Ergonomic and Productive Working from Home - a Guide

Discussion in 'Indie Related Chat' started by Robert Cummings, Apr 9, 2005.

  1. Robert Cummings

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    Here is my guide to ergonomic and safe productive working from home. I have done a fair bit of research into this sort of thing, and thought I'd share it with you. I would urge most of you to examine your "office" as it is essential, and will increase productivity as well as looking after your health.

    Ergonomic and productive working from home
    By Rob Cummings


    Monitor Height:
    The top of the monitor screen needs to be level with your eyes.

    Monitor Distance:
    Two feet.

    Monitor Type:
    LCD is best for typing, however if you have CRT, ensure the refresh rate is above 85hz, and the resolution is between 1024x768 and below 1280x960 for 17 inch, and 1280x960 to 1280x1024 for 19 inch. I don't recommend you have too high a resolution as this will increase eye strain when staring at tiny fonts for hours.

    Chair:
    High enough so that both feet can touch the floor yet not too low that the angle of your legs exteeds 90 degrees.

    Back should support the base of your spine. Arm rests are essential.

    Keyboard:
    needs to be ergonomic - preferbly a new Microsoft or Logitech keyboard. The new flatter range of keyboards are in fact faster to type on and are less prone to strain. Do not use a cheap shitty one. Palm rest essential.

    Mouse:
    A quality Logitech or Microsoft mouse, as they will be ergonomic.

    Desk:
    3 feet by 2 feet area just for mouse and keyboard.
    You will EASILY have room for pen and paper. The reason is one of strain: The less room there is, more physically you will have to contort as you work. You will tire easier with a smaller space, and the quality of your work will suffer.

    Computer hardware:
    Worth investing in quiet pc components such as those from www.quietpc.com or similar. This will give you the space to hear yourself think. A noisy computer is a distracting computer. My computer is barely audiable and it is an Athlon64 with Radeon 9800 PRO. I did have to put the work in to make it quiet, however...

    Diet:
    Keep hydrated. 10% of dehydration isn't much but it can have a large impact on your work. I crack open a new bottle of mineral water and leave it nearby every morning, and make sure it's done by night.

    Coffee: We're all guilty of consuming too much of the good stuff. It is however, an irritant and will cause negative productivity if too much is drunk by making you irritable and making your thinking erratic.

    Food: slow release carbs are better than sugary snacks. Look after your health. Eat at the same times as everyone else, with everyone else.

    Rest breaks
    Should be every two hours. Take a break, walk about, go to the shops and so forth... I know you won't want to, but doing this will speed up development, as your thinking will be clearer and your body refreshed. Stretch and get away from the PC.

    People who live with you
    This is one of the biggest productivity killers: people who live with you. Spouses, children, etc. The only sane solution is a room of your own where you work. An office. If not, then you must take time to explain carefully that your working hours are between so on and so forth. this is an issue which you need to deal with.

    A 2 min distraction can take 10 mins to get back up to speed from.

    Where should the 'office' be?
    A room with a view. Make sure that behind your computer, you can, within your peripheral vision, see outside. This will boost your productivity no end. Make it so that you can see outside without turning your head more than 90 degrees. This will minimise eye strain and provide welcome stress relief.

    Finally, feel free to add your own tips to this thread, and make it sticky if you like as this issue is an important one, often neglected.

    Regards,
    Rob
     
  2. moire music

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    avoiding burnout, increasing productivity...

    I work and live in a large open space, no distinct "office", and to increase the seperation between work time and off-work time, I've found it useful to have different lighting for each. I'll have the blinds positioned one way and the certain lamps on for work hours, and the blinds positioned another way and different lamps on for off hours. Really helps me be in my space on non-work hours and not think about work.

    Also something I picked up from a lecture at the GDC is a mental process for leaving work. I'll sit for a few minutes and visualize myself surrounded by computer screens and hard drives and clients (not sure why, but actually in a forest), slowly walking towards an open area filled with books, art, movies, friends, girlfriend, etc. Sounds hokey, I know. But I used to be consumed with work around the clock and was getting quite burned out. I find this really helpful to increase productivity during the day.
     
