Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Six ways to avoid being killed by work

Disclaimer: in this post the topic of "work" refers to probably the least dangerous of all jobs, sitting at a computer and pushing buttons. Also, all medical claims in this post vary in their factuality based on the authors whim.

If you stare at a computer long enough you will get eyestrain, maybe headaches, sometimes nausea and possibly diarrhea. Maybe you get paid to stare at the computer all day, maybe you're addicted to social networking sites, maybe both - regardless of why you stare at the screen all day you should consider a few ways to reduce the chances of eye-strain, headaches, tension, and a variety of other ills.

1. Make yourself comfortable

Ergonomics, schmergonomics. You heard of those, right? (I'm slouching something fierce right now) I'm not going to go into detail about sitting on a new funky chair designed to make work more enjoyable. Laptops and mobile devices have made computing from a variety of places (some much less ergonomically sound than others) much easier and more common. I'm a fan of "make yourself comfortable." If you're not comfortable and you stay in a position too long something will either get pulled, strained, knotted or possibly just stronger. There is absolutely no reason to keep yourself in an uncomfortable position for extended periods of time, unless you're practicing the westernized version of yoga, in which case you're cool.

2. Take frequent breaks

I've read a variety of conflicting reports about breaks increasing productivity. While most don't agree on exactly exactly how often and how long breaks should be, most all reports claim that breaks are good for you. As for the frequency and duration of optimal break-time I really think this is up to the individual, some people can concentrate at a higher capacity longer than others. But when you're concentrating on something its pretty easy to forget about taking a break. If you're sitting motionless for a majority of your work a break that gets the blood pumping can be extra beneficial. Also I think there's great benefit to getting outside, especially if you're a cube worker - maybe run out to your car to grab that important document or something, and while you're at it take the long way around the parking lot, maybe crossing the street to enjoy that little park you've never noticed. Breaks are good for the eyes, the mind and can often lead to great insights on problems with elusive solutions. Go on, try it before you continue onto number three.

3. Exercise your eye muscles
If you're staring at a screen all day your eyes don't get much re-focusing and they could get stuck that way. Really! There's a variety of exercises for your eyes but the simplest way I know is to occasionally focus on something far away for about 5-10 seconds then shift your focus to something much closer for 5-10 seconds.
Luckily there's a window near most of my computing areas, I like to stare way off into the distance and try to make out details in trees or on mountains and then focus on some of the little scrapes and scratched that occasionally show up on my hands.

4. Kill the fluorescents

If you, like me, work in a place with overhead fluorescent lighting and have to stare at a screen for extended periods (and especially if you're working on image-heavy stuff), I'd highly recommend purchasing some task lighting. I've purchased Ott lights and use them instead of the overhead lights when working with images, this also helps improve color-accuracy since your monitor is getting bombarded with other light.

5. Don't forget to blink!
Sounds silly, but its very true. We don't blink as often when we're zombies in front of a monitor. I taped a note to one of my computers that says "don't forget to blink" - seems to work as a reminder. I've heard you can just not blink at all and use eye-drops instead but I, for some reason, don't do eye drops or contacts - creeps me out.

6. Avoid carpal tunnel syndrome

I suppose there's something important about avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injuries. Yeah, probably just avoid them. I like to shake my hands out every so often, but its easy to forget unless I notice cramping. Which leads me off topic... do you remember having writers cramp? Back in the day when people used pointy objects to write on paper? Did people get carpal tunnel from writing (by hand)? Just wondering.


I'm sure there are plenty of websites to help prevent you from injuring yourself at work, or due to work - I didn't even bring up any dangerous jobs, I'm mostly thinking of computer workers and computer workers are so smart they probably know all these things already, huh?

What are some of your favorite ways to insure that you're not killing yourself at work? Leave me some comments & don't forget to blink!

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Hi, leave a comment! I moderate them, but I'm usually pretty quick about it. Keep your comments friendly and helpful.
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John