Your workspace could be hazardous to your health

If you’re like me, you spend a lot more time than you should sitting in a chair in front of a desk typing on a computer keyboard looking at a computer screen programming, writing technical specification documents, leading demos, doing email, or just surfing the web.  The one thing you’re not thinking about is your workspace, and I have news for you — you should be thinking about it.  Chances are, you’re slouching in your chair right now, surrounded by a lot of paper, books, speakers, or you’re sitting with a laptop on your lap reading.  I’ve got news for you, it isn’t good for you.  There are few things you can do to help clean up your workspace and be more productive and in better health for it.

The first item I’d worry about is a nice chair.  You spend so much time in, why skimp on something that is going to last you at least 10 years if not more?  For the longest time I’d been sitting in a chair that I’d had since high school and it wasn’t very comfortable.  It was downright annoying to sit in, then I read this article from Coding Horror and realized I agree with his three main points:

  1. Chairs are a primary part of the programming experience
  2. Cheap chairs suck
  3. Chairs last

As an additional point of reference, I finally gave up on my old chair and purchased a HumanScale Freedom Headrest chair after sitting in many other chairs to see what felt the best to me.  For me, the Freedom chair works perfectly because it allows me to recline while working, yet keeps my spine, arms and neck in alignment though its ingenious “second spine” down the back of the chair.  It also has very few adjustments which I really like.  I want to sit in a chair and be comfortable in a few minutes, not spend a week to a week and a half tweaking every setting.

When sitting in a chair you should have your knees, hips and thighs all in the same plane while your feed are flat on the floor.  If you want armrests (I advise you to get them), they should position your elbows close to your waist when used.  Finally, the seat of the chair should be slightly wider than your hips and thighs and slope downward in front leaving a 2 to 3 finger gap between the seat and the back of your knees when sitting correctly.  Remember, however, a chair is a personal choice and I would suggest you sit in as many chairs as possible since what is good for one person might not be the best for another.  It’s your rear end in the chair for the next 10+ years 🙂 so make it count.    Again, go out there, sit on a lot of chairs then make your choice.

Now that you’ve attained chair nirvana, it is time to get that proper seating position.  An improper seating position can lead to a whole host of problems: numbness in the fingers, lower pack pain, sore wrists, eyestrain (leading to headaches, blurry vision and a mess of other nastiness), and general fatigue in the arms, legs, shoulders and thighs.  Hopefully you’re sufficiently scared enough to work on making changes to your seating position.

The proper seating position consists of a few settings: chair, table or workspace, monitor and posture.  The proper seating position for the chair, which was discussed in about a sentence previously, is that your feet should be flat on the ground, knees, thighs and hips horizontal to the ground and your back straight.  The workspace should have your keyboard a centered on your body and a few inches above your thighs such that the angle at your elbows is “open” or around 90 degrees so you get circulation to your fingers, your upper arms should be perpendicular to the floor and your wrists nearly straight.  The monitor should be placed about an arms-length away from you and the top of the monitor should be at eye-level and out of any light that will cause reflection or glare on the screen.  Finally, a few pointers on posture in addition to everything else.  Your ears, shoulders and hips should be in line.  Your arms should hang relaxed from your shoulders and your wrists and hands should be in line with your lower arms.

A clean, quiet, and efficient workspace.  I’ve found (as have many other people) the clearer and quieter your workspace is, the easier it is to concentrate and do work.  I’m not saying there should be nothing on your desk except the bare essentials (I’m not that Zen), a knick knack here or there won’t hurt any — just don’t go overboard.  There are numerous examples of how to clean up your workspace, so I won’t bore you with my ideas of cleaning up the workspace.  🙂

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