Married to Your Desk? 5 Tips for a Better Relationship
2. Control and shift your keyboard.
The keyboard may be the centerpiece of your work environment, but there's a good chance it isn't placed in its most effective position. Ergo experts say a keyboard on the desk puts your forearms in an unnatural position and causes unnecessary tension and muscle fatigue, which in turn can decrease your productivity.
"So many people make the mistake of having their keyboards too high," says Linda Weitzel, a senior ergonomist with Xerox. "You don't want to be raising your shoulders to get at the keys."
The better setup: a keyboard tray that attaches to the bottom of your desk and slopes slightly downward away from you. It should sit lower than your elbows, allowing your forearms to rest in a position that's parallel to (and just an inch or two above) your thighs, according to Hedge and other experts.
Another tip recommended by many ergo experts: Rather than centering the entire keyboard unit in front of you, as most of us tend to do, place the keyboard so that the spacebar is the central point. Odds are you spend most of your time tapping on the letter keys, not the number and arrow keys on the far right; if the entire unit is centered rather than the letter-key portion, your body isn't actually aligned with the part of the device you're using and typing will be more difficult and strenuous as a result.
3. Make the most of your monitor(s).
Speaking of alignment, let's take a moment to check up on your monitors. You want your computer's display to be centered in front of you, about an arm's length away when you're sitting back in your chair, according to the Cornell Ergo Lab. Hunching over or to the side to see your screen won't help your comfort or your ability to focus.
In terms of height, the productivity experts I spoke to for this article agree that most monitors sit on the low side. If you visualize a line going from your eyes to the screen (picture Superman's heat vision, only less pulverizing), the line should hit about two to three inches below the top of the monitor.
"If the monitors aren't all at eye level, you'll end up making sudden head movements that'll distract you from your work and hurt you over time," Vernikos explains.
What about screen size? While studies sponsored by display manufacturers such as Apple and NEC naturally conclude that using a bigger monitor means you'll get more work done, not all experts agree that getting a giant display is the best way to boost productivity. Some say that using two or more monitors may bring better productivity gains.
"The ideal is to have the multiple monitor setup [where] at least one of the monitors is larger-sized," says Peggy Duncan, a personal productivity consultant in Atlanta.
If, like many multiple display users, you rely on one monitor for the majority of your work, you'll want to keep that primary monitor centered in front of you. Then make sure the other monitors are the same distance from your face and positioned at the same eye-level height.
"A lot of people end up having one monitor much lower and off to the side," says Xerox's Weitzel. "You need to elevate the secondary monitors and get them closer so they're at the same height and position as the main monitor."