My workspace is trying to kill me

Most of us are aware of how deadly sitting at our desks all day can be — especially if our workspace is not set up ergonomically.  That stiff neck you’ve had all year?  The pain in your wrists and arms?  Your bad back?   Poor circulation in your legs?  They can all be attributable to a poor desk setup.  For those of us who write, these problems are exacerbated.  Not only do we spend long periods of time at our desks, but we’re also often alone.  There are no colleagues to get up and chat with, no meetings to tear ourselves away from our desks to attend, no water-cooler to congregate around.

Since I started writing seriously I’ve slowly developed a permanent set of stiff shoulders and neck so stiff I sometimes can’t turn it without serious pain.  Why?  Because I use a laptop and therefore spend all day looking down instead of straight ahead.  Also, my crappy non-adjustable chair and bad sitting posture weren’t helping matters either.

There are lots of places online to find information about making your workspace more ergonomic.  But a lot of us don’t take the time to seek them out or make the necessary changes.  I’ve recently chomped on the bullet and revamped my office.  So I thought I’d share some tips with you.  Consider them, guys – even if you feel fine now, these problems are cumulative.

The first thing you must do is make sure when you type that your arms are bent at a 90 degree angle.  Your forearms should extend in a perfectly straight line to the keyboard and your wrists should not need to rest on the desk or bend in order to type comfortably.  This means you need an adjustable chair so you can position yourself at the proper height with respect to your desk.  A work-around here is to get a tray installed in your desk to lower your keyboard if necessary.  You don’t want to have to reach forward for the keyboard, either.

Second, your monitor must be at eye level and an arm’s length away from your face.  When you are sitting erect with good posture, your eyes should naturally fall at 2/3 of the way up from the bottom of the screen.  This position keeps you from tilting your head up or down while you are working.  If you use a laptop (like I do), this means you need to purchase a separate keyboard (I got an illuminated Logitech that I’m in love with) and elevate the entire laptop.  Mine sits on a tower of books, but you can also purchase a little set of drawers or an elevating tray – just make sure it’s the right height.  Even if you use a desktop, check to make sure your monitor is set at the right height and distance.

Ideally, you should invest in an ergonomic/multi-function chair.  These are adjustable in terms of height, angle of incline of the backrest, angle of incline of the seat (tilting the whole chair forward or backward), and have adjustable armrests.  Look for one with good lumbar support (your spine curves inward at the base and that curve needs to be supported for good posture.  Comfortable padding is important here too.  I found a very satisfactory chair at OfficeMax.

Once you get your keyboard, monitor, and chair adjusted you may find that in order for everything to come into alignment, your feet will no longer touch the floor.  This is a problem (but one with a solution!).  Your feet need to be resting firmly and flat on the floor to prevent undue pressure on your legs.  Like your elbows, your knees should rest naturally at a 90 degree angle.  If you have to raise your chair up to bring your arms to the right angle, you can purchase a foot rest for your feet.  These are generally adjustable and bring the floor to you.  Look on Amazon – they have bunches.

This might all be starting to sound expensive.  You may need to buy a new chair, a new keyboard, a footrest, and a stand for your laptop.  That can definitely add up.  But, if you think about how much time you spend at your desk and how important your arms, wrists, neck, and legs are to your daily life, it’s probably worth investing a little money in.  Plus, you’ll save on medical bills down the line.

Here’s a good article from Lifehacker with more tips.  It also includes a diagram that shows how your body should be aligned with respect to your chair, desk, keyboard, and monitor.

Happy sitting!

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