Desk workers are among the most at risk of deteriorating health and shorter lifespans simply because we sit too much.
If you don’t currently have a plan to sit less, move more, and commit to keeping it up over the long run, now couldn’t be a better time to put one in place.
I doubt that I have to convince you that sitting is really, really bad for you because the research speaks for itself — but I think it’s an important reminder to help increase awareness.
Just take a look at some of these links:
- A 2017 study on physical activity suggests that it’s not enough to meet the minimum physical activity levels in order to prevent cardiovascular disease.
- A 2007 study showed that sedentary behavior was associated with a increased risk of developing insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and impaired microvascular function.
- A 2008 study found that taking breaks from being sedentary was linked to healthier waist circumfrences, body mass indexes, triglyceride levels, and more.
- A 2016 study on physical activity showed that high levels of moderate-intensity exercise (60 to 75 minutes a day) seemed to eliminate the increased risk of dying that’s associated with sedentary lifestyles — however, it didn’t seem to eliminate the increased risk of dying that’s associated with sitting and watching TV for three hours or more per day.
- A 2016 study found that there’s enough evidence to suggest a causal relationship between sedentary behaviour and mortality (as opposed to just an association).
I could go on and on listing study after study, but I’m pretty sure you get the picture.
As if the findings of these studies weren’t enough to convince you of how important it is to sit less, move more, and repeat the cycle as frequently as you can — consider the fact that focusing on your workout alone is actually a terrible way to burn calories and lose weight (if that’s what you’re trying to do).
Earlier this year, Vox published a very interesting video and article for an instalment of their Show Me the Evidence series, where they looked at over 60 studies on exercise and weight loss.
It turns out that it’s really hard to create a significant calorie deficit just by working out, and it often backfires by causing people to unknowingly eat more anyway.
That’s not to say that making time to work out is totally pointless.
It’s essential to good physical (and mental) health — especially for muscle building/maintenance and cardiovascular strength.
But as a means for weight loss, it’s not a great strategy.
In fact, your daily movement might have more of a significant impact on weight loss/maintenance than your workouts do.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the scientific term for the everyday movements you do during the waking hours of the day and it includes every type of general movement you do throughout the day — from walking around the office and typing on a keyboard, to brushing your teeth and washing the dishes.
Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that brushing your teeth or walking 20 steps from your computer to the printer won’t burn many calories.
As a independent activity, it won’t — but as a small part of the overall daily movement you do, it all adds up.
You’ll achieve greater overall energy expenditure (and thus a greater calorie burning effect) when you spend as much time as possible during the waking hours of your day doing as many basic movements as possible.
The simply act of spending more time fidgeting (like tapping your foot) is enough to increase energy expenditure by 20 to 30% — even without an increase in heart rate.
Researchers also found that the simple, seemingly meaningless act of flipping through the pages of a book had the potential to increase a person’s metabolic rate by 30% in comparison to sitting completely still.
The point is that your most basic, daily movements are more important than you might think.
And the Pomodoro Technique could be the key to doing more of it during your workday.
The Pomodoro Technique Is Not Only a Tool for Productivity, But Also Movement
If you know anything about the Pomodoro Technique (and it’s okay if you don’t), you might already know that it’s a popular technique for work that involves focus and concentration.
Desk workers typically use it to get more done in a shorter amount of time, which is great, but that’s not all it can be used for.
Since the Pomodoro Technique relies on short bursts of hyper-focused work (typically periods of 25 minutes) followed by short rest periods (five minutes), every rest period is also an opportunity to get up and get moving.
Before I move on, let’s take a more in-depth look at the Pomodoro Technique so you’re fully familiar with it first.
What Is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management plan that was developed by Francesco Cirillo back in the 1980s.
He used a regular kitchen timer — specifically one of those plastic, tomato-shaped timers (hence the name Pomodoro) — to complete a set of tasks as quickly as possible via mini workflow sessions and breaks.
Here’s a basic summary of what the Pomodoro Technique involves:
- One “pomodoro” or time frame of totally focused work lasts 25 minutes.
- After you complete one pomodoro, you get a 5-minute break.
- After you’ve completed four pomodoros (and their respective 5-minutes breaks), you get a longer break of 25 minutes.
- Aiming to complete 12 pomodoros is equivalent to about a full day’s worth of actual work.
Here’s what the breakdown of the Pomodoro Technique looks like:
1. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
2. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
3. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
4. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
5. Take a longer 40-minute break.
6. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
7. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
8. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
9. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
10. Take a longer, 40-minute break.
11. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
12. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
13. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
14. Work for 25 minutes, then take a short break for five minutes.
15. Take a longer, 40-minute break and do another optional cycle or finish for the day.
If you completed the above, you’d have done five hours of totally focused work.
