Create an Ergonomic Work Space (No Matter Your Budget)
I'm so comfy in my new office, it should be a crime.
I'm happy to report that, after a few months of research and saving, I've finally been able to create the ergonomic work space I've been dreaming of.
But it wasn't always that way.
Like just about everyone else I know, I've always sat in whatever office furniture was given to me by my current employer. And it always seemed comfortable enough — or so I thought. Even later, as a freelancer, at a time when I could better control my comfort level, I didn't pay much attention to my office setup. Instead, I happily sank into an office stool given to me by a friend and a simple Ikea drafting table.
The Cough That Changed it All:
There I sat until late last fall when, while suffering from an especially sinister cold, I pulled a muscle in my back coughing. Yes, coughing. For the next few weeks, I felt almost constant mild back strain, which was made worse by said office stool. I tried everything: propping my back up with pillows, raising or lowering the height of the stool, but nothing seemed to alleviate the discomfort. That's when I began reading about ergonomics, which the U.S. Department of Labor defines as "the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population."
Wow, that's really messed up.
Turns out, according to my research, I'd been sitting totally out of whack for years. The stool had propped me up way too high, causing my feet to dangle. Side effect: swollen feet. My computer was way too far away, which caused my neck to strain, and I was reaching way too far down on the desk to type, resulting in a curved back.
So here's what I did:
I'd been hearing advertisements online for years for Herman Miller (you know, the company that offers the "new" color, "True Black?" How long have they been running that ad?) Motivated by my back pain, I paid a visit to a local furniture-design shop to try out the new Herman Miller Embody chair. That was it. Once I discovered how much better correct sitting could feel, I decided to work toward a healthier, more comfortable everyday.
The first thing I did was change how I sit.
This is what most of us should look like when seated properly:
As you can see, my feet are flat on the floor. My knees are bent at a nice, comfy 90 degrees, and though you can't really tell here, there's about three fingers' worth of space between the backs of my knees and the front of my chair. My back rests firmly against the back of the seat.
My neck is straight, thanks to an even sight line between my eyes and the computer monitor in front of me. I achieved that by picking up a notebook riser from my local office supply store. Cost: $42.00. This one is made by 3M.
It also came with two nifty little side trays to hold stuff like my mobile phone, which I thought was cool.
Also note: My elbows are relaxed at my sides at about 90 degrees and my shoulders aren't hiking up toward my ears. My wrists are at a neutral position on the keyboard.
To make all that happen, I purchased a keyboard tray which can disappear, like a drawer, under my desk when not in use. It can also raise, lower and tilt to accommodate different body types. I use a wireless bluetooth mouse and keyboard with it. This tray is made by Fellowes and cost $130. That's about middle of the road. Some sell for as little as $50, some upwards of $250. I'm perfectly satisfied with this one so far.
Finally, I get the back support I need thanks to an ergonomic chair: the Herman Miller I tried out in the furniture store a couple of months back.
This whole office configuration did cost me a pretty penny — the total wages of an entire freelance gig, and a couple months' worth of saving. But as someone who spends more waking time in the office than anywhere else in my life, I decided it was all worth the cost. The chair is also guaranteed for life. So, I should theoretically never have to buy another office chair again.
If you're not ready to shell out the big bucks, however, there are still tons of things you can do to ensure a more comfortable seated position, especially if you work at a laptop. Check out this cool video for some great ideas:
As illustrated here you can:
1. Stack phone books or a stool under your feet to gain a flat-footed position with that coveted 90-degree angle. This will also allow you to sit so that your elbows and shoulders are relaxed and your keyboard is located at elbow height.
2. Stack more phone books, regular books or other thick objects underneath your laptop computer to create a clear sight line from eye to screen.
3. Prop pillows behind your back to take some of the curvy-ness out of your spine and push your whole body forward in your seat.
And remember, even when you're all rigged up, sitting is hard on the body. So it's important to ...
... take frequent breaks.About once every hour, get up, stretch, look away from your computer and take some deep breaths. Once or twice per day, take a longer break if possible. Go for a walk, do some short meditation, zone out with your ipod, eat a healthy meal ... whatever floats your boat.
Have you had success in turning your home office into a more comfortable, healthy space? I want to hear your tips! Leave me some love in the comments section.