First, read some ergonomic guidelines. Keep in mind when reading any guidelines that people are all different and one thing that is comfortable for you may not be for someone else. Visit some forums and get crow-sourced assistance.
There are often ergonomist consultants that can make a visit to your home or office and offer advice about your setup. Large companies may (and definitely should) have an ergonomist on staff for their employees. It’s a shame that companies don’t place an emphasis on proper workstation setup. More and more jobs are computer based and companies should not be taking the risks of injuring their employees.
- Your desk and chair need to be at the right height. It’s generally best to have your feet flat on the ground, so take that as your starting point.
- Get a chair that is comfortable and extremely adjustable. This will allow you to tweak it to your specifications. It doesn’t have to be expensive. The Ikea Verksam chair is versatile and reasonably priced.
- A foot rest. If your chair cannot be adjusted so that your feet are flat on the floor and you can reach your desk comfortably, you need a foot rest. These can be fairly cheap at Ikea
- Arms. Having arms on your chair is a personal choice. For some people, chair arm rests put too much compression on their elbows, causing their arms or fingers to go numb. Chair arms are difficult because often they are not as adjustable as they should be. There is an alternative though: Ergo Rest arms that attach to your desk. There are many different kinds of these arms, but in my estimation, Ergo Rest makes the best. You can find them on Amazon. They are extremely versatile and can be adjusted to whatever your situation.
- Desk. Once you have your chair height figured out, you need a desk that is the right height. I prefer desks at which you can both sit and stand. Unfortunately, desks with that feature are fairly expensive. The GeekDesk is a cheaper option, while Relax The Back is more expensive.
- Keyboard tray. If your desk is too high, you should get a keyboard tray. I like this one because it has a wide range of adjustment and is easy to install. It also
- Get your monitor adjusted so that if you are staring straight ahead, your eye line will be in the top third of the monitor. You want to try to keep from having to bend your neck in one static position all day. I use reams of printer paper as a cheap monitor stand.
- If you have a laptop, don’t use it directly on your desk. Get an external keyboard and mouse and elevate the monitor to a more appropriate height. If you’re travelling, an ironing board makes a great temporary height-adjustable desk.
- Your pointing device is quite important. I prefer a simple trackball, the Logictech Trackman. It’s cheap, comfortable, and durable. I wish they made a left hand version. I was using the Contour Perfit left handed mouse (medium) for a while and found it to be fairly comfortable, but it seemed to crap out on my fairly soon. So I recommend them with caution. Their new black, rubberized surface looks interesting. There are tons of different kinds of pointing devices. Try out as many as you can. They are fairly cheap and you can usually return them. There may be ergonomic equipment lending programs in your area. For example, in Boston, the Spaulding Hospital’s Assistive Technology Center has a program like this.
- Keyboard. Most computer workers use a keyboard very frequently. The standard flat keyboards are pretty terrible. If you have to use one, be careful and don’t flip the legs out. When typing, it’s best to try to keep your wrists as flat as possible. There are a few types of ergonomic keyboards:
- curved, like the Microsoft Ergonomic line. It’s pretty cheap and pretty comfortable, but I find the keys a bit mushy and wish that there was no number pad.
- separated halves, like the Kinesis Freestyle. If you get this, get the one with the shorter middle cable. It was pretty comfortable, but the two halves moved around the desk fairly easily. Also, the rubber feet made black marks on my desk.
- funky, like the Kenesis Advantage. It’s expensive, but extremely comfortable, although it does take quite a bit of getting used to, due to the non-standard key configuration. If you’re a heavy typist, I recommend this keyboard.
- Use a program or timer to help remind you to take breaks. I like Workrave, which is free and for Windows and Linux. There are alternatives for Mac OSX. When my RSI was really bad, I was taking a forced 1 minute break every 5 minutes and a 5 minute break every 20 minutes.
- Try using speech recognition. Windows Vista & 7 have it built in. and it’s pretty good. You can also buy Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows or Mac. At the moment, speech recognition is great for dictation, but lousy for command and control.
- As an alternative to a physical pointing device, try Camera Mouse, which uses your webcam to track your head motions and move the mouse pointer.