10 Steps To Better Health For The Busy Freelancer

The following is a guest post from Fitness In Post member Brian Klein.

The life of a freelance motion designer and video editor presents special challenges when trying to maintain optimal health. I often spend entire days working with a producer inside a dark edit cave, I’m constantly responding to client demands with barely a minute to stop and grab a bite to eat, or on the contrary I may have nothing but free time on my hands for days at a time.

To be fair, most days are not this extreme, but the constant flux of even a day can make it very challenging to put my health & wellness first. It’s hard to keep a consistent routine, and different situations call for different solutions.

MAN VS. COMPUTER

As much as I love working on the computer, an edit suite is clearly a mismatch for the human body. We are sedentary in a state of flexion for hours on end, never seeing the sun or horizon, never moving, becoming chronically stressed trying to meet client demands and deadlines, and never taking a break. So I do my best to try and mitigate these factors by constantly moving, going outside, and working on my mobility. For me, “health and wellness” do not mean extreme endurance and/or following a fad diet but rather making small changes throughout the day that help sustain my energy so I can deal with the rigors of the creative environment.

Below are ten different simple ways I incorporate small but powerful changes into my daily routine.

WHAT I DO DURING MY “FREE” TIME

Before and after any day-long session of work, here are a few things I do that take about 30 minutes.

1 – I Reset My Circadian Rhythm With Properly Timed Exposure to Light

The edit suite is terrible for our circadian rhythms. Spending a whole day indoors without exposure to sunlight is simply not the way we were designed. So I often go outside after I get up in the morning to take in the sunrise. I may have a cup of coffee and check messages, or I will meditate for ten or fifteen minutes (even in the winter, although less often.) And at night, I reduce screen exposure as much as possible. I have installed an app named f.lux on my computers and wear dorky red glasses to reduce blue light exposure if I am on any of my devices after the sun goes down (unless I’m working on something that needs proper color work, of course). If I can, I just read a book in the candlelight. Just kidding. I don’t do that. But I do try and turn off all screens 30 minutes before bed.

2 – I Use A Foam Roller to Reduce Stress and Increase Mobility

My mornings/evenings also consist of some form of foam rolling session (click here for a selection of mobility gear). Depending on how I feel on a certain day, I’ll usually roll out my back, do a few couch stretches, deep squats, hamstring stretches, calf stretches, etc. Yoga is really good for this, too. Essentially, I look for the sore and tight spots and loosen them up. This helps get the blood flowing to all of my tissues and is a great way to start and end the day.

Now, let’s take a look at how I deal with different workday situations.

A DAY WITH A PRODUCER

When I edit onsite, I am not always penned in an edit suite with a producer, but when I am, it is the most challenging situation to fully work on any wellness habits. I’m used to being the weird “health nut,” but when it comes to sustaining a career, as editors we need to work with people, and they need to like us and feel comfortable working with us. Pulling out a kettlebell and breaking into a swing or goblet squat doesn’t always work in those situations.

3 – I Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated often requires you to get up to grab a drink of water, and you also need to go to the bathroom more often which gets you at least a minimal amount of movement. The secret about restroom breaks is you have privacy that you don’t currently have in the edit suite! This is super weird, but it’s the perfect time to knock out a set of jump squats. Or wall push-ups. (Floor pushups in the restroom = gross) Or if you can bring a resistance band without people noticing, you could do any number of extension exercises. See the Sitting Solution. And for bonus points, try to get a view of the outside before heading back to your cave.

4 – I Turn Review Sessions Into Activity Breaks

Anytime I need to watch an extended clip, or when I’m reviewing an edit, or possibly QC’ing for approval, I get out of my seat and get into a deep squat or hip flexor stretch. Or I stand. Anything. It helps me in a number of ways. First, because I am no longer sitting in the same position, I notice the edit in a different way. It brings awareness to a cut that I wouldn’t have if I just watched it from my seat. That’s the excuse I tell a producer for doing it, but it has a number of side benefits as well, one of them being increased blood flow which leads to better concentration and less brain fog.

From my seat, I often do any number of extensions. Again, reference the Sitting Solution, some ideas include chin tucks, crucifix stretches, and thoracic extensions. These are all “stretches” I do that mitigate the flexion I am subjecting myself to all day long. I often use discussion time to get stretches in, and I do them often, for example when the producer cuts out for a phone call. I shoot for a couple minutes of stretching every 30-45 minutes.

5 – I Get Outside

I always try to get out for lunch, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes, I’ll skip lunch and just go for a walk so I can take in some sunlight. Even more importantly I will exercise my eyes by staring at a point in the distance. This is crucial for the amount of time I spend focusing on a screen all day long.

