Part of being a writer is taking inspiration from the world around you, no matter where you are or what you are doing. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped in the middle of something to jot notes in to my phone. If I’m not writing, then I’m thinking about writing. I can sympathize with Lord Byron, who said, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” More often than not I feel like I work from the time I open my eyes in the morning until the time I fall asleep at night.
My laptop and cellphone go everywhere with me. I may find myself working from the recliner in my living room one day, and working from a Wi-Fi café the next. Just because I enjoy a certain environment for working doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Good posture, proper monitor height, and not sitting in one spot for too long are all things that keep me healthy despite my odd work hours. Here are some more ways that you can introduce ergonomics to your portable office.
Develop Good Sitting Habits
If I had a nickel for every time during my childhood that my parents told me to stop slouching, I wouldn’t have to write for a living. As I grew older I better understood the importance of good posture and took their advice. When traveling it’s not a convenient option to pack my ergonomic desk chair. An ergonomically designed backrest created from high-density memory foam helps support my spine and keep my back from aching after several hours of traveling or working somewhere other than my home office.
When working, I try to use posture that maintains a healthy spine. Good posture keeps my bones aligned and decreases stress on joints and ligaments. A couple of years ago I contacted my family doctor for advice about back pain treatment. Here were her suggestions for proper sitting.
- Sit with your shoulders back with your bottom resting against the back of the chair.
- Keep your knees bent at right angles and your feet flat on the floor. If your feet won’t touch the floor, use a foot pad to elevate them.
- Avoid crossing your legs, and if using a swivel chair turn using your whole body instead of just your waist.
Elin Ekblom-Bak of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences warns, “After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals.” Studies show that after spending four hours in a sitting position, genes regulating a human’s glucose and fat begin shutting down. Ekblom-Bak also suggested that exercise broken into short intervals and spread throughout the day would have more benefits than exercising once per day.
Wireless Keyboards and Mice
Wrist wrests, when used properly, can help align a person’s arm and hand so that it puts less strain on their wrists. But when used improperly, ergonomic therapy experts claim the accessory could actually do more damage to wrists and fingers. Proper technique involves cupping the hands so that fingers strike downward on the keyboard. When users become careless and relax their wrists on the cushioned pad, it forces them to stretch their fingers in order to fully reach all the keys.
This also holds true for mouse pads. Carpal tunnel is the number one office-related medical condition diagnosed each year. But did you know that the second is an inflamed trapezius muscle? The trapezius muscle descends from the base of the skull and across the shoulder blade. When some people say that work has been a pain in the neck, they might mean it more literally than you think.
People use the “office on the go” environment every day, but it’s rare to see someone boarding the subway with their entire desktop computer. Most use laptops, which are ill-designed to prevent wrist strain. The keys of the keyboard are cramped together, the screens are smaller and impossible to adjust, but worst is that the mouse is a little square or dot that feels unnatural. While docking stations, which have a mouse, keyboard, and monitor connected, are good for inside a physical office, they’re not a feasible option for traveling.
The best ergonomic solution for a mobile office is having just an external keyboard and mouse. New silicone keyboards make travel even easier, as when you’re done you can roll it up and store it in your laptop bag. If an external keyboard isn’t an option, use a small, 3-ring binder under your laptop. In addition to angling the screen at the proper height, it will reduce wrist strain which will help prevent carpal tunnel and related conditions.
Adjusting Your Screen
A little shift in the angle of your laptop screen can have a large impact on the brightness and contrast. In addition to eye strain caused by staring at a poorly adjusted laptop screen for long periods of time, there is also the issue of neck, shoulder, and back aches. The best option is to view your screen at a 90 degree angle, just like you would the flat screen monitor with your desktop computer.
A plethora of mobile office products exists for people who work on the go. From laptop cases that morph from backpack to mini-desk to auto office organizers, each product promises a way to make our lives easier. Before investing in products that make life more convenient, be sure to check out their ergonomically friendly qualities. Just because you can’t work in the comfort of a physical office doesn’t mean you should sacrifice comfort in a mobile one.
A freelance writer familiar with working on the go, Jason Monroe is familiar with both the benefits and disadvantages of a mobile office. Like most writers, his work is often inspired by things in his own life. Chiropractors in Columbia, IL were instrumental when it came to researching for his most recent writing project, a series of articles on the topic of office ergonomics for traveling professionals.