do, do what you love:

Yes, I am going to tell you a story about wellness that involves going on on a Monday night, drinking beer, and staying out too late. Ready?

It starts with a band. Do you know the Old 97’s? It’s OK, they’re actually not all that well known despite a long career with album after album of great songs and consistent touring. They’ve probably been book at your favorite medium-sized rock club/venue (9:30 club, Paradise, Trocadero back east, Rialto out here). They’ve been around since 1993 (!), and Rhett Miller, the lead singer, is now 45 (!!). But you’d never know it. And no, he doesn’t have a creepy portrait in the attic. He, (And Murray and Ken and Phil, I didn’t forget you!) just freakin’ love what they do. The’ve been playing together for over 20 years and instead of getting bored or stale or fighting, they’re just having a freaking great time playing shows. They bounce around a joke and belt and shred and this is all on a Monday night at tiny Club Congress in Tucson, just the same or better as they do it a bigger venues on hipper nights.

So I went to this show on the aforementioned Monday night, which, if you know me and my general affection for being in bed at 9 PM, is kind of a big deal. Continue reading