Monday, December 20, 2010

The Right Ergonomics for the Winter Blues

It's Christmas time, which usually means colder weather (unless you live in Texas). Cold weather can mean lovely blankets of snow and warm cups of coffee in the classic red Starbuck's cups. There are a lot of pros to winter, but there are a few cons, as well, such as dark winter days and being too cold. Fortunately, there are solutions for feeling too dark or too cold.

* Light Therapy. Extra light is especially important for those living farther north since the winter brings on terribly short days. Many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where they feel increasingly isolated and depressed as the dark and cold lengthen. Light therapy is an easy remedy that literally provides more light so that the brain and therefore the emotions are tricked into feeling that there is more day light.
* Heated foot pads and mice. Poor circulation and being too cold make you feel miserable, especially at work when you aren't in charge of the thermostat. Therefore, bringing your own warmth is a must! Your feet and hands will thank you!

Winter can be brutal, so do what you can to make it more bearable.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Survive in a Cubicle

Office Sardines

Whoever decided that more people in the same amount of space (or even less space) would save money never worked in a cubicle a day of his life. Office sardines is not exactly the most productive plan in that most workers report alarmingly high levels of distraction, which lead to loss of productivity directly and increased levels of stress indirectly. Stressed, unproductive workers make more mistakes and fewer ergonomic adjustments, becoming increasingly less engaged. Disengaged workers miss work more frequently and turn over faster. The cost of time lost due to simple lack of productivity in addition to retraining new workers more frequently costs businesses around $600 billion a year.

However, some genius decided that cubicles "save money." That being the case, no one is asking your (or my, for that matter) opinion on cubicle farms. So, one worker to another, here are a few tips for surviving in your cubby hole.

Tips for Surviving in a Cubicle

  • Clear the clutter. Nothing cramps a space more than a general lack of tidiness. Take some time, and get organized. I like to clear my desk from 4-5pm on a Friday- I'm not going to be productive then anyway, plus it also serves to help me get reacquainted with lost papers.
  • Get rid of knick knacks. A framed photo or two is perfectly appropriate, but a whole collection of miniature cows, for instance, really knocks down your level of professionalism, especially if you entertain clients in your work space. Not all conversation pieces are "good" ones. Choose one or two tasteful items, and keep the rest of your knick knacks at home (or better yet, get rid of them. You're not 12 anymore, you don't have to collect things.).
  • Rearrange your work space if necessary. Your monitor should be at eye level and at least 20 inches away from you. Your keyboard and mouse should be next to each other for fast, comfortable typing and mousing. If desk space is minimal, mini keyboards are a great option for freeing up a few inches.
  • Adjust where you can. Most chairs have some sort of adjustment, if only up and down. Do what you need to to get your feet flat on the floor and your back as well supported as possible. Adjust the arm rest if possible to keep your arms in a straight line from your elbow to your middle finger.
  • Keep your posture and positioning neutral. This means sitting straight with your arms by your sides, and starting at your elbow making a straight line through to your wrists and hands. Your wrists should never be cocked, especially when typing. Rather, your hands should hover over your keyboard, in a curved position so as to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
  • Try white noise. The options are endless, and so is office noise. If you are frequently disturbed by office shenanigans or overly zealous sales guys, turn on a little white noise. You can try this free online white noise generator or you can try a desktop system-either way, it's important to keep you mind on work and not in other people's business.
  • Take breaks. If you feel overly cramped, take your coffee break outside, or at least out of your small space so you can stretch out. Speaking of stretching out, make sure to take hourly stretch breaks.
  • Take care of your eyes. Whether you wear glasses or not, make sure you rest your eyes often by taking them off the screen and focusing on an object farther away. You should also blink them regularly to restore moisture. When possible, rotate your computer and other tasks so that you're not on the computer all day. Lastly, consider a good pair of reading glasses just for work. Computer users often find that high quality reading glasses require a lower prescription and allow them to work more efficiently.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Top 5 Bad {Ergonomic} Habits at Work

Workers often build up bad habits in the office and at their desks they aren't even aware of. I don't think I can sum up all bad habits in one post, but I can tell you the top 5 bad ergo habits that put undue strain on an already stressed body.