That might not sound like much, but believe it or not, it’s more work than the average employee does in a typical eight-hour workday.
The difference between you using the Pomodoro Technique and the average employee working eight hours a day is that you’re getting more done in a shorter period of time — because you’re not distracted, you’re not multitasking and you’re replenishing your willpower reserves as the day goes on.
It works because you get a nice balance between work and breaks, which essentially helps you keep up your momentum up and avoid burnout.
12 pomodoros measures up to be exactly five hours of real work, not including the breaks you took.
You may work eight hours a day or longer, but chances are a lot of that time isn’t spent actually working.
Now, here’s the catch.
There are strict rules to making the Pomodoro Technique work.
You can’t exactly just set a timer for 25 minutes, pretend like you’re actually doing something and then pat yourself on the back when it rings.
Rule #1: You must completely eliminate all distraction.
I’m talking to you, dear reader who has fifty tabs open on your computer right now and is about five seconds away from checking your phone for the twelfth time this hour.
Depending on how bad you want to make progress, you’ll either do it, or you won’t.
You need to discipline yourself to shut everything all down if you want this to work.
For me, this means closing every web browser tab that I don’t need, putting my phone on silent and placing it somewhere out of reach, going into a space where I can be (mostly) alone and undisturbed, and finally drowning out distracting noise by turning it off completely or putting on soundproof headphones with music or sounds that don’t have any lyrics.
If you try to apply the Pomodoro technique to your life by doing it with the TV blaring and Facebook open on your desktop and your BFF texting you about plans Friday night and your kid screaming about something related to his Lego Minecraft set, then you’re doing it wrong.
This technique is all about being laser focused for just 25 minutes.
And I mean, come on, anyone can do 25 minutes!
If you find yourself reaching for your phone or staring off into space or chatting it up with a coworker when you should be getting things done in that time frame, you have to end the pomodoro then and there and start over.
Rule #2: You must focus on and work to complete one task at a time.
The Pomodoro technique is not about multitasking.
And thank goodness for that, because nothing ever good comes from trying to do a million things at once.
You’re always better when you focus on one thing at a time.
This rule goes hand in hand with distraction, because let’s face it — many of us let multitasking become our distraction.
But we’re not productive at all.
We only think we’re being productive because that distraction is task-related.
Focus on one thing and one thing only until it’s complete before you move on to something else.
The Pomodoro technique is ideal for anything that requires a lot of focused thinking to produce output.
It’s for creatives, analytics, entrepreneurs, teams, and everything in between.
Whether you’re a student, a web designer, a writer, an accountant, or even an artist — if it means you gotta sit down and get the ol’ wheels spinning, then the Pomodoro technique is for you.
All you need is something that can help you track your time and ideally notify you when it’s time to move on to a break or another pomodoro.
4 of the Best Pomodoro Technique Timer Tools
Here are just four of the top tools I recommend using if you want to try the Pomodoro Technique out for yourself.
Tomato Timers is a totally free website timer you can use in your web browser if you want to dip your toes in the water. Just click the play button and the timer will start. Use the buttons at the top to choose your timer type and scroll down if you want to take advantage of the handy to-do list feature for listing out your tasks.
FocusMe Website Blocking Desktop App
FocusMe is a premium website blocking app for Windows, Mac, and Android users. You can use it to create all sorts of custom plans to boost your productivity and prevent distraction. It has a built-in Pomodoro timer, which you can set up by creating a new plan or by editing an existing plan.
Focus Keeper Pro iOS App
Focus Keeper Pro is a sleek premium Pomodoro timer for iOS devices. You can customize the timer settings, sounds, background colours, and screen on/off settings to your liking. You even get access to stats to see how well you’ve been doing with your Pomodoro work sessions over time. There’s no Android version, but I’m sure if you type “Pomodoro Timer” into Google Play’s search field, you’ll find several similar apps.
Mechanical Tomato Timer
Why not take the old-fashioned route with an original, mechanical tomato timer? No batteries, no complicated usage, and no fuss! It can be set to a maximum of 60 minutes, making it a convenient little timer even when you’re cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
Image via Marco Verch / Flickr CC0
10 Ways to Sit Less, Move More on Your 5-Minute Breaks
Now that you know exactly how the Pomodoro Technique works in terms of work and productivity plus which tools are available to use, we can explore some good activities that will encourage you to sit less, move more, and do yourself a big favour in terms of improving your overall health when it’s time to take your short breaks.
