What You Said: How You Increase Workstation Comfort

By Jason Fitzpatrick on February 3rd, 2012

Computers may have evolved mightily in the last century but we haven’t; read on to see how your fellow readers increase their computing comfort.

Machines have gotten smaller, screens brighter and thinner, and peripherals more varied. With all this change, however, the human body has stayed the same. In order to use technology effectively and safely, we have to make adaptations to our environment to save our wrists and backs. Earlier this week we asked to share the workstation tweaks and tricks they had adopted to increase their comfort. Clearly we hit on a topic that many readers had invested some serious thought into.

Steve-O-Rama shared a lengthy response that covers everything from keyboards to chairs:

After having gone through several keyboards, mice, desks, monitors, chairs, etc., here’s what I’m running with at my main workspace:

1. IBM Model M keyboard from 1993. This is #1 for many reasons, but most of all, my hands don’t hurt after an entire day of using the keyboard anymore. :)

2. A comfy mouse – for me, it’s currently a Logitech m705 Marathon Mouse. Just like a keyboard, a mouse can make or break your computing experience. Since this one’s wireless, it also helps keep the desk more clear of cables. Alternatively, I like my old old old IBM USB optical travel mouse; its small size is great for times that I have to constantly flit between the mouse and something else.

3. A freakishly-large L-shaped desk, which I’m in the process of converting (at least a section of it) to a stand-up. Nothing irritates me more than small desks, or running out of work space. I need to be able to have data sheets, notes, and reference materials spread out in front of me, and still be able to type and mouse around. The L-shaped desk ensures that I’ll always have a great amount of space, with the side benefit of being perfect for running three monitors at once — and I still have enough space for the PC and printers!

4. My three monitors are large (I think…) and high-resolution, but on a budget. They’re all Acer H233H LCDs I picked up about two years ago on sale (the lot for not much more than $300, IIRC). Since I’m staring at monitors for up to a dozen hours a day, this was a good investment for me. I’d advise others to look closely at the pixel pitch of any prospective monitor, no pun intended; the difference between one with 0.265 mm pitch and another with 0.311 mm pitch (as common with 23-inch and 27-inch LCDs, respectively), can be significant to many users. Your eyes will thank you for spending the extra money on a better monitor (some days I wish I had spent even more, but these are still getting the job done). One item I REALLY wish they had is height adjustment. I should probably just buy some 3M monitor arms….

5. The chair should be comfortable, but IMO, only for working. That is, I don’t think I should be able to lounge back in it like it’s a La-Z-Boy. I’d advise a small or no backrest, as well. No armrests, as they only get in my way. Since I’m trying to go stand-up, I think my next ‘chair’ will be an architect stool, with maybe one of those foam hunter’s cushions on the seat. A rubber floor mat will probably be on that roster, too.

6. Cleanliness and organization! Second only to my earlier-mentioned pet peeve of running out of space is not being able to find things when I need them. A bookcase and a cart of plastic drawers work for me to keep binders, books, and office supplies close at hand yet in designated places. I also use old glass jars for pen & pencil storage, and a really large lag-screw hook to hang up my headphones. Regular vacuuming & dusting keep everything looking great – NO furniture polish, only clean water, or a mix of alcohol, water, and vinegar. Piles of papers are nowhere to be found, but they sure used to be common. :) I’d highly recommend investing in a good label machine (NOT one of those $20 cheap-o models) to help you find everything once it’s put away, but a Sharpie and a roll of masking tape can also work.

7. Speakers – use whatever floats your boat & budget, but having a desk and PC with a decent sound system really make breaks feel like breaks, and listening to music while I work much more enjoyable. I only use the headphones when it’s really late at night, or something I want to listen to in detail.

And finally….

8. The PC itself. Having to put up with a sluggish, old, piece-of-crap PC would be torture for some (most?) of us; if it can’t play a YouTube video at high resolution without tripping over itself, rotate parts in SolidWorks or Pro/E [Creo] without ‘stutter’, boot in less than about 30 seconds, or open and close programs relatively quickly, it’s gonna drive me nuts. The investment into hardware that makes a PC truly enjoyable to use – for work AND play – is worth while if you’re stuck using it for hours on end. Otherwise, it’s as irritating as wearing a pair of shoes two sizes too small. I’m not sure about other users, but I get stress headaches, make stupid mistakes, and get downright grumpy using a crappy computer. That said, every user’s application will be different, as will their ability to influence the choice of hardware they’re using. I mean let’s face it, a graphic designer will need a much different PC than someone using Excel or Word all day.

Other than that, just stay healthy, take frequent breaks, drink plenty of water, move around, and get completely away from the desk regularly.

While many people wouldn’t think of the capabilities of the computer itself as a key to computing comfort and ergonomics, the reality is that if your aging computer keeps you at your work station an extra hour a day because it isn’t up for the tasks you throw at it, that’s an ergonomic issue–you’re logging hours at the terminal you needn’t.

DiAnne highlights how, when you’re on the shorter side, you need to pay special attention to your workstation because it was designed for a person of average stature:

I sit at my desk a ridiculous 12+ hours a day. There are a few requirements for comfort:

1. Keyboard drawer – a keyboard sitting on a desk surface is a horrible thing to do to your body.

2. External keyboard and mouse – as a big-busted woman (but not in the good way, unfortunately), an ergonomic split keyboard is critical. I’ve tried several and the best for me is the Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 (wired) or 7000 (wireless). It takes a day to get used to but it has eliminated all of my arm, wrist, hand, and even back pain and I’ve been using this keyboard for about 6 years.

3. Good posture. This is easy to say but hard to practice. I’ve noticed that when I’m actually working, my posture is perfect. My back never touches the chair, I’m sitting erect with my shoulders back and I can work for hours like that. However, as soon as I switch from typing to reading, I find that I slouch or lean on the desk. It’s usually a twinge of discomfort in my back that reminds me that I need to get back to sitting properly.

4. A foot stool. I’m short (5’3″) and my upper thighs used to get a small cramp in them because of pressure from the edge of the chair (it wasn’t the chair, it was that my thighs would slope downwards in order for my feet to be on the floor). I finally made a short foot stool on casters and now my legs are at a good 90-degree angle and it solved the problem. If I was 6 inches taller, this probably wouldn’t be a problem, but for someone short like me, this was a surprising fix to a problem I didn’t realize I was having.

Dragonbite shares some tips for working at a standing desk:

I just recently set up a Standing Desk which, although it takes a little bit to get used to, is actually quite comfortable.

I have a monitor raised to eye level, and my laptop is on the shelf that holds my keyboard, mouse, speakers and most importantly, my coffee. The shelf is a little low (1-2″ below elbow level) but sufficient. I know I need to try and avoid resting my wrist on the desktop while typing or using the mouse.

I have a box on the floor I put one foot on and alternate feet so my lower back doesn’t seize up on me.

Using a block to alternate raising your legs is really helpful, so it walking in place–you might look kind of silly but it’s very refreshing!

For more workstation comfort tips and tricks, hit up the full comment thread here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/3/12
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