Top 5 Bad {Ergonomic} Habits at Work

1. Cluttered desk.
  • Problem: Besides poor aesthetic appeal, a cluttered desk keeps important items out of reach and your back, shoulders, and arms pay the price when you strain for them.
  • Solution: Tidy it up, and get organized. Pitch unnecessary trash and take home your knick knacks, especially if you have limited space. Re-organize your desk top so that all key items are in an easy arm's reach.
2. Poor keyboard/mouse alignment.
  • Problem: Most people put too much space between their keyboard and their mouse, and some even place them on different surfaces.
  • Solution: Tuck you mouse in right next to your keyboard and definitely keep them on the same surface. If space is an issue, consider a mini keyboard for a smaller footprint.
3. Low monitor height.
  • Problem: The typical worker keeps his monitor on his desk, which requires him to bend his neck to look down to actually see it. This can lead to headaches and neck pain.
  • Solution: Raise your monitor. You can invest in a desktop lift like Hercules, or you can raise it inexpensively with rysers. Another way to keep from straining your neck is to use a document holder. It's so much nicer to have your notes right in front of you while you type from them.
4. Too few ergonomic breaks.
  • Problem: Usually break time means a trip to the bathroom and a little chit chat with coworkers over a marginal cup of coffee. These are not bad ways to spend your breaks, but there are other, more strategic ways to take smaller breaks.
  • Solution: Enjoy your coffee and empty your bladder, but you also need to take periodic breaks at your desk to stretch and to rest your eyes. To avoid eye strain, take time every day, every few hours, or more often, to blink your eyes so they can rest and re-moisturize. Also, as you're working, take your eyes off your screen and focus on something farther away to allow your eyes to recalibrate and focus.
5. Too few ergonomic adjustments.
  • Problem: The typical worker usually does not make enough ergonomic adjustments to make his work station and environment conducive to better focus. She also loses 2 hours of productivity every day due to distractions.
  • Solution: Adjust your desk and chair if possible so that you fit under the desk comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and your elbows and forearms rest comfortably to type without any awkward bending or cocking. Additionally, try some white noise, like this free generator, for noise control.
Here's to you not making these same ergonomic mistakes in the office! {It's up to you to figure out the social stuff...good luck.}

Friday, June 25, 2010

Big Keys Keyboard for Kids

Einstein Never Used Flashcards

Have you ever noticed how many computer games are marketed for kids? Way before most children can recognize letters, let alone read, a myriad of of games are supposedly "age-appropriate." While it's tempting to buy into the idea that we, as parents, need to cram as much as we can into our wee ones' little minds, forcing learning may not be in their best interest. According to several excellent books, "The Power of Play" and "Einstein Never Used Flashcards," it is play and not forced learning that enables our children to succeed. These authors tell us to stand strong against the peer pressure to literally buy into the marketing that we need to buy this book and that program and those flashcards. On the contrary, they urge us to teach through play and contextual learning. Instead of flashing cards for rote memorization, why not talk to our children through ordinary, everyday circumstances.

Furthermore, these books suggest that most computer games are marketed way too young, meaning that if it says age 6, most 6-year-olds won't actually be successful with the game. A quick rule of thumb, if the back says Age 4-6, round it up in your head at least 2 years. That's not to say that all computer games are bad or not worth buying. Just be careful that you don't buy into the marketing without thinking about how that particular product will serve your child.

Big Keys Keyboard

One helpful tool I literally stumbled across was the Big Keys Keyboard. While t reminds me of my grandmother's bejewelled and grotesquely large calculator, this keyboard serves the same function- it enlarges the keys to 1 square inch so that little fingers can find them. Plus...Read More

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why you need a Double Wide

You may not realize it, but you need a double wide...for your feet. Most workers complain of back pain and other aches and pains after sitting at a desk from 9-5pm 5 days a week. It's no wonder when most desks don't fit their users. As a result, most workers, and presumably you, strain all the wrong parts and bend awkwardly to make the desk work for you. The problem is that the desk never really ends up fitting, and by the end of the day, you're stiff and irritable. So, here's what you need to know about desk ergonomics from a bird's eye view:
  • You should be able to sit with your legs under the desk and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Your keyboard and mouse should sit right next to each other and on the same surface, while your monitor should be raised to eye level.
  • You should keep all important items within arms' reach so you don't have to strain to get to your stuff.
  • You should never cock your wrists as you type or mouse...Read More

