Developing Perspective

#105: An Ergonomic Work Environment.


00:00:00   Hello, and welcome to Developing Perspective.

00:00:03   Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of note in iOS development, Apple, and

00:00:07   the like.

00:00:08   I'm your host, David Smith.

00:00:09   I'm an independent iOS and Mac developer based in Herne, Virginia.

00:00:12   This is show number 105, and today is Friday, January 25th.

00:00:16   Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:19   All right, so the first thing I want to talk about is a bit of an announcement before I

00:00:23   get into the main topic for today's show.

00:00:25   And that is I wanted to say that I'm going to be in San Francisco next Wednesday, Thursday,

00:00:28   and Friday, coincident with Macworld.

00:00:31   I'm not really part of the Macworld Conference.

00:00:33   I'm not talking or speaking there.

00:00:34   I don't have a booth, nothing like that.

00:00:36   I just thought it would be an interesting time

00:00:37   to be in San Francisco and to potentially meet and talk

00:00:40   with interesting people.

00:00:41   So if you're going to be either out for Macworld or just

00:00:44   in San Francisco and want to get together, hang out,

00:00:48   grab a cup of coffee, whatever it is, just let me know.

00:00:51   The usual means, Twitter, email, something like that.

00:00:54   And just let me know.

00:00:55   And I'd love to meet you and hang out with you.

00:00:58   just want to let everyone know that's where I'll be. Alright, so the actual main topic I'm going to

00:01:01   talk about today, you could broadly start put into the bucket of what I think a lot of people refer

00:01:07   to as ergonomics. Though moreover, I think what I'm going to be kind of taking the the approach of

00:01:12   it of as is under creating a working environment where you can work for as long as you need to. And

00:01:20   so, you know, it's the kind of thing that my work environment should provide no strain, certainly

00:01:27   no injury, or those types of things.

00:01:29   I don't want to have my work environment be something that puts constraints on my ability

00:01:33   to work, on my ability to function in my work, and my ability to do what I'm doing.

00:01:39   That applies both on a daily basis.

00:01:41   I want to be able to do what I do for a whole day, whether that's eight hours, six hours,

00:01:47   10 hours, 20 hours.

00:01:48   I want to be able to sit and do my work or stand and do my work, however you would do

00:01:53   it.

00:01:54   But your work environment needs to allow you to do that.

00:01:56   And then secondly, and probably more importantly,

00:01:58   it has to allow you to continue to do that sort of,

00:02:01   in some ways you'd say, indefinitely into the future.

00:02:03   I am developing and nurturing a set of skills

00:02:07   that requires that I be in front of a computer,

00:02:10   and that I type, and that I interact with the computer

00:02:13   on a constant basis.

00:02:15   And if I injure myself in such a way,

00:02:17   through the way that I'm doing that,

00:02:19   that I won't be able to do that 10 years down the road,

00:02:21   that's very problematic.

00:02:22   It's not the kind of industry where you--

00:02:25   I'm not a professional football player or basketball player

00:02:27   where you make a huge salary for a couple of years

00:02:30   and you blow out your knee and it's fine.

00:02:31   To be a software engineer, to do this on a sustainable basis,

00:02:34   you really want to be able to do this for as long as you need

00:02:36   to.

00:02:37   I'd love to be able to still be a programmer doing

00:02:39   interesting projects and things 20, 30, 40, 50 years down

00:02:43   the road.

00:02:43   And in order for me to do that, I have to have good ergonomics

00:02:46   and I have to have a good setup that sort of sustains

00:02:50   and nurtures me in that.

00:02:51   And probably a good side note there is just

00:02:53   that an experience that I've had at a couple of different companies I've worked at, and

00:02:56   it's probably worth mentioning if you're someone who listens to this show, but who works in

00:03:00   but I would, you know, whatever, a nine to five typical kind of corporate job. ergonomics

00:03:06   is often something that's easier addressed than you may be thinking. A lot of places

00:03:10   will have a standing contract with someone who handles or who a professional like ergonomic

00:03:18   an analyst or those types of people who

00:03:21   can come into your office and look at your setup

00:03:23   and help improve it.

00:03:24   So it's always worth asking your human resources department

00:03:26   if that's something that the company has.

00:03:29   And then two, in my experience, any time

00:03:31   you want to make ergonomic changes to your work

00:03:33   environment, I've very rarely found a place

00:03:36   where they resist that.

00:03:39   Maybe there are probably some exceptions to that.

00:03:42   But for the most part, if you decide,

00:03:44   I really want to try a different style of keyboard.

00:03:46   I want a split format.

00:03:47   I want something slightly different.

00:03:49   Very few places will have super strong pushback on that.

00:03:52   And a lot of that, I think, has to do with, obviously,

00:03:55   workers' compensation and the fact

00:03:57   that if you injure yourself doing your job

00:03:59   and you told them that your job was affecting you

00:04:03   in a way that was negative, then they all of a sudden

00:04:05   are liable and culpable for that in a way that's

00:04:07   not great for them.