6 – I Say No to Pizza

Speaking of lunch, there’s one thing that happens to me all the time. Inevitably someone will say, “Do you want to order in a pizza?” Say no to the pizza. It’s so easy to order in. Get a salad, bring your own snacks, or just go without. The resulting brain fog and tiredness aren’t worth it. It’s ok to tell a producer, “Pizza makes me tired, I’ll pass.” They may actually appreciate that you are trying to give them the best work possible by maintaining your energy.

The best thing you can do is try and open up a dialog with the producer. Tell her you are more effective and efficient if you take little breaks every hour or so, and that getting up and doing a few silly stretches helps keep you focused and energized. That never hurts and sometimes they will do them with you.

A BUSY DAY WORKING FROM HOME

When I’m working from home, I can be as nerdy about health and wellness as I want. And I am. Except when I’m not. It’s so easy to get caught up in responding to messages, getting out deliverables and what not that I can spend a whole day behind a screen with only 1,500 steps on my Fitbit (ps, 1500 isn’t good).

7 – I Take Sitting Solution Breaks

My absolute favorite thing to do to ensure I’m getting proper movement in during the day is The Sitting Solution. Get it. And follow it. I notice a HUGE difference between my energy levels on days I use it and days I don’t. It’s silly that there are days when I am not taking a break every 45 minutes to do 2 minutes of movement when no one is there to judge me. It’s pure laziness.

One of the reasons I end up not doing The Sitting Solution is because I simply forget to do it. I’m often deep in an edit, and before I know it, two hours have passed. I’m a big believer in flow, and once you are in it, ride it out until the end. But when I’m not in flow, I just end up getting distracted responding to messages and not moving. So I’ve installed an app named BreakTime on my computer, and it reminds me that I need to move. There are numerous apps for both Windows and OS X that do this, as well as mobile devices such as the Apple Watch. Find something that works and use it. I often use my Sitting Solution breaks as a review period. Hit play on your edit, and watch it while you do a few movements. This actually has a side benefit of helping me get through any creative blocks I’m experiencing.

8 – I Avoid Snacking

I keep snacks out of the house. When 3:00pm rolls around, I’m often tempted to wander over to the pantry, grab a bag of whatever and down it in five minutes. Even when it’s something healthy, it can be overeaten, so I’m wary of having snack food easily accessible.  I’ll often make a rule: One handful at a time. I get one handful and have to walk all the way back to the pantry to get another handful. It also works to drink a full glass of water (pro tip: add a pinch of salt) and wait 10 minutes. If I am still hungry, I eat a small snack. Finally, I’ll also tell myself: “If I’m not hungry for sardines and an avocado, then I’m not hungry.” That usually works. (Yes, a common snack for me is sardines and avocados…you can use an apple as your hunger barometer as well)

9 – I Make Calls On the Go

I always walk around when taking calls. Whenever I get on the phone, I put on the earbuds and get up and walk. If I know that I don’t need to take notes or review files on a computer, I’ll go outside for a walk around the block. Not only does this keep me active, but I’m more engaged during the call and that energy translates to a better conversation.

10 – I Never Stop Moving

Standing workstations have become the new craze. Truth be told, I don’t have one. I want one, and will eventually get something, but I think we need to be careful. The term standing workstation implies that we should be standing all day, not sitting. While standing more often is better for us, the truth is that we need to be in a variety of positions throughout the day. Standing still for 8-10 hours can be just as bad for you as sitting for 8-10 hours. What I really want is a flexible workstation that will raise and lower itself (like a GeekDesk). In the meantime, I get up and move around often, pay attention to how I sit, and look for ways to move.

I’M NOT PERFECT

I’d be lying if I told you that this is exactly how I live out every single day. I have days where I do none of this. And I’m okay with that. The best thing is try and be mindful about what you can do to improve your health throughout the day, then do your best to make healthy lifestyle decisions that work for you. Start small and stack one small change onto another. Before you know it, you’ll be making huge progress!

Be well.

I’m a freelance video editor and motion graphics designer in the Minneapolis area and have worked with a variety of advertising agencies and post production facilities for the past 15 years. Health has always been an interest of mine, and I followed a lot of the standard advice without results. I was actually going backwards, not getting better. After one visit to the doctor where the only advice given to me to improve my heart health was to drink more wine, I decided I needed to start researching on my own. Through this effort, I was able to drop 25 pounds and bring health markers into range. This passion eventually led me to heading up an employee run wellness committee at the agency I was working at. Once I found Fitness in Post, a program designed specifically for people in my profession, I knew I needed to be involved. Instead of hashing through all kinds of half baked health advise online, I can go straight to a community that understands where I’m coming from. I am particularly interested in nutrition and holistic wellness, but am passionate about all aspects of health.

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