Making an ergonomic workspace
Issue 126: The shrimp posture has to stop
Happy Sunday. I’m at a coffee shop on this gray California weekend, feeling more like I’m back home in the Pacific Northwest than in Southern California. I’m grateful my 2023 is off to a great start. A huge part of that for it’s the first time I’ve felt well physically since the start of the pandemic. You can’t worry about Atomic Habits and productivity if you’re not feeling well physically, because it affects you mentally. In this issue, I’ll share my experiences on problems I’m working on and how I’m optimizing my space for them.
What I’m working on physically
I’m sharing what I’m working on so you have a sense of what I’m trying to recover from. Of course, none of this is medical advice, and the only person who knows what’s best for your well-being is you.
Migraines and vertigo
I've dealt with migraine headaches ever since childhood. They can be excruciating and put someone out of commission for hours, and sometimes days. In recent months I’ve experienced vertigo. Having any of these issues results in not being able to think clearly and be mentally effective—arguably the most important aspect of my creative work.
Back and neck pain
My back and neck pain started at the beginning of the pandemic and got worse every month. As my physical therapist Leo says, “if you want to kill a frog without it noticing, boil it in water. To be clear, frogs are awesome, and please don’t kill them. The point of the metaphor is what can slowly kill you are changes in your body you don’t notice—like cold eventually becoming boiling hot with a frog in it.
Though there are many other acute issues that come up, these are the two areas that have been huge detractors of my well-being and effectiveness. At the end of last year, I told myself it was time to make significant changes and get back to form (pun intended). Let’s look at some behavior changes I made in hopes the daily habits invoke progress.
Behaviors and habits
Like in any design challenge, you have to identify the problem and the desired outcome in order to work on the right things. Many of the solutions I use now came with exploring different approaches, of many didn’t work for me. You should vet your own process to get a sense of what’s the best way to solve your needs.
Keep your back straight, don’t hunch
Many readers are tech workers still working remotely. We are at our desks constantly and I’m sure there’ve been instances of going through an entire day of meetings without ever getting up. As the follow meme clearly articulates, we’re static and hunching over in our shrimp posture.
I look forward to the day when technologies evolve for us to do work without being in front of blue light-emitted monitors and enjoy more tactile work. Until that happens, we’re stuck with a workspace that encourages shrimping. That’s why it’s so important to do something about it.
Physical therapy is the MVP of my recovery. The chiropractor experience felt like I was getting my neck snapped as if I was in a Steven Seagal movie—made me feel like I was On Deadly Ground and my goal was to be Hard to Kill
Invoke motion and stretching
Motion is lotion! Our bodies are built for fluid movements and not static for hours. I'm fortunate to have a space where I can set up multiple desks. I've noticed in addition to making sure I'm switching between sitting and standing, having different workspaces forces me to do that too.
If I’m not running a meeting, I have no shame in busting out my exercise stick to stretch. The frequency of stretching helped tremendously
Alternate between sitting and standing in subsequent meetings.
Reduce blue light from devices
Many devices I use daily in digital work emit blue light. For me, staring at these types of screens forces my eyes to work a lot harder—squinting and focusing. Over time, it can strain your eyes significantly. You may not notice it like how the frog enjoys the water in the pot to start, but over time it’ll harm you. This type of exposure triggers migraines for me as well.
I find reducing screen time as a challenge to problem solve on pen and paper as much as possible
I can touch type, which means I can write paragraphs without needing to look at the words on the screen. Taking “no-look typing” breaks adds up in the grand scheme of things
Voice memos with Otter.ai (or any voice recording device). I’ve gone on drives and stationary bike rides writing by voice. If you hate hearing your own voice like me, Otter makes it nice where I can simply copy/paste the transcription to get a good starting point.
A look at the workspace
Let’s explore the actual workspace and some physical objects that help with ergonomics.
The floor table
This is becoming one of my favorite modes of working! I purchased this bamboo table from Amazon for under $68—it's a bargain. Put a nice floor pillow and you have a natural sitting space the stretch and keep your back straight. This workspace is great for reading, writing, and sketching.
The following items are what you’d find on my main work desk—when I take meetings, design, code, and build. I’m usually plugged into an external display with my work or personal laptop.
Split keyboard and trackball mouse
Split keyboard and trackball mouse are my 1-2 punch! Many people are shocked upon learning I opt for the trackball over a mouse/trackpad. Keeping my hand vertical and using my thumb to navigate helps my wrist pain. Don’t let it fool you, once you master the trackball I’d argue you have more precise control than using a mouse. I have better ergonomics without giving up the detailed control I need when using drawing software.
Keyboards that go clickity-clack are essential for me. I've tried the ErgoDox EZ split keyboard but haven't been able to get the hang of it—feels like riding a motorcycle. Just like how Design Within Reach is not actually within reach for me, the EZ keyboard was not easy for me to get the hang of it. Though this keyboard is sensational for many people, it doesn’t work for me. It’s important to find the ergonomic gear that you’re comfortable using. I now use the Keychron Q10 Keyboard with the Alice Layout and it works great for me—no idea who Alice is though.
VESA mounts for all displays
There are many benefits to mounting your displays on a VESA system(standard components FTW!). First, you get more real estate on your desk since the monitors are floating instead of on a stand. You also can easily rotate the orientation of the monitor. I like vertical orientation when reading documentation, browsing the web, or long-form writing. Mounting displays also provide ergonomic benefits—allowing you to position the monitor that’s most optimal for your neck and viewing distance.
Håg Capisco chair and Luna stool
I have two recommendations here since I like to mix and switch up my workspaces. A chair I swear by is Capisco by Håg. This chair encourages you to sit upright and force good posture. It may feel strange at first, and is not fully comfortable, but allows you to sit in different positions while being ergonomic. In fact, I usually sit reverse and use the back of the seat to keep me from hunching over.
The Luna Stool is great for when I want to move around a lot.
Invest in an ergonomic workspace
We only have one body, and it’s crucial you take care of it. Some of the things you get may not be aesthetic but they are valuable in keeping you effective. Ask yourself:
Is there physical pain I’m enduring that I need to address for my personal health? Does it affect my day-to-day work?
What might the root cause be? How do I get the best advice to take care of my physical health?
Can I identify moments in my day where I’m aggravating this?
I hope this might spark an idea to improve your workspace. Here’s to a great week of being effective, but remember to stretch and be ergonomic.
Reminder about paid subscriptions
This is a friendly reminder that the archives of Proof of Concept will be part of the paid subscriptions on January 22nd, 2023. Whether you subscribe to paid or remain free, you will always receive a weekly newsletter in your inbox! Free readers will continue having inbox access as usual and the last 8 weeks on the archive. I'm offering a discount on the annual plan until Issue 127 drops.
Tweet of the week
This would be an amazing Sam Adam's Your Cousin From Boston commercial
A collection of URLs related to this week’s issue and what I’ve read.
My workspace was featured on 076 of workspaces.xyz in case you’re curious about the gear
If you run a Webflow agency and need some help, reach out to Jenna Burns
I learned what VESA stands for while writing this! TIL.