3MMs: An experiment in combatting laptop lethargy while working

About once per week, I think about becoming a construction worker or landscaper because of the side-effects working from a laptop has on my physical and mental health. (I don’t really want to be one though.)

When I’m engaged in a project, I’m prisoner to my laptop screen. It’s hard to escape the tunnel vision I have with that glowing screen. “Stay here and complete the project now,” it tells me, “or you’ll never get it done.”

So I stay seated, even when my body is telling me to get up and move around. It’s like an addiction.

This has a noticeable impact on my health. After getting up, I’m in a daze. The world is too bright. I’ve adapted to the artificial blue light of the laptop screen and the sun is almost foreign. Physically, my body is stiff. I feel like my exercise from the previous evening has been reversed. I tell myself I’ll get back on track with exercising this coming evening, but working out seems impossible in my current state. Sometimes I do the workout, sometimes I skip it, telling myself that I worked hard today and deserve a break.

Sitting too much is bad for me – duh

Sitting down for prolonged periods of time is terrible for my health. I already know this, but to confirm it, I did some quick Google research. It took me five seconds to find a study featured on Science Daily that says how office workers spend too much time at their desks.

The study showed that, on average, office workers spend 5 hours and 41 minutes per day sitting at their desk. Given the eight hour work day, that may not seem too absurd, but the study also showed that those who sit for longer at work are more likely to sit outside of work. There was also a correlation between BMI scores and a decrease in mental well-being.

This isn’t the only research that shows how shitty sitting is for people. At the bottom of the page on Science Daily, I saw this…

Screenshot of various studies that say sitting is bad for you

So prolonged sitting is bad for me, like the kind I do when I’m working from my laptop. I already know this.

One obvious solution is to stand more and get a standing desk. These are a thing nowadays. But I’ve tried the standing desk and, while it solves the sitting problem, it doesn’t solve the mental fogginess and lethargy that comes from staring at a computer screen for hours on end. A standing desk also isn’t sustainable. Sometimes I just want to sit, and there’s not problem with that.

The real problem isn’t sitting, it’s being glued to my computer. If I leave it, I’m afraid my productivity will decline, that I won’t get the work done that I want/need to. So the question is…

How can I leave my computer and still be productive?

Ideally I’d like to remove myself from my laptop every hour. Some people use the pomodoro technique that says to take breaks every 25 minutes, but that’s just not enough working time for me. I need a good hour, but I also want to feel good.


Taking brisk walks every hour takes up too much time. Taking a coffee break doesn’t take me out of my lethargic state. And getting up and walking around the coworking space, apartment, beachside, or wherever I’m at as a remote worker doesn’t give me the physical stimulation I need.

So what can I do?

3-minute movement breaks every hour

I did this for a few days while staying at an AirBNB in Florida and felt invigorated. When I sat down to work, I would set the timer on my phone for 55 minutes. When that time was up, I would do a quick 3- to 5-minute workout.

Usually this consisted of three exercises, one minute each. These exercises required very little space, got my blood pumping, and quickly cleared away the mental fogginess caused from sitting at my laptop. And, at the end of the workday, I felt energized to do my real workout. I didn’t have to mentally prepare myself as much.

Some of the exercises I did included:

  • Pushups
  • Tricep dips on the floor
  • Jumping jacks
  • Crunches
  • Burpees
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • MMA punching and kicking combos

You know, simple stuff. Nothing too hard or complex. Just stuff that helps the body do what it’s designed to do: MOVE.

To track how many 3-minute movements — or 3MMs — I do, I’m going to start logging them in the last column of this Google Sheet if you want to follow along. I’ll be doing 3MMs throughout the workday and stop when the workday is over, continuing to do my morning walks and evening workouts.

If you feel lethargic, cloudy, or just plain unhealthy from staring uninterruptedly at your computer screen all day, I encourage you to join me. If this works for me like how it did in Florida, there’s definitely an app idea here.

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