Walking is the easiest and most obvious thing you can do on your break.
Whether it involves getting out and walking around the courtyard of your workplace or simply walking to another room in your home, it’s a great way to move.
And hey, if you’ve got stairs, why not use those to your advantage too?
2. March in Place
If walking around isn’t an option, marching in place is a similar, stationary type of movement that can give you the same benefits of walking.
You can even turn it into more of a warming exercise by raising your knees as high as you can with every step.
3. Sit and Stand
The simple act of standing up from your seat is better than nothing.
If you’re on a productivity roll and don’t want to lose your train of thought, sit-and-stands is a good alternative to walking and being distracted by sights, sounds, and other people.
All you have to do is stand up and sit back down repeatedly.
Try doing 2o t0 5o sit-and-stands before your next 25-minute work period.
Tension and stiffness are an unfortunate side effect of sitting for long periods and and thinking a lot — so it can be super beneficial to get up and stretch your neck, arms, hands, shoulders, chest, back, hips, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and ankles.
Whether you do it via a few basic stretch moves or by getting on the floor in downward dog is totally up to you.
If you work with coworkers, this might turn some heads, but is that really such a bad thing? If you’re courageous enough (or you work independently and have the freedom to dance like nobody’s watching), then why not pick a favourite song and bust a move for 3 to 4 minutes out of your five-minute break?
6. Jumping Jacks
Jumping jacks are one of the oldest and most popular warm-up moves.
And that’s because they work!
They get your whole body involved and your heart rate pumping thanks to the fast plyometric jumps.
See how many you can do in a five-minute break session and aim to beat your old record next time you do it!
Like jumping jacks, skipping is another simple yet effective warm-up exercise for warming you up and getting your blood pumping.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily need a skipping rope to do it.
You can just pretend you’re holding the ends of a rope in each hand as you perform small, fast-paced jumps using the balls of your feet.
Get down and give me twenty!
Okay, maybe that’s a bit much — especially if you’re a beginner.
But pushups are an incredible exercise for building heat, strengthening the upper body, and toning the whole core.
Start on your knees if you have to.
If you keep it up over the course of several days, weeks, or months, you’ll eventually be able to do them on your feet!
Lunges are great for waking up the legs after being immobile and in a sitting position for a while.
And the good news is that you can do them in all sorts of different ways.
Lunge forward or backward, alternating between each leg.
Or do a set of lunges on one leg until you can’t stand the burn and have to switch.
You can even do walking lunges around the room, or you can intensify the movement and build extra heat by making them plyometric (jumping) lunges.
Lastly, there’s squats—another good exercise to wake up the lower body muscles.
You can combine squats with sit-and-stands by squatting down over your chair.
Challenge yourself to stop and hold it right before your butt hits the seat.
Like lunges, you can also make squats plyometric by bursting into a jump when you lift back up.
6 Ways to Sit Less, Move More on Your 40-Minute Breaks
If you decide to do three Pomodoro cycles, you’ll get at least two 40-minute breaks, which you should definitely take advantage of in terms of moving your body as much as you can. Here are some ideas.
1. Go for a Long Walk Around the Neighbourhood
A 40-minute break means you can spend at least half of that or more taking a walk around the block.
It’s an opportunity to get outside, disconnect for a bit, and clear your mind.
You can even turn any regular walk into a walking meditation by focusing your awareness on your breathing, parts of your body (like each step you take or the swing of your arms), the sights in front of you, or the sounds that you hear.
2. Go for a Bike Ride
Do you have a bike?
You can fit a good ride in a 40-minute time period, whether you decide to go at a leisurely pace on flat ground or a faster speed where there are more hills and uneven terrain.
Even though you’re essentially sitting on the bike seat, you’re working your quadriceps and hamstrings as you pedal (especially if you’re going uphill).
You can even work on engaging your core, arms, and shoulders to get the upper body involved.
3. Walk to a Park, Restaurant, or Other Eating Area
Lunch itself is a good motivator to get moving.
If you’re planning to eat out, pick a restaurant that’s within walking distance so you have to walk to get your food.
If you brought your lunch, plan to take it to a nearby park or picnic area.
This isn’t always possible depending on the season and the weather, but when it is, it almost feels wrong to spend longer breaks indoors.
4. Stand and/or Walk While You Eat
Wherever you decide to have lunch, try to avoid spending more time sitting while you eat.
One way to do this is by finding restaurants or eating areas that have raised tables or eating bars designed for casual, standing meals.
You can also just walk around the block or a nearby park while you eat.
