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6 Essential Ergonomic Tips for Your Modern Home Office

Work smarter and say goodbye to aches and pains from technology, hello to peak productivity

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Downsides to an increased reliance on computers, smartphones and tablets include eye strain, poor posture and repetitive stress injuries.

Some of the problems can be traced to working from home. By 2022, more than a third of all workers did their jobs from home at least some of the time, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. A survey from McKinsey & Co. consulting for the same period reported 58 percent of Americans had the chance to work from home at least one day a week, something which technology made possible.

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For leisure, all ages’ most popular choices involved more tech, almost four additional hours of screen time daily watching TV and using the computer, the federal time use survey showed.

Moderation is always important. Here are some tips to help you feel your best after a day in your home office.

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1. Sit straight

Invest in a decent chair that offers comfort and lower-back support. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars.

Some discount retailers sell an all-leather armchair with cushioned lumbar vertebrae support for less than $60. A chair with wheels is also a good idea, so you can position yourself easily for more comfort.

When sitting, your mouse and keyboard should be at about elbow level and your feet should be flat on the floor. If it makes you more comfortable, place a small stool or crate under your desk to rest your feet on. This also should help keep you from hunching over your desk.

2. Position your screen

If your computer monitor sits on either the right or left side of your desk, position your chair so you don’t turn your head to see the screen, which could strain your neck.

Center your head over your body, and look at your monitor straight ahead at eye level. If necessary, stack books under your monitor to obtain a proper height.

Don’t work in the dark. Adequate but not uncomfortably bright lighting can minimize eye strain. If you find yourself squinting to see text on your screen, enlarge the font.

In your web browser or any program you’re in, select a larger text size or zoom level. Bigger monitors, which are reasonably priced these days, can display more words.

Exercise your eyes. A good rule of thumb is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds to reduce fatigue and eye strain. It’s also referred to as a micro break.

spinner image Ergonomic mouse concept
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3. Use a good mouse

When shopping for a mouse, try it out at the store to make sure it’s comfortable for you. They come in a range of sizes from small to extra large.

If you buy a mouse online, check the seller’s return policy. Some mice may be ideal for both left- and right-handed users. Your mouse should have a hump that fits your palm comfortably.

Limit your wrist movement. Focus on keeping your wrist straight and your elbow bent, moving only your forearm.

If a mouse causes you wrist discomfort, consider a trackball model or a trackpad. Your hand rests on these devices, so you won’t strain your wrist.

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Padding helps. Also for support, try a mouse pad made of foam or gel that conforms to your wrist.

4. Consider an ergonomic keyboard

Keyboards that are separate from your laptop computer have come a long way to prevent or reduce strained wrists.

Many keyboards are split and slightly angled, tilting inward to better fit your natural wrist-resting position. They’re ideal if you’re at your keyboard for a long time.

To easily reach all keys, float your hands above the keyboard instead of stretching your fingers. Some computer users prefer a padded or gel wrist rest that sits in front of the keyboard.

5. Talk hands-free

If you make frequent calls, purchase a headset, so you’re not cradling the phone between your neck and ear while typing — a sure way to increase neck strain.

Use a pair of Bluetooth wireless earbuds paired with your smartphone, but they must have an integrated microphone. Better yet, talk hands-free on a speaker phone or in a Teams or Zoom call.

Neck strain also increases when you look down at a smartphone or other mobile device while emailing, playing games or texting. Instead of looking down, raise your hands. Or place your elbows on your desk — disregard your mom’s admonishments — so you can look ahead when using a smartphone or tablet.

Video: Intro to Tai Chi With Fitness Expert Kathy Smith
Don't take a coffee break. A little tai chi at home will help you relax.

6. Take frequent breaks

Get up every 30 minutes or so. If you have time, go outside for some fresh air, even walk the dog.

If you have only a few minutes, do arm, back, neck and wrist stretches or tai chi-like movements, relieve tension with a five-minute meditation or practice some quick yoga. The important thing is to move from your chair and get your blood circulating.

This story, originally published April 6, 2020, has been updated with additional data and ergonomic information.

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