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ergonomics for Educators

Educator Work Spaces

Educators spend a lot of time at their desks: grading papers, lesson planning, printing, or doing office hours. Unfortunately, most teacher work spaces aren't ergo-savvy. The result is that once planning and classes are finished, your work space has taken its toll on your body: from you neck and shoulders, to your back, all the way to your wrists and hands. Many educators feel this stress throughout their bodies and even develop repetitive stress injuries, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If you're on of those teachers, check out these ergonomic tips and solutions so you can decrease stress and stress-related injuries, while also increasing productivity.

A few work space tips for educators

Look at your work space design. Is it set up for ergonomic comfort and ease of work? Consider the following factors:

  • Your neck feels tight because you strain to see your monitor, which should be at eye level.
  • Your keyboard and mouse should be on the same surface as each other, but not on the same surface as your monitor (the exception being if you raise it). Additionally, your mouse should be next to keyboard (not far away from it or in front of it)
  • Your body should always feel relaxed and positioned neutrally . You should never cock your wrists or have to angle them to type or reach the mouse (see above for keyboard and mouse placement).
  • Your feet should rest comfortably and flat on the floor. This is usually an issue of a poorly positioned desk and chair.

Bottom line- you should not have to overextend your reach to get to anything!

Ergonomic solutions for comfort and productivity

Just rethinking your work set-up can help you be more comfortable and even more productive. Try a few of the following solutions to resolve your ergo issues.
  • To get the very best ergonomic advantage, many workers and educators alike use an ergonomic desk and/or chair that facilitates easy and comfortable reach of all essential items, while still providing the structure and support you need. Adjust-ability is key here. Being able to raise and/or lower your chair and desk will enable you to get the best position for your body so that it can be relaxed and neutral. Even adding back support to your current chair will ease back discomfort.
  • If an gonomic desk is not in the budget, try redesigning the space you have. One of the best things you can do is get your keyboard and mouse lined up correctly. You can use a left-handed keyboard (which puts the rarely-used number pad on the left) or even a mini keyboard to free up some space to allow you to pull your mouse in closer.
  • A wrist rest is a simple and affordable solution for wrist or forearm discomfort, which allows you to type in a neutral position by resting your palms at the same time, thus alleviating strain on the actual wrists.
  • White noise generators create peace and quiet during office hours or a planning period (or even when giving a quiz, test, or exam). White noise generators (aka sound machines) provide a low-level hum so that you can tune out otherwise distracting noises and just feel more relaxed. The result is less stress and increased productivity.
Just by reworking your space and implementing some new resources, you can get more done in less time, and feel better doing it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Choosing & Using a Wrist Rest

There has been some debate over wrist rests and whether they do more harm than good. The question really comes back to proper usage, as do most ergonomic questions. If, for example, you buy a a travel pillow and then cock your head awkwardly to use it, it's not really the pillow that is at fault- it's your usage.

The purpose of a wrist rest

As more and more workers type for long stretches at a time, the number of complaints about RSI, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, has gone up as well. That is because most people do not know how to type ergonomically: they drop their wrists to the desk surface, cock their wrists to type, keep the mouse too far away, and do any number of things that put strain on their wrists, hands, and forearms. A wrist rest is a padded strip of material meant to meet your wrists and heels of your hands so that they don't have to drop down to rest. Essentially, a wrist rest catches the heels of your hands so that you don't feel pain in your wrists.

How to use a wrist rest

Ergonomic studies tell us that wrist rests should be used between periods of typing to rest your wrists. So, line up the wrist rest in front of your keyboard so that there is not a drop off between it and the desk. Then, as you type, try to float your hands over the keys and not cock or hyper-extend them. As you pause, rest your wrists on the wrist rest.

How to Choose a Wrist Rest

When choosing a wrist rest, look for the following features: