How to make sure your desk doesn't kill you

How to make sure your desk doesn't kill you

Of course, being seated for a prolonged amount of time can contribute to back and posture problems, as well as impact our overall health from lack of movement. And since the working day takes up the largest proportion of that sitting time, we thought it was good idea to tackle the desk dangers head on, and offer some useful, actionable ways of reducing the damage.

So how can you optimise the time spent at your desk?

Firstly, let’s start on the external factors.

External influences

Good Desk Ergonomics

Ensure you have good desk ergonomics to help you keep proper postural alignment and correct body positioning.  This will avoid over staining parts of the body such as the lower back, neck, and arms.

Seek out a suitable chair

Find a chair that can be easily adjusted and customize to suit your body shape and height.  Price will play an important part, however for most people a mid priced, good quality chair that comes with a warranty will suffice. The most expensive chair in the world will not be as beneficial as taking regular movement breaks.  

A fully adjustable chair with lumbar support and with good seat depth will allow for a comfortable seated position.  High end modern chairs come equipped with temperature control which is a nice added benefit, alternatively a mesh or webbing back can keep the occupant cool.

Check out the Independent’s top rated ergonomic desk chairs here.

Organise the desk space

A disorganised workplace can hinder your ability to get your work done.

First get rid of all the clutter, knickknacks and don’t double up on stationary items.  No-one needs a back up stapler! The only exception to this rule are pens; there will always be pesky work pals who in-advertently (yeah) take your pen.  You don’t need a pot full, so de-weed and get rid of all the dead ones.  

Have an in-tray for active projects and live work, but where possible go digital by investing in a scanner.  Trello is a great tool for getting your to do list online and try to digitally store receipts and expenses by taking a quick snap on the phone and file. 

Schedule a regular time to sort through filed papers, most will be out of date and if you are in doubt scan and file for future referencing. Have a place for everything so when you are in the zone you won’t get thrown off your game by having to go on a search and rescue mission!  If possible keep your lunch and snacks in the company kitchen, not only will this keep your work area clearer, but it can help to avoid unnecessary nibbling.   Keep the bin out of reach so you need to get up out of your chair to get rid of rubbish.

Get a Plant

Another great external addition to boosting your surroundings are plants. A large office plant is great if the company will spring for it or a small desk plant can work wonders too.  A nice evergreen plant that is mood boosting can transform your work space to be more peaceful. Plants are good for air quality, reducing bacteria, dust, and inhibiting mould.

Some great desk plants are

  • Chinese evergreens - also known as Aglaonema, this symbolizes long life
  • bonsai trees - more expensive, but beautiful and exotic, bonsai is the technique of cultivating small trees that mimic the full size tree
  • aloevera plants - once from tropical climates, commonly cultivated for medical uses, but also a beautiful evergreen plant
  • ivy - extremely cheap and hardy, and can give your office desk a more modern and unusual look 


Are your colleagues giving you a headache?

If you are having problems with constant or unnecessary interruptions, or a noisy office that is causing you to become irritated, then you need to deal with these problems head on.

First identify what interruptions can be dealt with and are causing real concern. Emails, phone calls, office gossip, colleagues or your line manager can all be part of the problem so decide which can be addressed to help lesson your distractions.  Keep an interruption diary for a fortnight to help you figure out what can be eliminated and what can’t.

Being straight forward by letting work colleagues know that constant interruptions are making it difficult for you to concentrate can help to reduce disruptions, or simply make it clear when you can get back to them.  Emails can be auto-filed so you can have a dedicated time to check your inbox, and you can screen all calls so you can prioritise and deal with them when it’s convenient for you. 

If you’re having problems with excess noise or the temperature is uncomfortable for you, seek internal advice from your HR personnel to help with these problems. Remember, if you don't ask, you don't get! 

Internal influences

These are the behaviours that you can adapt to optimise your time spent at your desk.  This might mean time planning healthy snacks and lunches, as well as figuring out where you can make time to move away from your desk.


Any movement is good for you and we have already mentioned a few ways to incorporate movement into your day.  Keep the rubbish bin out of reach and head to the kitchen for all your snacks - and make your manager aware of this change so they forewarned of your planned extra movement. Most good employers will be supportive of these sorts of changes, but it's good to make your manager aware of the small steps you are taking to improve your work wellness just so they are properly aware of the situation. Below are a few more ideas to try and squeeze into your day to keep your body moving:

  • Get a tracker – Trackers gamify movements by keeping your interest peeked and letting you know how many steps you have taken and what calories you have burned.   Most people love checking in to see how many steps they did that day.
  • Use the stairs on your commute and into work – stairs are fabulous for your quadriceps so gab any opportunity to clock up the steps when you can and keep the legs nice and trim!
  • Bicycle or walk to work if possible – great way to start the day by taking in some additional fresh air and getting some cardio first thing in the morning.
  • Lunch time run or walk – just getting outside in the fresh is good for you, by adding in a little stroll or short lunch time run you’re really going to maximize your lunch time to benefit you.
  • (If possible) Move once an hour from your desk, either to put rubbish in the bin, go see a colleague, use the copy machine, or go get a snack etc. 
  • Quick desk stretch – Squeeze the shoulder blades together, reach arms over head, drop the hands down behind the back of your head and pull elbows back. This short stretch routine will get the blood flow pumping and loosen up a tight upper back and shoulders.

Smart Nutrition

Planning what you are going to eat can go a long way to help maintain a healthy diet but don’t factor snacking into your daily routine or it will become a habit.   Eat regular meals and if you need them, pick healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit, crudités or nuts.  Meals should be eaten at regular times and should be balanced and full of nutritional value.  

If you want to understand what influences the way you eat, what you eat and why read the marvellous and insightful “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink.  This book is brimming with fascinating research and will give you practical ways to change habits and figure out what leads you to your food decisions.

Coffee and Tea

Drinks that have caffeine should not be over indulged.  Caffeine can boost concentration, however too much caffeine can cause insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, and an upset stomach.  Caffeine is also a diuretic, which means it will make you need a pee!


And finally drink plenty of water. Keeping hydrated will have massive health benefits and numerous studies show that many of us at work are dehydrated.    Recommended guidelines vary but the general consensus is that you should try to drink between 6 to 8 glasses a day (3.7 litres) of fluids for men, (2.7 litres) of fluids a day for women. Individual water needs will depend on many factors such as your heath and size, physical activity levels and outside temperature.

Your fluid intake is probably adequate if, you don’t feel thirsty very often and our urine is colourless or light yellow. So drink up and keep healthy!


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