Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Keyboarding Hazards

How to Write on the Computer and Stay Healthy

By Dorry C. Pease
2005,
Dorry C. Pease


Writers, by nature, seem to have a need to spend hours in front of the computer preparing their masterpiece.  With an occasional stretch and another dose of muscle ointment, off they go into the night, hunched over the keyboard typing, skimming, making changes as eyes strain under the bright desk lamp.  

Although this image tends to be the popular concept of a good writer, unhealthy typing habits may actually prevent successful submissions.  Repetitive tasks, such as typing for long periods, may cause musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Excessive stress, burnout, writer's block, a lack of focus and the inability to produce effectively also may result from unhealthy writing behavior.

Be safe; examine your writing habits. Below, I have outlined a few simple steps that may help safeguard your health and aid in the production of your epic masterpiece.

  • Arrange the work area for comfort. 

If you are uncomfortable at your computer, unable to focus on the monitor in front of you or concentrate on your writing:

1.      Choose a chair that provides support for your lower back.  

2.      Adjust work surface height for your natural body position.  

3.      Clear under the desk for comfortable leg positioning.

4.      Center the keyboard in front of you with the mouse close at hand and on the same level as the keyboard, about elbow height.

5.      Place items used on a frequent basis within arm's reach; move your arms to reach the distant keys.

6.      Prop up the keyboard to keep wrists straight and fingers as flexible as possible. 

7.      Type with hands and wrists floating above the keyboard. 

Some of these items may take practice, but your health is worth it.

  • Protect your back, shoulders and neck.

Before you grab that back-supporting pillow, massage your neck and shoulders for the third time in less than an half hour, or rub eyes that sting, take time to adjust your monitor.

1.      Center your monitor in front of you with the top of the screen at eye level or place the documents in front of you and your monitor to one side.  This will help reduce eyestrain. 

2.      Use a document holder at eye level to relieve eye stress.

3.      Position the monitor at arm's length.

4.      Avoid glare. Turn the monitor away from direct light sources and adjust window covers to block sunlight that may reflect off furniture.

5.      Regulate monitor brightness and font size so you are not straining to read.  

  • Tread lightly.

Three types of low force used while working on the computer and when repeated over long periods may be hazardous to your physical health.

a)        Dynamic force is force exerted through repetitive movements, such as pressing hard on keys or clicking the mouse button.

b)        Static force is used for holding the mouse or cradling the phone while typing.

c)        Contact force is a kind of low force that results from resting your wrists on the edge of your desk as you type. 

To avoid the problems these forces create:

1.        Keep your hands and fingers relaxed on the keyboard and when clicking the mouse use a light touch.

2.        Avoid resting your palms or wrists on any surface while typing. 

3.        Relax your arms and hands when not typing. 

4.        Hold the mouse with a relaxed hand. 

5.        Adjust your chair so the seat doesn't press against the back of your knees.

  • Vary computer work with play.

Taking a break from computer work is not something you should do when the mood strikes.  It is a necessity and, done regularly, lessens the stress and tension resulting from hours at the keyboard.

Setting a timer is a good strategy to follow.  It will help to remind you when it's time to do something else.

When it rings:

1.        Move away from the work area.  Drink a beverage, sit on the porch, rest your brain, read a silly book, write in your journal.  Wash the dishes, vacuum the living room, or visit with members of your family. 

2.        Move from sitting while typing to standing while talking on the phone. You are being productive while using a different set of muscles.

3.        Plan your work and play so that one is not performed to the exclusion of the other. 

4.        Use different input devices on your computer:

a)    Perform a scrolling task using the mouse wheel or the arrow keys instead of clicking the mouse. 

b)    Set and use keyboard shortcuts to change your routine.

c)     Work with software and hardware on your computer to reduce effort and increase productivity.  Review written work using the document editing features, use the spell check before visually checking for errors, activate the grammar and spelling tools, and don't cut, copy, or paste when you can review using your processor's review tools.

d)    Change the thought pattern of your mind: edit from the bottom of your document to the top.

e)    If your mind begins to wander from your work, get up and let your body wander with your mind. 

Above all, give yourself permission to relax and you will more likely write happy and compute healthy. 

Sources:

EXPRESS Professional Staffing Services/Safety Booklet published by Express Personnel Services. Inc

Computer-Office Health Issues http://www.vickers.de/cphlth.htm 

Computers and Health http://www.theoffice.com/office/yale.htm