BLOG: Standing up for something … like six months

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You’ve been sitting for the last few hours, or so. You’d go visit Alan in accounts but you really want to get this final TPS report done. You might get up if your bladder gets really insensitive, but you’ve broken through that barrier before. Did you even have lunch? Didn’t you have a meeting at 11am?

You say you are in "the zone" but you are actually in a funk. And that twinge is back; when you slide down in your chair, your back begins to hurt. It hurts in an annoying way that reminds me of the way seagulls at the beach are annoying; you’re eating chips, so of course a seagull will come squawk at you, that’s what they do. It’s one of those things we come to expect in life.

Coke rots your teeth.

Accountants are called Alan.

Wearing stripes makes you look fat.

You sit down for too long, your back gets sore.

Alan gif:

Imagine now that you could avoid this pain forever, and the other annoyances of sitting – e.g. breast or colon cancer, bowel cancer and diabetes and heart disease who knows how many other ailments that keep worker’s comp lawyers in Audis.

This is where I was when I decided to have a go at standing to work. My current role is in a large organisation a sports media company in a functional building with the requisite rows of desks, grey carpet, minimal noise. This predictability was a risk to my health and visual consistency is a downer in any creative environment. Furniture, music and wall art can help, but they’ll only take the edge off it. And in an open plan office, not everyone likes my selection of eighties dance hits and nineties grunge.

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I needed a game changer, something to feel more alive but also to help spur my mind, get my circulation going. A meeting at YouTube in Google’s Sydney offices introduced me to a standing desk for the first time. Initially, I couldn’t even fathom it. Was it a compact work station for temp staff who aren’t worth the floor space a chair demands? Capitalism is so crude, I thought. Google ain’t such a great employer, I thought.

(Flashback to my brief stint spent working at McDonald’s – "WHY LEAN WHEN YOU CAN CLEAN!", the managers would grin — at this I could barely restrain my McNugget tongs from wrenching their clip-on tie from their body.)

A bit of research lead me to find standing up has multiple health benefits, most of which make immediate sense. You move more, you walk around more. Your blood flow improves. Your heart rate increases. You sleep better.

The collective result of this is more calories burned. But this didn’t interest me nearly as much as two other findings I made; your ergonomics improve and your mind is more alert.

It’s bizarre to think our bodies were designed to sit for eight hours a day, (then two hours more on the couch at night laughing at celebs busting their guts on Dancing With The Stars).

And this isn’t about furniture or ergonomics. Believe me, I have sat in some awesome chairs. I once visited Denmark where I dropped in on the Trapholt museum, a simple shrine dedicated to the Danish love of the seat. I love sitting. It’s a comfy, relaxing thing to do, I admit. But in every chair, regardless of its beauty, I can slump like an oaf on a couch.

In the office, relaxing doesn’t seem to provoke action. It could even work against it.

Sitting in an office, I know that as the hours wear on, my shoulders will curve forward and my spine will gradually compress until I am delaying any body movement at all, as I strain to keep my mind on the urgent tasks at hand.

In this zone, I struggle to break the monotony. It has to stop – and it often did with a child-like sprint to the toilets that must have appeared as if I was the only person who had heard a fire alarm.

Doesn’t it hurt?
Two weeks in and my body had become used to the new arrangement. Haven’t felt a (bad) thing since. It’s actually easier to stand in other places now, like on the train, at concerts, in queues.

Isn’t it exhausting?
To be honest, I slept better from day one. Not longer, just better. I think I actually have more energy throughout the day and I now go to sleep a little later at night.

That must be good for your core.
My what? Oh yeah, great.

Office reaction
I had read from other people’s accounts that colleagues are often amused at seeing someone standing and take a few weeks to get used to it. For me, this is still a daily occurrence. It may never cease. Thus could be because there are many people at my workplace who I have only talked to via phone, email or twitter, and eventually they come by my desk. The exchange usually goes something like this:

Them: "WOAH…. What ARE you DOING!!??"
Me: "I stand sty my desk now. You should try it."
Them: "You aaaaare joking, right? That. Is. Ridiculous. You are insane."

(I work in the media. People are very frank.)

Standing desks
Standing desks are a thing and if you believe some reports, the number of office staff using them will explode in coming years. I’m sure some longitudinal stories will be needed before the benefits are confirmed, the deniers are silenced and we start seeing witty posters in the kitchen saying "Stand Up for Something" or "Sitting is for the weak!"

In a cool twist, my HR department noticed what I was doing, wanted to support the vision and had soon built me a desk tailored to my exact height. Two others in the company have since tried it with others planning to do the same.

This is the WIRED-inspired IKEA version I use. It costs $25 plus a few screws, and as I have found, raising the monitor actually makes for a cleaner desk.
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If you’re into this by now, check out some options: push-button up-desks, build your own electric desks, ugly hacks, the ‘ergotron‘, whiteboard desks and the hack I ended up using from IKEA.

Isn’t there another way?
Sure there is. "All it takes is getting off your bum a few times every hour…" says Australian professor and ‘physical activity expert’ (Seriously, when I’m a professor, don’t make me sound like I inspect playgrounds), David Dunstan who says that you could simply disrupt your work flow every quarter hour or so with a strut around the office. Easy!

You could also try an exercise ball. I did and I found a way to slump on that too.

And if you want to go a steep further, don’t think there are not people working, at a desk, while on a treadmill.

More articles on the dangers of sitting and the beauty of standing.

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More photos of standing desk options, from the practical to the plain stupid.

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Chaos, magic and flying phones in Breakfast TV Land

I have just concluded five years inside the bewildering world of breakfast television, a place where secrets are held tight, where inhibitions are lost, reputations are built and an astounding amount of work is drawn from a group of extremely talented people.

