Whether you’re working in a home office or writing on the go, these tips can be beneficial to your personal health. In this article, we go over ergonomic practices that could help you reduce writing-related injuries and improve productivity.
First, we’ll look into the setup for the ideal workstation.
The next time you’re in your home writing space or office workstation, take a moment to survey the layout to make sure your working environment is as healthy as it can be. Consider the following points:
Chair & Desk
- Ideally, you’ll have a fully adjustable swivel chair in your writing space, one with adjustable armrests, lumbar support, and seat.
- When sitting, your elbows should be at the same height as the home row of your keyboard, with your upper arms at a right angle to your forearms.
- Does your backrest support the small of your lower back? If not, consider using a lumbar support pillow.
- Are your feet resting flat on the floor? If not, you should use a footrest.
Desktop or Laptop Computer
- When you are seated, the top of your monitor should be slightly below eye level.
- Your body should be centered in front of the monitor and keyboard, an arm’s length away.
- If you have a wrist rest, make sure you’re only “resting” your wrists when you’re taking a break from typing. While you are typing, your wrists should hover over the rest.
- Are the lighting levels in your workplace comfortable? If not, add a table lamp or remove some overhead lighting to reduce stress on your eyes.
- Cover polished work surfaces, use an anti-glare screen, or angle your computer away from direct sunlight.
- Your workstation should be clear of distractions, with peripheral items (like a writing journal, your phone, or any printed research) sorted by use. Those used most frequently should be closest to you, while all should remain within comfortable reach.
Even if you follow all the above guidelines perfectly, medical issues can still arise. Whether sitting or standing, writing on a computer or laptop involves few changes in body position, which can cause strain on your muscles.
Take a look at the Ergonomics Now website for a list of exercises. And remember, this article is meant to be only a guide. Contact a health professional before all exercises mentioned in this article, to make sure these stretches are helpful for your body.
- Treadmill desks allow you to get exercise and keep blood flowing during your writing sessions. But if you have a new treadmill desk, remember to take it slow and gradually increase speed as you get used to it.
- Standing (or sit-stand) desks can be helpful in a similar way. (The ergonomic tips above regarding wrist placement should still be adhered to when using a standing desk.)
- Occasionally—every twenty minutes or so—let your eye muscles relax by looking away from the screen and focusing on a wall or object in the distance.
- Make sure to take breaks throughout the day. Experts give varying advice on how long you can go without one, but the general advice is to take a fifteen-minute break every seventy-five to ninety minutes. If you’re using a writing technique like the Pomodoro method, make sure to stand up and stretch during your five-minute breaks!
Travel, Cafés, and Writing on the Go
Whether you’re on the go for work or pleasure, traveling can be exhausting. Long flights, hotel beds, busy schedules, and an interrupted diet can all lead to discomfort throughout your day. Before traveling, it’s helpful to stretch your calves, hamstrings, and hips. And while you’re on a plane or train (or any cramped seating situation), consider these stretches for your neck, back, shoulders, and legs to keep blood flowing while you’re seated.
Working in Coffee Shops
Between portable devices and cloud technology, taking your writing with you has never been easier. But this can cause some stress on your body, as working in cafés can put you in cramped or unnatural positions. The key is to adapt to the environment.
- Choose a table where the top of your laptop is close to eye level. This might involve investing in a flexible stand to angle your laptop to the right position.
- Choose a table free from glare, with comfortable lighting.
- When using a smartphone, place your elbows on the table or bar to bring the screen to the appropriate level for your eyes.
- If at all possible, choose a high bartop where you can stand and work. In many cases, this will be the most comfortable (and healthiest) remote writing position.
Writing on the Go
You may want to write on your smartphone or tablet while on the go, whether you’re sitting in your car waiting for a lunch date or riding the train to an event. While all posture and stretching rules still apply, writing on your phone can present significant additional challenges. A few things to consider:
- When possible, use talk-to-text technology to dictate your writing. If you’re using an app like Scrivener or even a standard note-taking app, you can set this to sync automatically with your home computer, where you can edit any typos or punctuation errors later.
- When dictation services are not possible, make sure to keep the brightness of your phone at a natural level—bright or dim screens will cause strain on your eyes.
- Take more frequent breaks to let your eyes adjust, and focus on hand and wrist stretches whenever you can.
- Increase the text size on your phone when you plan on using it for an extended period of time.
- Consider turning on the Night Shift feature (available on most devices) when you plan to work at night, in darker settings. This feature adjusts the light on your screen to become warmer, which is easier on the eyes in the hours before you plan to go to sleep.
Whatever your process, it’s easy to get into unhealthy habits, like writing on the couch or ignoring scheduled breaks. But if you keep these ergonomic principles in mind, you’ll be more productive and suffer less strain, and you’ll be able to focus on what really matters: your writing!
Phil Stamper-Halpin is Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms for Penguin Random House.