Happy new year! I had my ups and downs in 2007, but overall it was a great year for me and for Apple users in general.
As I was doing my year end review, one thing that stuck out was that 2007 was the year that I started taking workplace ergonomics seriously. I made some drastic changes and I would like to share how it made me a happier and more productive person.
As I neared the end of my indestructible 20s, I began experiencing minor pains in my hands and wrists. It seemed pretty innocuous at first as I would experience it for a short while only for it to go away for long periods of time, but in 2007 it got more frequent and more painful. It got to a point that if things got worse, it would endanger my career. A little frightened, I turned to the Internet for some research and discovered that I was getting RSI because, well... I was doing pretty much everything wrong.
- Not taking frequent breaks
- Staying in a single body position for too long
- Putting a lot of weight on my wrists
- Bending the wrists too much
- Leaning my head forward too much, forcing the neck joints to support the weight of my head. This is quite bad for the nerves, according to my research
The first thing I started doing was taking 30 second breaks every 10 minutes. Then a 5 to 10 minute break every hour. This was the easiest part and I saw immediate benefits.
Next was the single body position. For this I got a height-adjustable desk that lets me work sitting down or standing up. I was skeptical about the merits of working standing up, but after trying it out on an improvised standing desk, I saw that it was a no brainer.
The main benefits are that:
- It makes it much easier to walk away from the desk while you have to think
- I now do little stretching exercises many times an hour without even consciously thinking about it
- The little stretching sessions and walking gets the blood-flow going
- I burn more calories while working.
As any working position, standing up has its own problems if you overdo it. It's also not easy at first to stand up for even an hour. I now find it pretty relaxing to work standing up though. I feel more active even though programming is the least physically demanding thing you could do. And you know how you can easiily spend half an hour following Wikipedia links or reading reddit or digg? That just never happens when I'm in front of the desk standing up. I seem to get into a more committed mode of working in this position.
There aren't that many height-adjustable desks on the market and they all tend to be pretty expensive for the quality of wood, but it was money well spent in my case. It goes from sitting to standing position in about 10 seconds. I can adjust it to the exact height that I want.
To fix the wrist bending problem, I got the new Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Microsoft Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 6000. I'm not sure if ergonomics was one of the main goals of the Apple keyboard, but it's a godsend. The keyboard has three things going for it. It lies almost flat on the surface making it unnecessary to bend your wrist even if you lay your forearm on the desk surface for comfort. Next, the keys require much less pressure, making it easier on your finger joints and hand, in addition to making it a pleasure to use. I don't get Emacs Pinky anymore thanks to this keyboard. The third feature, which I like the best, is the lack of the number pad. I would have gotten its wired sibling if it wasn't for this because I hate wireless input devices. However, the fact that there is less distance between the keys I use the most and the mouse, makes it not only efficient to go back and forth between the two devices, but also ergonomic since I don't have to keep my mouse hand out there in a weird position.
The Apple keyboard isn't perfect though, and I'm proven right once again about wireless input devices. For one thing, it's too smart for its own good, ignoring the caps lock key when it's released too fast. This is a problem because I remap the caps lock key to control, making it one of the most used keys. It also sometimes performs a keystroke 3 times even though I only pressed it once. This gets quite annoying especially with the delete key. The positives are too good to give up this little gem though.
The Microsoft mouse was also effective in curing my hand pain. It's much higher off the ground than a typical mouse and it's designed so that you put the weight of your hand on the blade of your hand, instead of the lower palm and wrist. You get a straight wrist while holding this mouse naturally because of the design.
Thanks to all these changes, I'm happy to report that I haven't experienced the slightest bit of RSI for a while now. I don't even take mandatory breaks anymore since I tend to get that anyway stretching or walking about the room while in standing mode.
Here are some pictures of the entire setup:
The cable and power brick hanger in photos 4 and 5 were indispensable for a height-adjustable desk, but I would recommend it to anyone. It's nice not having a monstrosity of intertwining cables down there.
And finally, the last picture shows a mini-stepper exercise machine that I sometimes use in front of the computer. It's a little sturdy machine that makes me look quite ridiculous, but it gets the job done. It'll have to do until I can figure out how to smash together a desk and a treadmill or maybe an exercise bike.