Write It Sideways

Treadmill Desks and Productivity for Writers

Today’s post is written by Abbi Perets of SuccessfulFreelanceMom.com.

Two o’clock in the afternoon. You’re trying to finish the piece you need to submit by the end of the day, but your eyes are drooping. Every few seconds you jerk yourself awake, shake your head to clear it, and stare at the screen in front of you.

More coffee? Some cookies for a sugar rush? A nap? What’s the right answer?

How about, None of the above?

Those afternoon slumps aren’t the only drag on your productivity. Have you ever noticed the ideas that flow when you’re out walking? Sure, the fresh air helps, but doesn’t it sometimes feel like moving around prompts you to start thinking of brilliant plot twists, smart, practical ideas, or the turn of phrase that’s eluded you all day?

A treadmill desk can be an amazing productivity tool for writers—and it offers plenty of other benefits as well.

A couple of years ago, you couldn’t click a link on the Internet without bumping into a study about how sitting all day would ultimately kill us all. Suddenly treadmill desks were all the rage, with New Yorker writer Susan Orlean and other big names discussing treadmill desk experiences constantly.

New studies came out, about how treadmill desks boosted productivity: “overall work performance, quality and quantity of performance, and interactions with coworkers improved as a result of adoption of treadmill workstations,” according to one such study.

That was enough to push me to conduct my own study of one. I commandeered a used treadmill from my brother-in-law and had my husband build a standing desk from Ikea over it. Then I hopped on and fired up my laptop. I’ve had my treadmill desk for almost two years now, and here’s what I’ve found.

This kind of multitasking works—mostly.

Walking while working sounds like it will be tricky, but you get used to it in a matter of moments. In fact, very quickly, the walking fades away into the background, and you’re just writing (or reading). I’ve found that some tasks are better suited for the treadmill than others: catching up on Instapaper articles, answering email, queueing Tweets into Buffer, and writing rough drafts all flow smoothly on the treadmill. Proofreading final copy, anything involving Excel or numbers, and reviewing editorial notes are easier for me to do while sitting still.

(As an aside, some 2015 headlines screamed that treadmill desks may make people less productive; I actually read the study they referred to and that’s not really what it said.)

It’s easier to focus while walking.

If I’m on the couch with my laptop, it’s only a matter of time before I’m on Facebook. Or Pinterest. Or Amazon, because I really need a new spatula, and hey, I may as well check out a few blogs while I’m at it, right? Something about walking while working makes it harder to goof off. Maybe I’m more aware of what I’m doing, maybe I’m activating different regions of my brain. Whatever it is, it works for me, and I stick to the task at hand.

Walking wakes me up.

When I feel myself dragging in the afternoon, I know I need to get on the treadmill. It’s really hard to fall asleep while walking, and after 30 minutes, that tired feeling vanishes completely—walking is definitely a better pick-me-up than an afternoon cup of coffee.

Walking while working plays into my competitive nature.

I wear a Fitbit, and I’m obsessed with racking up steps. Working on the treadmill—even just for an hour or two each day—means I hit my step goals easily and without making any special effort. Winning step challenges contributes to my overall happiness and makes me more excited about work—and life in general. When you feel good, you’re more productive.

I sleep better at night—so I’m less tired by day.

Sure, the afternoon slumps hit sometimes. But generally speaking, incorporating walking into my workday helps me sleep a lot better at night, which means I wake up feeling, well, awake. I have five kids, so this is kind of a big deal. Feeling alive after 6pm isn’t something I take for granted, and I definitely feel better and more alert on days when I use the treadmill.

If you have an old treadmill—or a brother-in-law with an old treadmill—why not set it up? You might find that incorporating it into part of your workday gives you a productivity boost.