  3. electronicStar

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    I feel very tired if the screen is more than 1 feet from my eyes. I have a good monitor so it doesn't ruin my eyes, actually it's quite the opposite, I have the feeling my view has improved since I started using this monitor.
    I have been using a trackball for a few years, and I would advise everybody to try it. Since I've been using that I've never ever felt wrist pain anymore. Plus it might give you an advantage when playing unreal tournament.
    I don't know why but I always feel the need to drink while being in front of the computer, my mouth feel dehydrated but I don't know why.
    I've invested in a good CEO leather chair, a very good investment.
     
  4. Martoon

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    All really good points, Robert. Thanks for the tips.

    One thing I'll add. You mention arm rests for the chair. I'd like to be more specific than that, and mention something that I've personally found to make a tremendous difference in eliminating back/arm/wrist pain and fatigue. The arm rest and desktop should make a fairly continous, level surface for your arms to rest along, so your arm is completely supported from elbow to palm, both on mouse and keyboard. You may need to adjust the height of your chair, armrests, and/or desk to make the armrests the right height relative to your shoulders, and even with the height of your desktop. This saves you from having to continuously exert energy to hold your arm up.

    Also, I find that keyboard palm rests can be a matter of personal preference and physiology. For most people, I think they do better with one, but for some (like myself), they put my hands in an awkward position and cause more strain.
     
    #4 Martoon, Apr 9, 2005
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2005
  5. Abscissa

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    Good guide, very helpful. :)

    I just have a few small comments...
    I've always assummed those are only good for people who do touch typing. I don't touch type, and have found the normal style keyboards to be fine. Any opinions?

    Good point, I wouldn't have thought of that (and mine's really noisy). Although I've found that sometimes the loud steady fans can help drown out other more distracting noises, like people in the kitchen or neighborhood kids outside.

    That's a double-edged sword for me. I'm highly distractable and have a crap attention span, so many of the times I've had a window by my desk I often found myself staring outside thinking about random non-work things for long periods of time.

    Not trying to contradict you or anything, just giving my two cents.
     
  6. C_Coder

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    I don't touch type but after a lot of years my wrists were getting pains. I changed to an ergonomic keyboard and viola' the pain went away. This did not heal my wrists but just reduced the pain of RSI. Repetitive Stress Injury is a one thing that is really true for us long-term developers. Always take advice from a competent medical advisor. As soon as you feel any (and I mean any) kind of pain, check it out as soon as possible!
     
  7. etali

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    Good advice - I'd like to also suggest people look into flatscreens with good update speeds if their budget can stretch to them - my CRT was capable of a good refresh rate and a 19 inch one, I changed to a 17 inch flatscreen a while ago though and never had a headache since.

    I can run the 17 inch in the same resolution as the 19 was - things are smaller, but because the monitor is easier on the eye I don't notice it at all.
     
  8. papillon

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    Aren't flatscreens problematic for anyone into pixelart? I hear from MANY sources that they don't do certain kinds of graphics well in anything other than their native resolution.

    And I repeat the "mileage varies" comments I made in an earlier thread - My other half's ergo/split keyboard and trackball are great for him but impossible to use for me. And the keyboard that came with the computer set I was given many years back touted its "soft touch action!" as a selling feature but to me it caused wrist pains after a mere five minutes of use and I had to quickly swap it out for an ancient heavy loud clackety one that was much easier on my hands. My current keyboard is the cheapest junk in the shop and the letters are completely worn off in places but it goes like blazes.

    As for quiet computers, we have a lovely practically-soundless always-on server stashed around here somewhere... but with England's lack of proper white noise I sometimes have to leave one of the main computers ON to be able to get to sleep!

    Top Safety Tips - Never let your spouse attempt to demonstrate martial arts on you. Hello tendon injury! (A lot better now, but still acts up and it's been months...)

    Also, RELAX and be sure you do not grind your teeth when you concentrate/stress. You don't want to know what can come of this. :)
     
  9. digriz

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    Slightly off track....

    but it's good to see that a lot of people here are taking this issue seriously.
     
  10. Jim Buck

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    LCDs have to do anti-aliasing or some other bilnear-filtered-texture-mapping equivalent when using a non-native resolution. However, if you run a multiple of the resolution, it looks fine (for example, a 1600x1200 monitor running at 800x600).
     
