Do you dream of a lifetime filled with computer-related discomfort? Are you burdened with extra funds that you long to lavish on deserving medical professionals? Me neither. But many users must feel this way, judging by their workstation setups and habits. To help these folks achieve their goal, I have created an easy ten-step plan for truly bad ergonomics. You may find that you are already practicing some of these techniques. If so, congratulations. You are well on your way to the joys of RSI!
IMPORTANT NOTE: In case you are reading casually and missed this fact, what follows is a parody of bad ergonomics. The “tips” here are the opposite of what I would consider sound advice, intended to be instructive only in reverse.
Step 1: Decide that the whole field of ergonomics is a scam
“Repetitive Stress Injury” – if it even exists – is a mental disorder, caused by paranoia and cured by the placebo effect. Office workers wear wrist braces to avoid shaking hands during flu season. Executives order outrageously expensive Aeron chairs just to keep up with other executives. Ergonomists are quacks and their remedies are snake oil.
Step 2: Use any old mouse and keyboard
Some ergonomic keyboards look weird enough to trigger social ostracism; others cost as much as two years’ worth of Diet Coke. They’re also difficult to type on, and will probably prevent you from getting any real work done for weeks.
Besides, there are great benefits to what you already have. Hammering on the unresponsive keys of your freebie Dell keyboard will build up important muscle groups. The unnatural, uncomfortable shape of your mouse will encourage you to work faster and more efficiently in order to get done with it sooner.
Step 3: Hang on to your antique desk
This desk worked in 1980 for handwriting faxes and typing on a Selectric, so it will work just as well today for using a computer. Reaching up to use your mouse and keyboard on a 30″ writing desk might hurt at first, but you’ll get used to it. Keyboard tray, you say? Wobbly, hard to install. Best skip that.
Step 4: Organize your tools randomly
Whenever you rearrange your desk, the mouse and keyboard should be pushed out of the way to leave more room for paperwork, snacks, and coffee. Reaching way out to mouse and type is a great all-day stretching exercise. Your monitor can also be shoved back as far as convenient. If you can’t see it from four feet away, get a new glasses prescription.
Step 5: Sit in whatever chair comes to hand
If sitting on a balance ball and standing all day is so good for you, it naturally follows that any chair will work great. Worn-out padding and no armrests? You’ll get tougher and build up your shoulders. Too much soft padding and really high arms? Not so good for computer work, perhaps, but great for catnapping during conference calls.
Step 6: Use your chin for a phone handset holder
Headsets are for girls in tech support brochures. The space between your cheek and shoulder is ready-made (with a few twists, squeezes, and contortions) for holding a telephone handset while typing. Why buy what you already have for free?
Step 7: Fold out those keyboard feet
Obviously, the engineers who designed your keyboard wouldn’t have included flip-out feet on the back unless those feet were good for something. Use them faithfully, paying no attention to the angle of your wrists relative to the work surface, nor to any resulting discomfort.
Step 8: Get a gel wrist rest for your mouse
Just in case ergonomics turns out not to be a scam, after all, get a nice gooey wrist rest for your mouse hand. As everyone knows, a wrist rest is the essential centerpiece of all ergonomics. Even if it ultimately causes pain by doubling the pressure on your carpal tunnel region, that’s okay – because by then it will also make your hand too numb to feel anything most of the time.
Step 9: Grit your teeth and bear it
As any fan of epic sports movies knows, pain is a necessary component of victory. Giving in to it – say, by easing up, taking breaks, or seeking medical attention – is a sign of weakness. Resolve now to keep furiously typing and clicking until your wrists no longer feel achy and tired.
Step 10: If you value your health, study the previous nine steps and do the opposite of each
Following these steps should indeed lead to serious problems, so if serious problems are what you want, there you are. If, however, you would prefer to spend the rest of your career doing something other than drawing disability, the foregoing guide should provide you with a push in the right direction. Just turn each step on its head, like this:
- Don’t dismiss ergonomics as a scam. There are scam products out there, but the core realities are painfully true.
- Carefully evaluate whether a new mouse and keyboard might help you achieve a more comfortable and neutral working position.
- Get a keyboard tray or a desk with an appropriately low surface for typing. Many people work on desks designed for writing that are way too high for computing.
- Organize your work area intelligently, putting the things you need most – such as your mouse and keyboard – well within easy reach.
- Invest in a comfortable chair with great back support and adjustable arms.
- If you talk on the phone and type at the same time (and who doesn’t?) get a headset. It only costs $30 or so. I haven’t been able to price a new neck for comparison.
- In most cases, rear keyboard feet are completely silly. If you find yourself actually needing them, your desk is probably way too high.
- Do not use a wrist rest with your mouse, regardless of what the packaging says about preventing carpal tunnel.
- As Will Rogers said, “When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” Every minute you work through pain exponentially lengthens the journey back from that state. If something hurts, stop and seek help.