Help me be nice to myself over the working day
January 23, 2013 8:15 PM   Subscribe

I work alone, in an office isolated from other people with zero opportunity for social interaction. I could, if I wanted to, arrive at 8.30am, stare at a screen til 12.30pm, break from 12.30pm-1.30pm, then stare at a screen from 1.30-5.15pm.In silence. Alone. I really, really don’t want to. Help me come up with things I can do every hour to ‘break’ for a few minutes before getting back into the next hour-long block of work.

Background: My work is intellectually demanding, but not at all stimulating. To get through it, I find I am much, much more productive if I set myself tasks for each our, then ‘break’ for 2-5 minutes before getting into it for the next hour. Currently my ‘breaks’ include: doing circuits of the building (includes stair climbing); making cups of tea (caffeinated and herbal); filling up a huge water bottle and drinking it as I work; going for a quick walk around the building outside (not always possible just now due to extreme heat), doing some officey exercises (chair squats; modified pushups on the desk), cutting up and snacking on fruit, and reading a few pages from whatever management/career book I’m reading at the moment… yeah. That’s it. God help me, I am so bored. What can I do for 2-5 minutes every hour that is a nice treat for myself to get me through the next hour?

NB I’d prefer this list didn’t include internet surfing or computer games.

Other relevant factors: I’m not in the US; I’m not subject to the draconian employment conditions which (sadly) make up so many work-related AskMe questions; I’m in a fairly senior role; my boss, on the rare occasions he is around, is absolutely fine with my taking breaks; his main concern in my productivity, not whether I’m bound to my desk at all times; I am vegan and don’t eat junk food, so treats of the vending machine variety are out. Boo. Finally, for reasons that would make up another five AskMe’s in their own right, no, I can’t find another job. Please don’t suggest this.
posted by t0astie to Work & Money (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
A delicious hand cream, give yourself a hand massage for a few minutes. Really work it into your cuticles and nails and press into your palms with your thumbs.

Take a toiletries bag and during one of your breaks give yourself a freshen up. Face mist, brush hair, reapply lipstick, a cooling eye gel.

You could also invest in one of those electric back/neck massagers and take 5 mins for that.

A crossword/word find/sudoku puzzle book.

I also love short 5 min youtube videos on yoga at your desk. I find that the back and neck ones can get rid of a headache when I feel it creeping on.
posted by Youremyworld at 8:25 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're not too sick of staring at your screen, can you email friends or otherwise catch up on personal email backlog, or set up a time to IM?

Seconding crosswords; they're great. I often stop by the NYT's puzzles and Brendan Emmett Quigley's website.

Or maybe pick some music to listen to? Or start learning an instrument and use some break time to, if not necessarily practice, study for a little bit at a time? I looked at a lot of sheet music/flashcards on work breaks when I picked up a bit of piano.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:31 PM on January 23, 2013

If no one else can see/hear you, why not put on your favorite music or podcast for a break and just relax? Some programs like Radiolab have shorts that are a perfect breaktime length. You could start an audio book and play it in break-length segments. If the book is interesting to you, you'll find yourself working towards your next break to hear more.

Brushing teeth is a good one for perking yourself up.

I also use breaks to make quick calls to friends or relatives just to say hello.
posted by dottiechang at 8:46 PM on January 23, 2013

Can you go outside? Even when it's cold or rainy or hot and humid, a few minutes breathing the outside air -- walking a few blocks or even getting a coffee/tea when money and time allow -- go a long way toward shaking the eye glaze of the screen and resetting my brain.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:55 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

seconding music. and singing along to it...
posted by 3mendo at 8:59 PM on January 23, 2013

For me the most important thing would be setting up structures for human interaction. i.e.:

Schedule catch-up phone calls with friends or professional contacts (30 minute calls) once or twice a week.

Work from a cafe two mornings a week.

