When you think of all the places where you might risk injury, you probably think about the gym, or maybe the basketball court if your firm fields a team.
You probably don’t think about your office itself.
And yet, we spend a lot of time in our offices. When you consider just what we’re doing while seated at our desks—staring at computer screens, hunching over documents, clicking away on a mouse—for hours at a time, you’ll begin to see why simply working as a lawyer can be quite tough on your body. It can be a surprising realization, since sitting at a desk clicking away on a computer isn’t supposed to be taxing.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to optimize your work environment for both your health and comfort. You just need to know where to start.
Assuming you spend most of your time working seated (and not at a standing desk—more on those later), your chair is arguably the most important part of your office setup. To start with, your chair should be as adjustable as possible in order to fit you appropriately and encourage good posture. When seated, your feet should be flat on the floor and your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Armrests, if you use them, should fit gently below your arms, so that you can rest on them without any tension in your shoulders.
Your chair should also support the curve of your spine, and thus shouldn’t have a perfectly straight back. If you find your office chair doesn’t offer enough lumbar support, a quick Google search will point you in the direction of extra cushions at every price range. In a pinch, even a rolled-up towel will do.
Just like with your chair, the height of your desk is important to your posture and comfort. Ideally, you’ll have a desk with adjustable height – but if not, and it’s too short, lifting the desk on risers or blocks will do. It’s crucial for your legs to fit under your desk easily, which in most cases will be simple as long as your chair is adjustable. If the edge of your desk closest to you is hard, sharp, or uncomfortable in any way, you’ll definitely want to employ a wrist wrest.
If your desk has a slide-out keyboard tray (and it’s comfortable for you to use) your elbows should be bent at about 90 degrees when your hands rest on it. Make sure both your keyboard and your mouse are on it, as well, so you’re not going back and forth between the top of your desk and the tray.
Is your computer monitor perfectly at eye level, or are you finding yourself often straining your neck, squinting at the screen, or turning to the left or right? Whether you have one monitor or a few, you shouldn’t have to move or strain to see anything. No matter its height and whether you find you need to employ a monitor stand, your monitor should sit about an arm’s length in front of you.
When it comes to your keyboard and mouse, as mentioned above, it’s OK to use them either on the top of your desk or a keyboard tray if your desk comes with one – so long as they’re both on the same surface. Either way, they should be placed as close together as possible and in such a way that you don’t have to bend your wrists to switch between them. Keeping your wrists from bending is important; some people find keyboard pads to be helpful. Whether you use one or not, you should aim to keep your upper arms close to your body as you type and click.
Your Other Stuff
Your desk, chair, and computer are three of the easiest improvements you can make to your office ergonomics, but there are other ways to get your work environment in line with your health. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Hold the Phone: If you frequently use a phone (mobile or landline), aim to keep it on speaker or use a headset instead of using your shoulder to hold it up to your ear.
- Take a Stand: Sitting all day, every day isn’t good for anyone. Standing desks are an increasingly popular way to make sure you’re not in your seat for hours at a time. If a standing desk isn’t an option, make sure to stand up and walk around at least once every hour – yes, even if you’re in the middle of an important case.
- Have a Ball: Need to work on core strength and refine your posture? Some lawyers swap out traditional desk chairs for balance balls, like the ones you find at the gym.
- Keep Your Vision 20/20: Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid the eye strain caused by staring at a computer for hours at a time. There is, however, the “20/20 rule,” a method for mitigating it: For every 20 minutes you spend staring at your screen, spend 20 seconds staring at something off in the distance. This will help give your muscles a chance to relax and refocus.