    #10 Jim Buck, Apr 11, 2005
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2005
  11. Dingo Games

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    Any recomendations on what kind of Trackball to get? I experience occasional wrist soreness, so I have been thinking about getting one. I haven't been able to find any good articles about trackballs but I have read that the ones where your thumb operates the ball are ergonomically the best.
     
  12. Robert Cummings

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    In all honesty, if you follow the guidelines of having a large space to work with you will not get wrist soreness.

    I am an artist and I use the mouse 10 times longer than most, and I never get wrist soreness because I take breaks, have an ergonomic mouse, and a large desk space to work with.

    As a programmer, your wrist soreness is likely coming from your keyboard (yes even if it's only one wrist).

    Make sure that you invest in a chair where the arm rests are parallel with the desk in height, so that your arm as support all the way to the keyboard (which ought to have palm rests).

    RSI is a serious condition and can have appaling side effects such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which cannot be cured.

    If your wrist is hurting, I don't think it's the mouse causing it (unless you are an artist or have really cramped working conditions in which case get a bigger place - a trackball is putting sugar on a turd in this situation).
     
  13. Jim Buck

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    About 10 years ago, I was a 1/2-finger typist when programming. I was never taught the proper way to type. Then I began a massive overhaul of all the source code in order to fix the Y2K problem. (This was business software.) After about a month or so, I got hit hard by carpul tunnel syndrome. I got (mostly) over it by teaching myself to type properly. It also helped that during this "recovery" period I kept the keyboard on my lap.
     
  14. Kai Backman

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    If you are using LCD screens one good addition is to hook them up to a mounting arm instead of having them on the table. Ergotron manufactures those, especially the 300 series is pretty nifty. This way you can free up desk space under the LCD's and rearrange your environment based on needs.

    I've developed a habit of catching when I'm frowning vigorously while programming and then making myself relax and smile.. I love this job so my expression should show that .. :D
     
  15. Teeth

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    I've actually heard that the more elaborate leather chairs are pretty bad for posture, as they're less geared towards a sitting-at-a-keyboard posture. Just what I heard; might be wrong.
     
  16. Mike Boeh

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    1. I just got a cheap leather CEO chair from office max, bad idea. I like my old crappy chair much better :(

    2. Dell 24" lcd monitors sometimes go on sale for 860$ with coupons. An insane deal when compared to the sony or apple 23". As soon as they go back on sale, one of those badboys is mine. I currently use 21" trinitron crt monitors at 100hz- but still feel the eye strain.

    3. I despise those ergonomic keyboards. I couldn't live without my Model M keyboard!
     
  17. mahlzeit

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    I have a sitting ball for sitting on instead of a chair. These days I sit on a chair, though, because when you sit on the ball it is extremely hard to concentrate -- you are too busy not falling off! :)
     
  18. Dingo Games

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    Yeah, my current workspace is pretty horrible. University residence.. My desk was probably made back when home computers didn't even exist yet. And my chair is.. well I've never seen anything else quite like it.

    I'm pretty sure the problem is coming from using the mouse not the keyboard. When programming, most people don't really spend that much time typing. I spend most of the time thinking, writing down notes, and mousing around. I think that I first noticed my wrist getting sore when I was creating levels for my game - this involves a lot of mouse movement. I also do my own artwork so that is even more use of the mouse.

    I'll have a good workspace again in a couple weeks. Nice, big, and keyboard/mouse at the proper level. I will pick up a new ergonomic mouse too.

    I'm still interested in mouse vs. trackball. Does anyone know of some good articles/research on the subject?
     
  19. Matthew

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  20. oNyx

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    If you're doing lots of textwork (eg programming) buying a flatscreen is a good idea. It really makes a big difference. Unfortunately those screens aren't that well suited for doing graphics, because the colors are usually a bit wrong. For getting the colors of a cheap 150$ crt you need to shell out 5000$ (five thousand dollar!). With a dual screen setup (one tft and one crt) you get the best of both worlds.

    And noise equals stress. Your machine should stay below 1 sone and the sound should be as deep as possible (a big low rpm fan is better than a tiny hi rpm fan).

    The new pentium-m barebones are pretty interesting in that regard. They just doesn't produce much heat, therefore it's easy to cool em quietly. If you're technically skilled you can also cool an A64 3600 passively... with phase planes and a gigantic (30*10*5) cooling block.
     

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