Hey there Zen Organizers,
Today, we're going to see ways to make your workspace more ergonomic. Having a good workstation is better for your health, but it's also a good productivity booster. Who wants to work when they're not feeling comfortable, or worse, when they're having physical pains?
However, for many reasons, you might not have a dedicated and ergonomic workspace at home:
your house might be too small to have an office room (it’s my case);
you might not have the financial means to buy office furniture (also my case – office furniture is so expensive!);
You might have a workspace, but because of the pandemic, you have to share it with your partner, children, or flatmates from time to time;
Whatever the reason, this doesn’t prevent you from creating a decent make-shift workstation. So here are a few tips to help you optimize your workspace!
1. Divide your workspace and your living space as much as possible
When you work at home, it’s hard to create a division between your work life and your personal life since both happen in the same space.
That’s why having a specific space for work is essential. If you work in your bed or on your sofa every day, your brain will start associating these places with work instead of relaxation. This can be especially damaging to your sleep. Moreover, beds and sofas don’t offer enough support for your back, which can lead to physical pains.
However, as mentioned above, you might not have enough space to build an office corner in your house, or you might not have the means to buy all the furniture. And I totally understand that because I was in this situation.
But you most certainly have a kitchen table, don’t you? Well, simply determine one place as your working space. Only work at that place. Don’t eat there (unless it’s a quick snack). It might seem silly, but this simple division is enough for your brain to associate this one place with work and the rest of the house with relaxation and free time!
Apart from the physical aspect of your workstation, you also have the digital one. If you are fortunate enough to have a work phone and computer, turn them off when your workday is over. This way, you won’t get the temptation to look at your emails or work “just a bit more” on that project. If you don’t have a separate phone and computer, then shut all the windows and apps related to your work or studies. Also, turn off notifications – something you should always do anyway, as we’ll see in point 4.
Last but not least, at the end of your workday, empty your brain of all the ideas, tasks, questions that pop up in your head and write them down. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy your evening without thinking about work.
2. Set up an ergonomic workstation
You’re going to be sitting – or standing – for most of the day at your workstation, so it’s essential to set it up correctly and ergonomically to avoid physical pain.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to have a dedicated office corner with ergonomic furniture, as mentioned before. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t try to improve your workspace. By twitching a few elements, you can get a pretty decent workspace without breaking the bank.
Here are the most important aspects to take into consideration:
Ideally, it should be 70-80 cm high and large enough to have space for your computer, keyboard, mouse, book or notebook, cellphone, etc. You should have enough space under it to have a comfortable position for your feet and legs as well.
If your table is taller, make sure your chair is high enough to maintain your elbows at approximately 90°. You can use a foot stand (a box or a step stool, for instance) to keep your legs at a 90° angle as well.
Moreover, if you have a taller table that allows you to work standing every now and then, it’s also a good thing. Being seated the whole day is very damaging to our body. When working standing up, the following tips still apply – except, of course, for the chair!
Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to replace a good office chair in terms of comfort and support for your back.
You should make sure first and foremost that the chair you use is adapted to the height of your table and also your height. For example, I am relatively short, so I usually need to put one or two cushions to be seated at the correct height compared to the table.
If it’s a rigid chair, you can put a small blanket or cushion between your back and the chair to accompany your lumbar curve – it’ll help reduce pain in this area.
Your monitor should be placed at about 50 to 70 cm away from you (about an arm’s length). Moreover, the top of the screen should be at eye level or slightly below.
If you use a laptop, I highly recommend getting an external keyboard to be able to keep your monitor at the right distance and height. This will help avoid straining your neck and back too much. You can put your laptop on stacked books to raise it to the correct height.
I have poor vision, so keeping my screen so far away from me usually makes the writings very hard to read. That’s why the zoom function is my best friend. I usually zoom to 150% and even 200% on some sites or programs. Even though it makes me feel old, it also saves my sight and neck a lot of pain, so I put aside my ego…!
Finally, make sure there is no reflection from a nearby light source (coming from a window or lamp) on your screen because it causes eye fatigue.
Keyboard and mouse
As mentioned above, you should invest in an external keyboard if you have a laptop. It’s important to be able to rest your arms on the armrests of the chair or on the table while typing, so your shoulders are not crisped the whole day.
For the mouse, you should avoid keeping your hand on it when you’re not using it because it puts a lot of strain on your wrist. You might also consider buying a mouse pad with a little cushion for the wrist or make such a cushion with a piece of cloth. Furthermore, just as with the keyboard, you should rest your forearm on the table while you use the mouse.
3. Take regular breaks
I know we already covered the importance of breaks in this article, but they are so important that I feel the need to talk about them once more!
However, this time, we’ll focus mainly on the physical breaks you should take, which, of course, don’t conflict at all with the mental pauses covered in the other article!
Even if you have the most ergonomic setup ever created, your body will still feel the need to take breaks.
So every 20-25 minutes, make sure you get up from your chair and stretch your body. Move your neck, elongate your spine forward and backward, stretch your legs. If you can, try to do yoga or full-body stretchings regularly throughout the week to release the muscular tension.
It’s also important to rest your eyes. You can try the 20-20-20 exercise, which consists of taking a break from screens every 20 minutes and looking at something at least 20 meters away for 20 seconds. This exercise helps reduce eye fatigue.
Also, as mentioned before, you can try working standing for 15 to 30 minutes every hour to reduce the strain sitting puts on your body.
4. Get rid of distractions
Many things can distract you: your partner, your kids, your flatmates, notifications, phone calls, your thoughts, a messy environment, background noise, and the list could go on and on. Of course, it's nearly impossible to get rid of every single distraction.
However, you can work on reducing the number of distraction sources to the minimum. For example, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting distracted by young kids if they’re home with you. If that’s your case, you’ll probably have to organize your work schedule around their schedule to minimize distractions.
For the other types of distractions, you should be able to minimize them quite easily:
You can ask your partner, flatmates, and older children not to distract you during set moments of the day;
You should put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb mode while you work. You should even put your phone in another room entirely if you can to avoid the temptation to look at it while you work. You should also turn off any notifications on your computer. The chime sounds only interrupt the flow of ideas and make you wonder who’s writing and for what reason, which makes you lose your train of thought;
Speaking of thoughts, I suggest you always keep a notebook or a piece of paper handy, so you can write down the thoughts you have (for example, something you have to do or a good idea you need to explore) and get back to work immediately. Don’t let your thoughts distract you from your work. If you think about something you have to do, don’t interrupt your work to do it right away (unless it’s very urgent). Add it to your to-do list where you’ll be able to find it when you’ll be free to complete the task;
Keep your workspace tidy and mess-free. Having a desk full of papers, books, pens, electronic devices, etc. is distracting. Plus, it makes finding what you’re looking for more difficult. The same goes for your computer. Keep your desktop tidy and classify your files in an organized manner. Only keep useful tabs open (I still have to work on that one!) and close any social media or email accounts. Open these only when you take a break from your focused work;
To limit background noise, you can use noise-canceling headphones, or you can listen to music.
Here are my top tips to optimize your workspace. I hope you found them helpful!
I wish you a zenly organized week and, hopefully, workspace as well,