Ergonomics on the Cheap

I went shopping yesterday for a few items that would turn my desk into an unbeatable ergonomic workstation. Five stores and three hours later, I found absolutely nothing, so I spent the rest of the day improvising what I could. I am not a doctor, but I did spend some time researching these tips, and though I might as well pass them on to you.

First and foremost is the chair. You cannot skimp on the chair. If you’re working on a folding chair or a chair without height adjustments, go buy a decent chair. If you work from home, you’ll be spending as much time in your chair as you do in your bed, so you want it to be just as comfortable.

Your thighs should be parallel to the ground, your forearms should be parallel to your thighs, and your hands should rest gently on your keyboard and mouse with absolutely no effort. If you have to reach, move your chair. If you can’t move any closer, buy a keyboard tray or (in my case) fix your existing one. Adjust the height of your chair as necessary to keep your forearms parallel to your thighs while your hands are resting on your keyboard and mouse. If your thighs are no longer parallel to the ground, you may need to find a book or something similar to rest your feet on. My desk has a seemingly useless wood shelf that’s just the perfect height for my feet.

Now, take a moment to look up and down without moving your head. You’ll notice that your eyes have more freedom to move down than up, so your monitor placement should take that into account. You’ll want to be looking straight ahead at the top of your monitor for any monitor under 20″ or the top-third of your monitor if it’s over 20″. If your monitor is too low, put a phonebook under it. If the phonebook is too big, get a knife and cut it down to size. If your monitor is too high, it’s time to consider placing your keyboard and mouse on the actual desk with your monitor (adjust your chair height as necessary and make sure that your hands are still resting gently on your keyboard and mouse without reaching).

Finally, get used to not looking at your keyboard. There are quite a few inches between the top of your monitor and your keyboard, which means you’ll be moving your head quite a bit if you like to watch yourself type. Have some fun, and train yourself to type by feel with Z-Type.

With any luck, you should be experiencing less pain and fatigue than you did with your previous setup. After a day, I have certainly noticed a difference.

New Magic Mouse

Continuing the trend of new gadgets, is Apple’s Magic Mouse, my first mouse in I don’t know how long.

I had been a fan of trackballs since pretty much the day I started using a computer, because I thought they were more ergonomic than mice. In short-term usage, that’s actually still correct, but it turns out that your wrist shouldn’t be locked in the same position for an 8-hour work day, which is exactly what a trackball does. On the suggestion of fellow Happiness Engineer, Michael Koenig, I dug out the mouse that was included with my iMac. Within a day, my wrist pain disappeared, and now I’m a happy mouse user.

So, I figured, why not get the best mouse to celebrate my new found fondness of mice? I quickly picked up a Magic Mouse, and it’s great! The laser-tracking is super-accurate, the bluetooth connectivity is definitely a plus, and the multi-touch surface is amazing!

If you’re in need of a new mouse, get this one, or at least ask to try it at your local Apple Store.