NEWS FLASH: PCs are a pain. Nope, I'm not talking about buggy software or torrents of spam. I mean the body aches all of us get from poorly designed computer equipment. Rest easy, though. I found a bunch of nifty gizmos and utilities that make me more productive by reducing the soreness in my neck, arms, and back.
My phone used to top the list of pain-inducers in my office. If you still cradle a handset between your shoulder and ear as you type, save on chiropractic adjustments with a telephone headset. Labtec's $40 Dialog-301 wired headset lets you switch between your PC's audio and your telephone at the push of a button. I use Plantronics' $87 CT-10 wireless model, which lets me enjoy the cool breeze on my back porch while my editor blows hot air over the phone. Of course there are many other headset options.
You may not realize it, but a correctly adjusted monitor can reduce eye fatigue. I know because staring at my display all day used to induce headaches--until I raised the refresh rate. (My hair loss may be related; my attorney's investigating.)
Displays often arrive with their refresh rates set too low--say, at a flickering 60 Hz, or 60 screen refreshes per second. A higher rate--for example, 72 or 85 Hz--reduces flickering and the eyestrain that can result. I use RefreshForce, a free tool that lets me set my monitor's refresh rate in a blink. For more on fine-tuning your monitor settings, read Kirk Steers's June Hardware Tips column, "Simple Tweaks for Peak PC Graphics Performance."
Staring at a computer monitor, even one that has a healthful refresh rate, can tucker out your peepers. That's why the experts recommend that you look away from your monitor at least once every 15 minutes. I found a more intriguing solution: multiple monitors. They save me mouse clicks and keystrokes because--instead of jumping between screens on a single monitor--I just move my gaze from the open app on one screen to the open app on the other. Even this slight change of focus keeps my eye muscles from cramping up. PC World Senior Associate Editor Richard Baguley explains the process in "How to Set Up Multiple Monitors," one of our slick video tutorials.
If you use an LCD monitor on a Windows XP machine, turn on ClearType to see a remarkable improvement in your display's font resolution. ClearType is switched off by default, but to turn it on, simply right-click the desktop, choose Properties, Appearance, Effects, check Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts, and select ClearType from the drop-down list. Click OK twice.