Do you have trouble sitting still? Do you get the fidgets? Does the idea of sitting at a desk all day make you grumpy? For many people, sitting in one place for extended periods of time is anything from unappealing to painful. So, what do you do when you can’t sit still but need to get things done?
First, we can acknowledge that there are many reasons why sitting in one spot for hours on end may be difficult. Anything from ADD to a high energy level can make focusing in one stationary location a challenge. If we think about it, the idea that sitting in one place is what we should be doing is relatively recent. For most of human history, the ability to perform a variety of physically demanding chores was the expectation. Many jobs still incorporate a fair amount of physical activity. However, much of today’s lifestyle is centered around computer work and other sedentary tasks. Both children and adults are often expected to sit still, sometimes in the same chair, for hours on end. Furthermore, that chair is often in a relatively small space, with little to look at but a wall.
Fortunately, there are many tools and resources available to help improve productivity in the current climate. While I am not aiming to provide a comprehensive solution, I do have one tip to offer that might help you and/or your children stay focused and be productive. I call it the “Change of Scenery” trick.
The “Change of Scenery” trick addresses the desire to look up and move around while keeping you productive. It provides physical release while minimizing the odds of getting distracted. It is sort of an enhanced pomodoro technique.
To understand the concept, imagine you are working out at a gym. Let’s say you begin by running on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Then you get off and walk to a different part of the gym to lift weights for 10 minutes. Lastly, you relocate to yet a third location for some stretching and floor work. This approach breaks down the large project of “working out” into smaller bits that feel achievable. You only need to stay focused on one type of exercise at a time, and then you can take a break, move to a new spot, and start fresh on something else.
This same concept can be applied to many kinds of stationary work. For instance, we might break down a large chunk of work, such as “homework,” into smaller chunks, such as “math,” “science,” and “silent reading.” Rather than trying to do them all at in one location, we can instead choose distinct areas of the home in which to work on these various tasks. For instance, we might do math at the kitchen table (the most popular place for homework!), then head into the dining room to work on science, and finish by stretching out on the floor for silent reading. [Note: for what it is worth, I’ve observed that few children want to come home from school and sit alone at a desk in their rooms to do homework. Fighting with your children over where to do homework isn’t worth the hassle. If they want to sit in the bathtub, let them!]
Another example might be desk work. If you dread sitting in one spot all day, use the “change of scenery” trick and mix it up. For example, choose to “pay bills” at the desk, then carry the laptop to the kitchen island to work on “correspondence,” and finally place your computer on the counter in the den to work on “writing,” “research,” or whatever else you have to do.
The secret of the “change of scenery” trick is that it openly acknowledges the need many of us have to move around, as well as the burst of energy we experience when we move to a new location.
There are a couple of additional things to bear in mind if you want to try the “change of scenery” trick:
- Consider what supplies you might need for your various tasks. If possible, store the specific items in the location where you will work. If this isn’t possible, assemble a portable caddy to move supplies with you. For computer work, it is quite nice to have charging cords in each location.
- If your computer is unmovable (e.g., if you work from desktop computer) think if there are any aspects of your to-do list that can be done offline, or possibly from your phone.
- Don’t force yourself to use a workstation that you don’t like. A desk in the kitchen can be very useful for storing supplies, even if you never sit there. Choose locations where you feel comfortable.
- It helps to move in the same pattern each time you tackle a similar list of tasks. This helps your body “feel” the progress as you move from space to space.
Also, bear in mind that “travel time” between locations is not a waste. Most techniques for improving focus embrace the truth that attention tends to rise and fall. We are not machines, and no one stays fully attentive and focused for eight hours at a time. Productive people rotate their work between tasks that require full focus and those that require a bit less. A restroom break, glass of water, or social media check as we move between spaces can actually help our brains “exhale” and get ready for what is coming next.
Admittedly, the “change the scenery” trick is not a complete solution for the challenges we face with focus and attention. It also might be hard to implement for those who have limitations on how much they can move around (e.g., office workers, people who live in a studio apartment, etc.). However, it can’t hurt to think creatively about how to add some variety to your setting. For instance, if you can’t change rooms, maybe you could alternate standing up and sitting down. Or perhaps you could move to a conference room, common room, or even head outside to a bench or coffee shop.
If you get the fidgets and struggle to sit still in one place, why not give this a try? Have you ever approached your tasks in this manner? What has worked for you?