Just make sure that your lunch is portable enough and you can walk at a slow, leisurely pace without getting in anyone else’s way.
5. Do a Workout
If you have a hard time waking up early enough to work out or can’t seem to stick with making it to the gym in the evening after work, then one of your long Pomodoro breaks could be the answer to this problem.
You can lift light weights, jump rope, or even do body weight exercises.
Do it for as little as five minutes or as long as your entire 40-minute break, if you want.
6. Work on Your Flexibility
A 40-minute break is a good opportunity to go beyond basic stretching by targeting some of those more stubborn areas of tightness and tension.
If you have room to get on the floor for this, you can use a high-quality foam roller to get deep into the tissue and massage them accordingly.
Foam rolling helps relieve physical tension and can do wonders for your flexibility.
It’s also a great recovery tool that can actively be used to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
The Pomodoro Technique: One of the Best Time Management and Productivity Tools for Breaking Up Sedentary Periods
When done right, the quality of output you produce in such a short amount of time can blow your expectations out of the water — with the added benefit of sustained energy and a tool to help you break free from the sedentary office work/couch potato lifestyle.
Sure, getting more work done in a shorter amount of time is fantastic, but a productivity method that supports your health too?
That’s a huge, awesome bonus.
When people get “in the zone” with their work, they often lose track of time, not realizing that they’ve been sitting in one spot and working for longer than they should’ve been.
Sometimes this leads to body aches and pains, decreased focus or energy from avoiding those much needed breaks, and even total burnout.
You’ll be surprised how fast those 25 minutes will fly by when you try this technique and get in the zone.
And if you already have a pretty bad habit of hitting it hard for as long as possible until you can’t focus anymore, you should see a noticeable improvement in stamina that helps you achieve a maintainable level of good focus for much longer than you did when you went all out.
I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique for years and although I haven’t always been consistent with it, I always go back to it when I notice I’m in a rut.
It’s my go-to technique anytime I want to get back to improving my productivity and encouraging myself to take more frequent breaks.
The breaks make me extremely aware of my need to move.
I usually do a combination of walking and stretching by performing restorative yoga poses.
Who knew that you could sit less, move more, and still get everything done with such a simple technique?
Now, before I end on a positive note, there are at least a couple downsides to using the Pomodoro Technique.
Here’s what I’ve experienced:
Disadvantage #1: The Pomodoro technique doesn’t work so great when you don’t have a clear task plan, or when you need to do something that’s very open-ended and can easily lead to distraction.
For me, the Pomodoro Technique works well when I’m focused on one thing and one thing only — like writing, or invoicing, or spreadsheet updating, or editing, or pitching, or email answering.
Sometimes, those laser-focused tasks turn into huge, distraction-filled elephants that pull me way off track.
A writing project might take more research than I anticipated, so I find myself searching deep for information… and then getting distracted.
An email might require a specific type of action taken in order for me to answer it, so I go looking for an answer… and I get distracted.
A pitch that I want to make might need specific information included that I’m not familiar with, so I try to seek out advice online from others who’ve done it so I can figure out how I can come up with it… and I get distracted.
It’s those time-sucking, mind-messing obstacles that need to be considered, researched, figured out, and taken care of first that really don’t work well with the Pomodoro Technique.
Disadvantage #2: It really sucks when you’re right in the zone and in the middle of doing great work, when all of a sudden the timer tells you to take a break.
Sometimes, you’ll find that you’re not ready to take a break when it’s break time.
You’re right in the zone and you’ve got some serious momentum and you want to finish what you’re doing — which could take a while.
This is when I find it the hardest to take that break.
If I’m really sucked in, I’ll ignore the timer and keep working for as long as another half hour.
And yes, I know — that totally defeats the purpose of the Pomodoro Technique.
The trick is to find a happy medium between finishing up your current task or doing what you need to put it on hold, and taking that break.
Sometimes it takes a minute or two to finish up.
And that’s okay.
Just keep in mind that if you’re using a couple extra minutes here or there to switch from work mode to break mode, those minutes are going to add up in your Pomodoro cycles and overall time for your workday.
All of the Pomodoro timer tools I suggested above have customizable timers, which means that you can lengthen or shorten your work sessions and breaks however you like.
If you’d rather work for 27 minutes and break for three, then go for it.
Or maybe you’d prefer working for 30 minutes and breaking for seven minutes.
That’s the beauty of this tool.
You can kind of do whatever you need to do to make it work for you
Have You Tried It?
If you’ve ever used the Pomodoro Technique, I’d love for you to tell me about it by leaving a comment below.
Did it work for you? What did or didn’t you like about it?