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I’ve been a computer user ever since I was eight years old. And in all that time I’ve never been uncomfortable at my desk — until about six months ago, when my age caught up to me. My body started to grow sore, my eyes started to ache, my neck was killing me, and I felt fatigued no matter how much I slept or rested.
After lots of troubleshooting, I found three effective solutions that drastically boosted my day-to-day productivity: a low-carb diet, regular stretching, and ergonomic work desk setup.
That last point is important for anyone who spends more than four hours on the computer every day. And that’s true whether you spend those hours writing articles, playing games, or even just browsing Facebook. Don’t be like me and underestimate the boosting effects of a proper workstation.
Here’s what you can do to optimize your own work desk. And the best part? Most of these tips are set-it-and-forget-it, which means that a few minutes of effort now can results in hours and hours of future comfort. It’s absolutely worth it.
1. Chair Height
Like most people, you probably have one of those chairs with a pneumatic lever that you can use to adjust the seat up and down. And like most people, your chair’s height is probably set way too high.
How to find your ideal chair height: For best results, your thighs should be parallel to the ground when sitting and your knees should be at a 90-degree angle. A quick trick for getting the right height in one shot is to stand in front of your chair and adjust it so that the edge of the seat touches the bottom of your kneecaps.
And on a related note, chair depth is important too. You should always sit with your butt to the very back of the seat, and there should be about one fist’s worth of space between the edge of the seat and the back of your calves. If the seat is too deep, you’ll be prone to sliding forward and slouching, and it will hinder circulation to your lower legs.
2. Desk Height
The problem with the chair tip above is that the correct chair height often puts you in an uncomfortable position relative to your desk.
Ideally, your elbows should rest by your ribs and form a 90-degree angle with the desktop, allowing your forearms to rest parallel to the ground. If there’s a mismatch between your chair height and desk height, there are a few workarounds you can try.
What to do if your desk is too low: Try placing your desk on furniture risers (UK), which can raise the height by several inches if needed. If you have a desk with interchangeable legs (like the ones from IKEA), swap them out for a better size. Otherwise, you’ll just have to buy a taller desk.
What to do if your desk is too high: Tall desks can lead to wrist issues or shoulder/neck issues depending on how you adjust to the excess height. One solution is to install a keyboard tray under the desk so your arms don’t have to reach so high. Another option is to raise your chair height and use an adjustable footrest (UK) to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle.
3. Monitor Height
After adjusting both chair and desk heights, you’ll likely run into a third problem: your computer monitor is either too high or too low. If you’re using a laptop directly on top of your desk, then your screen is definitely too low.
Incorrect monitor height can lead to all kinds of physical problems like dry eyes, eye strain, neck strain, tight shoulders, tension headaches, and more — and these small inconveniences will destroy your productivity if you don’t nip them in the bud.
How to adjust your monitor height: Ideally, the top of the screen should line up with your eyes when sitting up straight in your chair and looking straight ahead. If it’s too low, just put a few hardcover books under it to prop it up, or go fancy with an adjustable monitor stand (UK). If it’s too high, you may need to raise your chair height and place your keyboard on books to maintain the 90-degree bend in your elbows.
4. Monitor Distance
On the one hand, it’s true that the distance between your eyes and the monitor has no direct effect on your vision. But there is an indirect effect: the distance may cause you to crane your head or stop blinking your eyes or constantly squint, all of which can cause various kinds of strain.
What is the proper distance for a monitor? There isn’t one. “Too close” and “too far” are subjective distances that can change depending on monitor size, screen resolution, how good your eyesight is, and the space limitations of your desk. Start with the monitor at arm’s length and adjust so that you can read without having to tilt your head or hunch forward.
5. Lighting Setup
It’s a well-known fact that long-term exposure to artificial lighting can lead to mood and productivity issues. It can even contribute to seasonal affective disorder (“winter depression”). Natural light plays an important role in mental health, so don’t neglect the position of your desk relative to the windows in your office.
Is lack of natural light the only problem? No. Whether your work desk is under natural or artificial light, you should make sure that your screen brightness matches the brightness of ambient light. Lots of light around you? Brighter screen. Not so much light? Darker screen. This will prevent eye strain, which can lead to computer fatigue and deadened productivity.
6. Workstation Clutter
Cognitive clutter is real. The messier your workspace, the more mental energy is required to process all of that messiness, and that mental energy detracts from your other tasks. If you think of your brain as a CPU, workspace clutter is like a rogue app that takes up CPU cycles even while idle.
And that’s why clearing clutter is good for productivity. It’s one of those things that you don’t realize is bogging you down, but as soon as you take the time to clean up, you’ll notice the cognitive benefits right away — and the benefits cannot be understated.
Here are a few tips to help you minimize clutter: As a rule of thumb, if you use it every single day, then it can stay on your desk. Otherwise, stash it away in a drawer or cabinet and pull it out as needed. Keep a trash bin next to your desk so you can effortlessly toss waste. If you need to save a document, scan it as a PDF before tossing it.
7. Office Environment
You’d be surprised how much one single change in environment can impact your workflow. If the room feels like a sterile hospital ward, your brain might refuse to work — unless you prefer it to be sterile, in which case plants and decorations could just end up as distractions.
There is no such thing as a “perfect” office environment. What’s ideal for me may be the opposite of what’s best for you. The important thing is that you identify what works for you and make it happen. Not sure where to start? No problem.
Environment details that tend to boost productivity: Indoor plants have been shown to prevent fatigue during attention-demanding work. Warmer office temperatures have also been linked to improved output and fewer mistakes. For the color of walls, reds and whites can stifle productivity while soft blue and green colors can aid in concentration.
What About Standing Desks?
We know that sitting too long is detrimental to health, and because of that, standing desks have surged in popularity over the past decade. Standing desks can be great, but they come with a number of caveats: you must use them properly to reap the benefits. And according to some recent studies, standing still all day may not be much better than sitting all day.
So here’s what I do: I have both. I alternate between my sitting desk and my standing desk every hour. This prevents me from staying stationary and reminds me to move around every so often. This can be tough if you have a desktop computer, so consider investing in an adjustable standing desk.
Hopefully these tips have helped to transform your desk into a productivity platform. If you have any other tips or tricks that we may have missed, please share them with us below!
Image Credits: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock