My treadmill desk — the next generation

My treadmill desk — the next generationI’ve replaced my treadmill desk with the next generation: a simpler, cheaper, and better alternative!

Five years ago I shared my initial and follow-up experiences with a treadmill desk. Since then I’ve walked over 1,600 miles while working, and have seen a clear correlation between my general level of wellbeing and regular use of my walking desk for (typically) a couple of hours a day.

Last week, however, I noticed that my upper arms were aching after using my desk. After a few days experimenting, I realized that the height of the commercial plastic shelf I’ve been using since 2012 was causing my shoulders and upper arms to tense up while typing, leading to the achiness. Though this hadn’t happened before, I’m getting older and creakier and I needed to do something if I was going to continue to reap the benefits of my walking-while-working routine.

Googling “DIY treadmill desk” led me to the post How to Build a Treadmill Desk for Under $20! which acknowledges the original inspiration of Super Cheap DIY Treadmill Desk. Both articles described a simple, cheaper, and better solution to my problem.

Simple, because I could quickly build a better shelf myself.

Cheaper, because I used materials already in my possession. (But even if you bought everything, it should cost you less than $20.)

Better, because the new shelf:

  • rests on the arms of my treadmill at a perfect height for me to type with my forearms level, avoiding the scrunched up shoulders my old desk required, and;
  • is twice as wide as the old one, giving me a place to rest reference materials right next to my keyboard while writing.

Materials: a piece of plywood, two brackets, four screws, two hooks, one bungee cord.

Tools: saw, tape, pencil, screwdriver.

Time: about an hour.

Here’s the side view of my finished shelf. The brackets were only needed because my treadmill’s arms have a gentle slope. Some treadmills have horizontal arms, making construction even easier.

My treadmill desk — the next generation

Construction is so simple that these pictures and the referenced articles should contain all the information you need. Though I don’t regret purchasing my (now discontinued) commercial shelf in 2012, this homemade version is a great improvement. If you have a home or office treadmill and want to work while walking, this is the way to go!

Use pair share to quickly improve your conference sessions

psIn less than three minutes, you can improve almost any conference session with pair share. The technique is simple: after pairing up participants and providing a short period for individual thinking about an appropriate topic, each pair member takes a minute in turn to share their thoughts with their partner. (More details can be found in Chapter 38 of The Power of Participation.)

Pair share is not the same as conversation, because pair share gives each person an exclusive minute of active sharing and a minute of pure listening. This balance rarely occurs during conversation, because typically:

  • One party speaks more than another, and;
  • Whoever isn’t speaking is often not fully listening to what is being said because they’re thinking about something they want to say themselves.

Pair share improves conference sessions by:

  • Resetting every participant’s brain to a state of active engagement;
  • Providing structured opportunities for participants to share expertise and experience with their partner, and (if built into the subsequent session design) with others in the room; and
  • Modeling and supporting social learning during the session.

For pair share to work effectively:

  • Each assigned topic must be central to the session’s purpose;
  • If the session is presenter-content heavy, hold a pair share roughly every ten minutes to explore and consolidate participant learning; and
  • Design the session to build on relevant expertise and experience uncovered by each pair-share.

I also like to incorporate a closing pair-share where partners each share three takeaways they’ve acquired during the session. I’ve found that when I use this in a session design like the fishbowl sandwich, participants inevitably stay around deep in conversation after the session is officially over. (That always looks and feels good!)

Finally it’s worth mentioning that pair share can be used as a tool for introductions. Invite everyone to pair up with someone they don’t know and have each person take a minute to introduce themselves to their partner.

Pair share is quick, simple, versatile, and effective. Use it!

How do you use pair share? Share with everyone in the comments below!

How to get better at doing anything

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A lost tourist asks a native New Yorker “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” to which the local replies “Practice, practice, practice!”

Good advice. But if we want to get better at doing something, what should we practice?

The obvious answer is that we should practice improving what we are doing well, so we get even better at it.

My mentor Jerry Weinberg has a different suggestion.

“What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?”

When this question came up on Quora.com, lots of good and useful answers were given, but they all seemed to be external answers. For me, with more than 60 years of programming experience, the one thing that made me a better programmer than most was my ability and willingness to examine myself critically and do something about my shortcomings. And, after 60 years, I’m still doing that.”
—Jerry Weinberg, What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?

Being continually willing and able to notice our shortcomings and concentrate on working on them may be the most effective strategy we can use to get better at anything we do.

Image by Jonathunder (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why meeting evaluations are unreliable and how we can improve them

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A fatal flaw
Just about all meeting evaluations are elicited within a few days of the session experience. All such short-term evaluations of a meeting or conference session possess a fatal flaw. They tell you nothing about the long-term effects of the session.

What is the purpose of a meeting? Unless we’re talking about special events, which are about transitory celebrations and entertainment (nothing wrong with these, but not what I’m focusing on here), isn’t the core purpose of a meeting to create useful long-term change? Learning that can be applied productively in the future, connections that last and reward, communities that grow and develop new activities and purpose—these are the key valuable outcomes that meetings and conferences can and should produce.

Unfortunately, humans are poor objective evaluators of the enduring benefits of a session they have just experienced.

Probably the most significant reason for this is that we are far more likely to be influenced by our immediate emotional experience during a session than by the successful delivery of what eventually turn out to be long-term benefits. We like to think of ourselves as driven by rationality, but as Daniel Kahneman eloquently explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow we largely discount the effects that our emotions have on our beliefs. Although information provided by lectures and speeches is mostly forgotten within a week, the short-term emotional glow fanned by a skillful motivational speaker can last long enough for great marks on smile sheets. And paradoxically, the long-term learning that can result from well-designed experiential meeting sessions may not be consciously recognized for some time.

Other reasons why evaluations of conference sessions can be unreliable include quantifiable reason bias (the distortions that occur when attendees are asked to justify their evaluations) and evaluation environment bias (evaluations are influenced by the circumstances in which they’re made). These biases are minimized if evaluations are made in the environment in which hoped-for learning can actually be applied: i.e. back in the world of work. But instead—worried that no one will provide feedback if we wait too long—we supply evaluation sheets to fill out at the session, or push evaluation reminders right away via a conference app.

How can we improve meeting evaluations?
If we want meeting evaluations to reflect real-world long-term change, we need to use evaluation methods that allow participants to report on their meeting experiences’ long-term effects.

This is hard—much harder than asking for immediate impressions. Once away from the event, memories fade, our professional lives center around our day-to-day work, and we are less amenable to being refocused on the past.

While I haven’t formulated a comprehensive approach to evaluating long-term change related to meetings, I think an effective long-term meeting evaluation should include the following activities:

  • Individual participants document perceived learning and change resolutions before the meeting ends.
  • Follow-up with participants after an appropriate time to determine whether their chosen changes have actually occurred.

In my next post I’ll share a concrete example of one way to implement a long-term evaluation that incorporates these components.

Photo attribution: Flickr user jurgenappelo