Most geeks are addicted to their desk. It’s particularly bad for those of us who both work with a computer and play on a computer. Racking up ten hours a day in an office chair isn’t difficult.
It also isn’t difficult to spend most of those hours in discomfort. Humans weren’t made to sit in chairs for hours at a time, nor were we made to stare at bright displays day after day. Let’s look at some cheap (and sometimes free) ergonomic enhancements that can literally improve your life.
Buy A Monitor Stand (Or Put Some Books Under It)
Neck and shoulder strain is a common complaint among those who spend a lot of time in front of a desk. This is often the result of a poor monitor viewing angle that forces the neck too far forward or back.
Your monitor should be positioned so that the top edge is a few inches above high level. It’s also wise to have the display tilted forward at the bottom. While expensive monitors come with adjustable stands, cheap monitors almost never have these features built in, so you may have to use some old hardcover books or another hard material to boost your monitor to the appropriate height.
If you don’t mind shelling out some cash, a monitor stand will fix the issue. We suggest one that attaches via your monitor’s VESA mount and at least supports height and tilt adjustment.
Install Bias Lighting
Most people know that glare can result in terrible eye strain, but most people don’t know that viewing a monitor in a dark environment can also cause fatigue. The contrast between a dark background and a bright monitor can cause a situation where your eye has to constantly re-adjust.
It’s not entirely unlike walking down a busy street at night. Eventually the contrast between bright headlights and the otherwise pitch-black night will cause eye strain or headaches. Your monitor does the same thing – on a smaller scale.
The solution is to install bias lighting behind your monitor with an LED strip, such as the one sold by Antec. This creates a ring of light that reduces the contrast between the background and your display, and it only costs a few bucks, so there’s little downside to giving it a try. Alternatively, you could go with a more expensive custom solution using general-purpose LED strips. This will set your back about $30 to $50, but will also give you more choice in the strength of the lighting used and also give you the option of hooking up a remote control.
Another benefit is better perceived image quality. If implemented properly, the backlight allows your eyes to spend more time properly adjusted to your monitor’s light, which means a better image. More advanced versions of this concept have been used with HDTVs.
You might be tempted to try a do-it-yourself version using a lamp, but as far as I know, this usually doesn’t work. The lighting ends up uneven because of the difficulty of fitting a lamp behind a monitor, the light is often too intense, and the color temperature of an incandescent or fluorescent bulb doesn’t match up well with the LEDs used in most modern monitors.
Use A Numpad-less Keyboard
Keyboards always have a numpad. This is one of the unspoken assumptions of modern desktop computers. The lack of a numpad is acceptable on a small laptop, but excluding it from a desktop keyboard seems a bit crazy to most people. That’s a shame, because it really gets in the way.
Ergonomically, you want to have both your keyboard and your mouse positioned in front of you, so that your arms don’t have to move significantly to the left or the right to access them. This is impossible with a full-sized keyboard that includes a numpad.
Excluding the numpad solves this problem. Your mouse can now be located directly beside the keyboard, providing a better ergonomic position.
Replacing your keyboard isn’t going to be free, obviously, but it doesn’t have to cost much. Microsoft’s Arc keyboards are about $50 at most retailers, and HP makes a mini-USB keyboard that is $35 on Amazon. Those who like mechanical switches should check out the Cooler Master QuickFire.
You can implement all the solutions here for less than $100. That may seem like a lot of money, but consider the alternatives. A decent office chair will cost at least $250 and an ergonomic desk can cost thousands.
There are reasons for those to be used, but why start on your quest for ergonomic bliss with the most expensive solution? Reducing neck strain by positioning your monitor correctly, reducing eye strain by reducing contrast between the display and the background, and reducing hand and wrist strain by properly positioning your keyboard and mouse will result in noticeable improvements for most people. You may be a little shocked by the difference something as minor as improving the position of your monitor can make.
Do you know of an inexpensive or free ergonomic solution that you’ve used in your home or office? Tell us about it in the comments!