I’m the first person to say that this blog is just a way to process my experiences. It’s not seeking to blow the lid on some outrageous work culture. (That’s not to say that the Sunrise lifestyle isn’t outrageous. It is mildly insane. And if it weren’t so ridiculous in both its personalities and pace, it’s unlikely I would’ve stayed for five years – twice as long as I’ve spent in any previous job).

Inside the Sunrise bubble, you’ve got to like the frantic pace. In fact, you’d better fall for it and wish your weekends had the same wham-bam. Otherwise, your nay-saying and drawn looks will soon stand out like a typo in a headline.

Each day at Sunrise starts as soon as the show finishes. For me, the production meetings (a half hour conference call) were the most hilarious part of my day. Whether I was running for the train or doing ablutions in my pyjamas, I never missed one.  The jokes come fast, the wit is often as crude as it is sharp, and somewhere in between people are pitching ideas and a show takes shape. Staff in the office already could attend the meeting in person, and they’d often leave the room crying with laughter. How many jobs can start you off on that note each day?

For most staff, the hours are long. For me, the hours were also flexible, allowing me to work around the clock and my family which worked well to help the show lead in the social media sphere.

Working at Sunrise bled into my regular life in other ways. At least once a week I had the question ‘What are Kochie and Mel really like?’ It came up on Facebook, at cafes, at dinner parties, even at the doctor’s. Unfortunately for this blog, the truth is that they are just like on TV. Mel is really into family. Kochie is really into finance. Both are professional and efficient. Last time I saw them, Mel asked about my kids and Kochie said, “Do you realise ten per cent of household electricity bills are due to appliances left on standby? Ten per cent!”

The personalities of those behind the camera are a little more extreme. Imagine the most extroverted person you went to school with, and combine them with the most creative and driven manager you have had in your career and you are approaching the kind of person it takes to deliver three hours of live television every day.

(As a quick sidenote.. few people seem to understand the importance of this — Sunrise represents about a quarter of the television programming for each day (that is, inside waking hours). So it’s worth a huge amount, it’s taken very seriously at some upper executive level and it takes an enormous amount of effort to get right.)

I believe that part of the reason the show works is because people there care greatly about the minutiae. You may have noticed the length of segments but have you considered the size or speed of the ticker scrolling along the screen, the length of banter between segments, or the order of the cities cycling through the weather on the screen. (I once received about ten complaints via Twitter when these cities got out of order, proving some viewers do notice.)

Producers are trained to think about even the smallest things. What’s in the background behind your talent? What headline works best if someone has the TV turned down? Someone is thinking about the number of seconds any sponsor’s logo appears. Other conversations revolve around the suitability of guests to hosts, couches vs. desks, whether we throw to the break with a tease, banter, a chat or just go straight to the break?

Producers consider such points for every show. Then you watch it play out… and… it’s seamless. If it’s not, producers all definitely hear about it – but only briefly. There’s no time to dwell.

If you’re not in TV land and you don’t care for any of the breakfast TV presenters, I still suggest you watch it one day and ponder how, less than 24 hours earlier, the program may have had no rundown, no script, and, perhaps not even a single interviewee lined up. It should not be possible.

recent video I made on my iPhone made light of the difference between the new HBO drama The Newsroom and the production team of Sunrise. This video was obviously in-jest and the silent shots of the Sunrise team at work belie the times it can turn furious. The banter is less witty and it takes place more often on email, which, I suppose, wouldn’t make a great show about a show.

As in most TV units, some days are quiet while some are frantic – and it’s these ones which can turn rather silly. People swear a lot and make obscene jokes but no one gets offended. Again ,there’s simply no time.

The way to cope with such pressure in breakfast TV is to let loose – have a good yell, burn off stress being a gym junkie or binge on junk food (this was usually me), break into a public song or dance (usually the management), or dress up as a cow… that sort of thing.

There was one time former EP Adam Boland threw his Blackberry across his small office during a production meeting. It wasn’t intentional, as I recall, but the mistake became suddenly more serious when the phone flew out a small gap between the glass wall and ceiling then descended down a level, landing among the 7 News desks. (“Damn! Missed!”, someone said.)

The response of Sunrise producers, typically, was bellows of laughter.

It is as if a mild eccentricity filters down to the troops, perhaps from the VERY top. Sure, you’re spending heaps of money chasing great TV and super ratings, but shouldn’t working inside the magic of TV be enjoyable?

Even when it’s stressful, it’s still thrilling.

(L-R) Mel, Justin, David.

When police canceled Justin Bieber’s concert in 2010 due to safety concerns, Adam called me at 4 in the morning.

He was completely calm as he told me to tweet the thousands of crazed and crying teenage girls that there would be no concert.

There was no suggestion of a back-up plan. This was the wildest moment in my time at Sunrise. Twitter, teenage obsession and a frustrated hormonal climax came together in a genuine social media storm, and all before the actual sunrise.

The emotion soon turned very real as literally thousands of girls marched aggressively toward the Sunrise studio where the glass is thick … but only so thick.

Adam then pulled a Bieber-sized rabbit out of his hat to salvage the PR disaster, somehow ushering the star safely into the studio where he performed behind the glass.

I will never know if it was always plan B but at 4am, then again at 6am, there was still no mention of a plan B, not even to staff. Yet, by 9am, the months of planning, enormous build up and costs had completely paid off.

We felt like heroes.

And it wasn’t just that 5,000 screaming girls were going home happy. Professionalism, with just enough secrecy, had carried the show, the day.

This must be how Sunrise stays on top year after year. I’m not entirely sure. I guess I wasn’t there long enough to find out all the secrets.

me tweeting

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