Set up a "co-working" arrangement with a friend who also has a flexible setup - you can go work in their office one day every two weeks, and they can come work in yours on another. Change of pace. You could do it on the same day (essentially switching desks) or you could work next to each other for some socialization.

Take a break in the afternoon and work in the evening instead one day a week, if that appeals.
posted by amaire at 9:02 PM on January 23, 2013

Along with brushing your teeth, if you don't wear major makeup, you can wash your face. Amazingly refreshing. Sudoko puzzles done somwhere away from your desk or even outside when the weather is good--five minutes, then back to work. Takes your brain in a different direction.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:03 PM on January 23, 2013

You guys are the bomb, keep 'em coming! No opportunities for human interaction or leaving work though.
posted by t0astie at 9:07 PM on January 23, 2013

Write a letter,even if it is just a paragraph,or knock off some post cards to friends and relatives. Journaling might also work, I used write short stories a line or two at atone on coffee breaks. Meditate.
posted by wwax at 9:13 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

What about a small handcraft project -- knitting, crochet, cross-stitch . . . ?

Tiny jigsaw puzzles?

Memorizing poetry?
posted by alicat at 9:16 PM on January 23, 2013

I have juggling balls in my office for exactly this reason.
posted by lollusc at 10:31 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Write haiku poems. Stretch really thoroughly. Plan what you'll cook for supper tonight, or this weekend. Practice origami. Read a magazine article that's completely unrelated to your work.
posted by vytae at 10:55 PM on January 23, 2013

No human interaction? What about interaction via web such as Duolingo or even IRC on a topic you enjoy?
posted by at at 11:28 PM on January 23, 2013

Learn origami. Learn simple card tricks. Practice meditation.
posted by inire at 1:41 AM on January 24, 2013

If nobody could see me, I would dance like a maniac.
posted by kamikazegopher at 3:34 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just came to say that you are super-smart for identifying the need and developing a healthy practice like this.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:08 AM on January 24, 2013

Great question. Reading what you have to say makes me realize I need to address the same issue. Advice for both you and me: Research suggests that after someone has been doing close work, the most restful thing she can do is use her distant vision - looking through the window to people-watch, for example. Even looking at the top of the stairwell from the bottom should help. Anything that requires close vision may increase your fatigue.
posted by markcmyers at 7:05 AM on January 24, 2013

How's your handwriting? You could print worksheets and practice cursive, or just practise cursive unguided, or teach yourself calligraphy. Then you can develop an expensive pen habit.

Teach yourself to draw. Or if you are already a drawer, do 5 minutes sketches. If you do that every day you could have an amazing reproduction of your office over time. Or if that seems daunting, Taro Gomi's books and desk top calendar are great fun. (If computer games weren't out, I would recommend Draw Something because it gives a little moment of creativity, plus there's a small social component with the turn-taking.) Then you can develop an expensive art supply habit.

(Subtext: cultivate vice, however virtuous.)

Skipping rope!
Hula hoop!

(If your office is huge, and/or when the heat outside is less oppressive.)
posted by looli at 7:35 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Plan your next vacation -- I mean, really plan it, with research of locations, great hotels, sights. You can break this up into many small chunks, each helping to build your excitement about your trip (whether it's near or far). Plus, you'll get more out of it once you're there.

Research ways to get more social interaction after hours -- find clubs that might meet once per week, or online discussion groups, or dating sites, etc. All of these might generate communications to wedge into a 5-minute break during the day (even if it's just to say "ugh! my butt is getting flat!" heh)...
posted by acm at 7:41 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If there is space, do some sports/exercise. Bounce a basketball, dribble a soccer ball, putt some golf balls, get and exercise on a treadmill or exercise bike, put a mat down and do push ups and crunches or yoga, do stretches.
posted by Dansaman at 8:09 AM on January 24, 2013

You could also read a couple pages of a (paper) book or flip through a magazine.
posted by rpfields at 3:02 AM on January 26, 2013

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