I recently finished working on a large radio project, and have started my first film project; but I’ve got a problem: my work station. The hours spent at my desk are taking their toll on my body. Since you obviously spend a lot of time writing, presumably at a desk, do you have any recommendations (reading, tips, products, or anything else) related to ergonomics, the stress of sitting, or a writers workstation?
Based on my informal polling of screenwriter friends, almost every one of them has had issues with ergonomics, such as numbness in the hands or lower back pain. Personally, I have trouble with my arms falling asleep. Not just tingling, mind you. I’ll wake up at two in the morning with my arms completely paralyzed. I have to flail like a fish to sit up and then spend ten minutes shaking them back to life. This only happens when I’ve been typing way too much. It’s quite literally a wake-up call.
The human body just wasn’t meant to sit and type for hours a day, so you need to really think about how you work. Keep in mind, I’m not an expert on any of this — you should search out books or websites with more information — but I can tell you what helps me.
- Get a good chair. It doesn’t have to be a $700 Aeron chair (though many people swear by them), but it should have a comfortable seat, back support, and adjustable arm supports. You want something that can be easily adjusted for height and seat tilt. A cheap chair is asking for trouble.
- Keep your typing surface low. If your desk has keyboard tray that slides out, great. If not, try to get an adjustable table that you can set quite low — just above your knees when you slide your chair in. The goal is to keep your elbows at ninety degrees, and your wrists in line with your forearms. Again, you can spend any amount on a table, but I’m using a $69 Ikea table, with embarrassing name of Jerker.
- Consider using an ergonomic keyboard. The most common variety has the QWERTY layout broken in half, with the right and left sides angled slightly away from each other, so that your hands stay in a straight line. I use an Adesso keyboard, but there are many good varieties. I’d recommend going to a store with a few on display and find one that feels right. It only takes a day or two to get up to speed on the split layout.
- Try to keep your monitor at eye level, so that you’re not looking down all the time. If you’re using a laptop, it’s often worth it to get a cheap second monitor, rather than using the built-in screen. (Along the same lines, hook up a better, bigger keyboard than the laptop’s.)
- Try different mice and trackballs. I love my wireless Microsoft mouse, but everyone has a different preference. Whichever you choose, keep it at the same level as your keyboard, and set it close, so that you don’t have to extend your arm to reach it.
- Get a mousepad with a built-in wrist rest.
- If your hands get numb, consider gloves. For the last ten years, I’ve been using these spandex Handeze gloves, and they’ve made a huge difference. Medically and scientifically, they shouldn’t work, but they do for me. They’re only 20 bucks, and they last for more than a year.
- A lot of what people refer to as “carpal tunnel syndrome” really isn’t. In my case, I was pinching a nerve up in my shoulder blades, which was radiating all the way down to my fingers. So don’t rush to assume you have the repetitive stress injury du jour. Focus on improving your entire work routine.
- Finally, take breaks. Get up, walk around, do something else. Computers and the Internet are amazing, but they lull you into thinking you’re doing something when you’re just idly clicking hours away.
Hope this helps.