As lawyers, we spend a large portion of our time at our desks. We work on computers, we read, we write. Many people develop health problems related to sitting, often hunched over a keyboard (Mayo Clinic; Harvard Health blog; Scientific American). This is not unique to attorneys, but the range of ergonomic problems with backs, wrists, neck and posture, weight, stress, and cardiovascular health related to sitting for many hours every day is too long to list.
Before I became another statistic in a medical research paper, I decided to do a little research of my own, and outfit my office with gear to enable and encourage me to sit, stand, and work in a more comfortable and healthful way. This is what I’ve set up for myself, and the habits it has helped me to build. I put all of this together over about a year, and I think you’ll find that you can pick and choose among the types of items I’ve found useful, to build a work setup that helps you. While this is not exhaustive or scientific, I hope it’s helpful to you if and when you consider getting yourself a more ergonomic set-up for your office. And note that I have no endorsement deals and receive no payment or free equipment from any of these companies, though I do own stock in some.
First, I wanted equipment to encourage me to work in a way that was both more comfortable and more efficient.
I started with an external monitor with an adjustable stand, as the suggestions to get a larger viewable area made sense to me. While I have a 24” HD monitor, my next one is probably a 4K TV—why not? Just make sure your computer can output to it. To take advantage of that larger monitor, make sure you have it at the right height. You can stack it on reams of paper, or old casebooks. I found a stand with an arm that lets me set it at the right height, and moves the screen closer to me while freeing up the desk surface under it.
Next, I wanted an external keyboard for typing more comfortably. To free up the desk surface, I set it on an adjustable keyboard tray. I chose one that slides out from under the desk and has up/down and tilt adjustment. I like being able to adjust the position of the keyboard or get it out of the way when I want to write, sketch, or read on my desk. For a keyboard, I chose an ergonomic split one by Microsoft. It’s not fancy, but it works and types nicely. It has a USB cable, but for sitting at a desk, I don’t mind if there’s a cable (under the desk, not in the way of my work surface). I do have my eye on the keyboard.io Model 1, which should be shipping this year, for customizable comfort and hacker joy. (Disclosure: one of the co-founders is a friend of mine from high school, and the keyboard looks really cool.)
Mouse or Trackpad
You’ll need some external pointing device: a mouse or trackpad—unless you’re a Jedi master of keyboard shortcuts, and can do this with a command-line interface. I’ve gotten used to multi-touch gestures, so I chose Apple’s external trackpad. Any mouse or trackpad you like will do, and there are plenty of specialized ergonomic ones, from trackballs to vertical mice to holycowlookatthat! While having four (or 10, or 31) programmable buttons would be handy on a pointing device, and I’ve enjoyed using them in the past, the multi-touch gestures are handy; the programmable functions can also be done with a scripting language (AppleScript for Mac, Script Center for Windows); and my trackpad travels really well. An extra copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, and a foam hand exerciser, round out the ergonomic placement for my trackpad.
Last, I wanted a stand for my laptop. While you can do any of the above with a desktop computer (in case you’ve never seen one, that’s a large, heavy, non-portable computer that doesn’t have a battery; many are now smaller than ENIAC), you can connect your laptop to all of the above. And when you do, wouldn’t you like to be able to use your laptop as a second (or third) screen? Me, too.
There is a huge array of docking stations out there (for instance, this listing of features and models). But all I wanted was to elevate my laptop so the screen was the same height as my external monitor. There are a ton of stands too, so I chose one that was affordable and portable, propped it up on some books, DVD cases, and an organizer, and voilà! One custom-height laptop stand, with organizer. Toss in a cord-holder and a USB/Ethernet hub, and it gets me what I want, with more flexibility than most docks with regard to height, location on desk, and use of space.
Now, you could do any of the above with any desk or table. But I wanted to try a height-adjustable desk, so that I could sit and stand throughout the day, to make myself move more. I’d used one before, so I knew that I liked it, and while YouTube is filled with videos of DIY adjustable desks… I bought one. I wanted to be able to make many small adjustments throughout the day, so plop-a-cardboard-box-on-a-desk wasn’t going to cut it. I chose a Jarvis desk, by Ergo Depot, for its combination of reviews, warranty, and price. I’ve been using it for about five months, and it’s been great.
I didn’t want to go full treadmill desk: first, because I don’t want to be the person compulsively telling everyone “I’m walking”, and second because these research findings suggested what seemed likely to me: you’d be less efficient trying to read or write while walking. I could add a treadmill under the desk. But, wouldn’t you rather go outside for a walk or a run when you want to walk or run? Right.
I recommend getting a pad to stand on. I chose the Topo by Ergo Driven because I liked the idea of different heights and angled surfaces to stand on. It makes standing a little more interesting and encourages movement (not as much as a treadmill, of course). It also makes a nice footrest when seated, and it’s easy to move it under the desk to sit and back out to stand on.
I do sit. I wanted a chair that would help encourage better posture, and I’d tried exercise-ball chairs. My old desk chair was broken, and it never encouraged good posture. So I bought an exercise-ball chair, figuring it cost less than most well-made desk chairs—and it should, there isn’t much to it! It’s worked well. It’s easy to move around, it makes me sit up, and it is really hard to slouch in it. I also use a bar stool sometimes. And while I’d love to do legal research in a La-Z-Boy, strangely, I don’t see any with casters.
But every once in awhile, I want to put my feet up. So I got a foot hammock. It’s silly, and it needed some improved hardware, but when I want to kick back, I’m glad it’s there.
Ergonomics for the Mobile Office
Check in next month for my mobile set-up, with ergonomics and other gadgets that live in my bag for on-the-go office productivity. If you have questions about what I chose, and how it’s worked, let me know in the comments, or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Google Local, or Avvo.