Ouch! When you hurt at work and how to fix it

Posted August 21, 2018 to .

Tags: Legal Office, monitor, keyboard, mouse, productivity

I have been working a "desk job" for what feels like all of my life. At one point in my life, I sat behind a desk from 9 to 5 and afterward worked a retail job on my feet from 6 to 11.

It was not until around 2014 when I started receiving Chiropractic care that I realized work was not the problem, I was. Literally, I sat in a cubical that was set up all wrong and sat in a broken chair that just made matters worse.

Years ago, Carol wrote an article for New Jersey Lawyer, entitled "Aches and Pains? Here's what to do." She discussed problems stemming from sitting in front of a computer or laptop for hours each day. We have combined our tips to share with you to help you work smarter.

Positioning Yourself

In Feng Shui, there is a concept of placing yourself in a commanding position or power position. Silly as it may sound, the elders who came up with this may have been on to something.

  • Check your posture. Good posture will help avoid stress injuries or avoidable trauma to the body. If you sit up straight in your chair with your head resting naturally, is everything where it should be? Is the keyboard or mouse out of reach? Is the monitor too high or too low? Are the most important items or pieces of information too close or too far away?
  • Monitor your monitor. Is your monitor directly in front of you? Are you affected by glare from natural sunlight or from the fixed positioning of a light fixture? Best practices recommend that the middle of your monitor should be around eye level and 20 to 26 inches away from you. Free apps like Flu.x  can automatically adjust the brightness as the outside light conditions change.  Don’t forget your phone monitor and your position with it. My neck hurts just thinking about working on my phone!
  • Keys to ergonomics and efficiency! You know which keyboards I am talking about. Carol summed it up best when she said, "these looked like someone stretched out the space between the middle keys." As weird as these keyboards may look, they were made to help typists avoid wear and tear to their hands and wrists. Issues like ulnar deviation, carpal tunnel syndrome, and Tenosynovitis (medical speak for Texting Thumb). Changing from a regular flat keyboard to an ergonomic keyboard takes some getting used to but it so worth the investment when you think of your health.
  • Move your mouse. Mice, and not the furry kind, have come a long way since their creation and implementation. You can also find an ergonomic mouse or trackball. It looks like a weirdly shaped rock. This is to follow the natural shape of your hand. Similar to the ergonomic keyboard, they were designed to help avoid injury. Best practices recommend that you keep your mouse close to you, so you can keep a natural 90-degree angle in your arm. If you cannot accomplish this easily, you may want to look at your desk set up including your chair height or into alternative solutions such as a trackball.  If you suffer from neck pain, moving your mouse to the other side (e.g. if you are right-handed, set your mouse up on the left side of your keyboard) and changing the buttons may go a long way to relieve neck issues as you are working a different set of muscles. 

Planning placement for productivity

At one firm I worked for the mail bins sat on a filing cabinet behind me. Unless I had eyes in the back of my head I was not able to see when the mail came or left. This taught me the importance of placement. Years later, when I started my own business as a freelance paralegal, I took the time to plan my desk and how the work would flow to make sure I maximized my productivity. This probably sounds easy but overwhelmed me when I sat down to the task at hand (pun intended).

Speaking of hands- which is your dominant hand- left or right? As a right-handed person, I know I have it easy. While I can't speak to the experience of the left-handed, I can make some recommendations regardless of dexterity.

Make sure you set your mouse on your dominant side (unless you have neck aches as mentioned above). You can set your mouse up to be lefty friendly and switch the button functions, so a right-click becomes a left click.

  • Where does your work come in to/ out of? Maximize your desk space by moving the work across your desk in a way that makes sense to you. For example, if your attorney/secretary leaves work on the top left corner of your desk, do you put it back there when you are done with it or do you move it someplace else? Let me guess, it's probably to a separate pile or the other side of your desk. If your style is more out of sight out of mind, set up inboxes and outboxes to help focus only on what is in front of you.
  • Take a stand. In law, the "stand" usually refers to the witness stand in a courtroom. The stand I am referring to is a little more technical. Assess what you do and how you do it and consider using a document stand if you do a lot of reading. I know litigators love this because they can hold up a letter or motion and keep it there while drafting a response. Similarly, real estate attorneys do this with contracts. With cell phones and tablets being used more and more you may want to invest in a cell phone stand to make it easier to read your cell phone screen and take your clients calls or read court notifications, emails, and text messages. One of the newer options is a standing desk which lets you elevate your monitors and work standing up.  Everyone I know who has one loves it for the extra little cardio they get during the workday. 
  • Telling time. The clock is not a new invention. I doubt it will ever be reinvented. That said I have seen attorneys with all the time telling devices known to man still show up late to life. When I set up my own business I was guilty of losing track of time. The answer: tell time differently. I love listening to music while I work. So I stole (yes, stole) my husband's Bose alarm clock and placed it on my desk next to where I keep my pile of work to be done. This allowed me to check the time when I looked in that direction and be more conscious of time constraints. Now I ask myself if I have enough time to start my next task before my next call or meeting? If I can't start and complete a task, I use the time gap to prepare for the next event, bathroom breaks, water drinking, and quick mental breathers such as stretching or meditating on a positive thought and refocusing on a goal.

The secret sauce

As a bonus tip, I wanted to suggest a time management product that helps me avoid being overwhelmed and exhausted- the Pomodoro technique. It is based on the idea that your brain can only fire at all cylinders for 20-25 minutes at a time. After 20-25 minutes your brain function starts to trail off. But the brain is an amazing muscle and can reset to full speed after only a 5-minute break. My personal trainer introduced me to this and it was life-altering. You can learn more about this idea and its creator here.

Hopefully, these tips not only take the ouch out of work but keep you out of the doctor's office. We would love your feedback! Did we miss any tips? Do you use any of these tips?