00:04:08   All right, so the first part of ergonomics

00:04:11   that I thought I'd talk about is actually--

00:04:13   I remember this was a talk I had when I was back in college.

00:04:16   I went to the University of Cambridge in England for my undergrad in computer science. And

00:04:20   at the beginning of the first semester of the first year, you have everybody in the

00:04:26   class, you know, all computer science people had to come to this mandatory lecture. And it

00:04:30   was a lot of it was to tell you, you're talking about administration, a straight of stuff, how

00:04:33   you know how the process works, what it's like to be a student there, and so on. And one of the

00:04:37   things though, at the end, they had this guy, one of the professors come up, and he talked

00:04:40   about essentially ergonomics. He talked about the importance of having not developing bad

00:04:46   habits because you will not be able to, you know, effectively complete your degree if

00:04:52   you're having trouble with these types of things. And he said something at the beginning

00:04:56   of that that I thought was rather novel, and in my experience has been very, very true,

00:05:01   that the root of good ergonomics actually stems largely from good hydration. And it's

00:05:08   It's kind of a strange thing to say, but in that if you are working in an environment

00:05:12   where you're always drinking water, you're always drinking juice, whatever it is that

00:05:15   you like to drink, but you're staying well hydrated throughout the day, it'll force you

00:05:20   on a physiological level, you'll be forced to take frequent breaks.

00:05:23   You'll be forced about every, whatever, 45 minutes, half an hour, hour, whatever it is

00:05:27   for you, be forced to get up, walk somewhere, and come back.

00:05:31   And that's just the nature of being well hydrated.

00:05:34   And so he said that, and in general, for a lot of ergonomics, the biggest problem a lot

00:05:39   of people have is that they just get stuck into one position, and they stay in that position

00:05:42   all day, for three, four, five hours, and that's very dangerous for you.

00:05:48   And so the number one thing you can do from an ergonomics perspective to protect your

00:05:51   body and to do that is to stay hydrated.

00:05:53   A, hydration is good for your body, and B, it allows you to protect yourself by taking

00:05:58   frequent breaks and forcing you to take frequent breaks, even at times that you wouldn't necessarily

00:06:02   want to or think to otherwise.

00:06:04   All right, then so now I'm going to talk through some

00:06:07   of the different parts of a good setup, at least

00:06:10   in my experience.

00:06:10   These are some of the parts of it

00:06:12   that I think are important to do.

00:06:13   And as you're listening to this, if you're in your office

00:06:16   or if you get an X in your office, some of the things

00:06:18   that I think are good to think about and to evaluate

00:06:21   in your office to look for.

00:06:23   So the first one is your chair and table.

00:06:27   Your chair is something that's probably

00:06:28   the most important part for your overall comfort.

00:06:31   I'm not going to talk about standing desks, treadmill

00:06:33   desks, all that kind of stuff.

00:06:34   That is a perfectly valid and interesting side of this

00:06:38   that a lot of people like and prefer.

00:06:40   In my experience, I've never been in a situation

00:06:42   where that really worked out well for me.

00:06:44   So I've just, in general, I sit for most of my job,

00:06:47   which I'm sure is killing me in some ways.

00:06:49   You always hear these reports about people

00:06:51   who sit all day live less time than people who stand all day.

00:06:55   And this is something that I may try more fully down the road.

00:06:58   But right now, I sit in a chair.

00:07:00   Having a good comfortable chair is, I think,

00:07:02   an important part of it.

00:07:03   You can spend a lot of money on that.

00:07:04   You can spend a little bit of money on that.

00:07:06   Important parts, I think, of a comfortable chair

00:07:08   is that it should support your body without you putting you

00:07:12   into an awkward position.

00:07:14   So it should follow the contour of your back a little bit.

00:07:17   It should have a long enough leg bed

00:07:20   so that your legs aren't in tension the whole time.

00:07:23   It should be adjustable vertically

00:07:25   so that your leg can be at the right appropriate angle.

00:07:28   I think I like it just slightly beyond a 90 degree angle.

00:07:31   It feels very comfortable for me.

00:07:33   I use a Herman Miller Embody Chair,

00:07:36   which is one of those chairs which is a very dangerous thing

00:07:38   if you ever sit in one.

00:07:40   The first time I went into a store and sat in one,

00:07:42   I was like, oh my goodness.

00:07:44   You just ruined all the other chairs here

00:07:45   because it is so comfortable.

00:07:47   It is kind of an amazing thing.

00:07:50   Of course, it's also incredibly expensive.

00:07:51   So be careful of trying one out if you can't afford one.

00:07:55   It's sort of a comment I always-- I remember a friend of mine

00:07:57   When he first got a BMW, he said--

00:08:00   I was asking what it was like to drive.

00:08:01   And he said, well, the problem is,

00:08:03   once I took it for a test drive, I

00:08:05   couldn't drive any other cars.

00:08:07   So just be careful.

00:08:08   You don't want to--

00:08:09   it's like, if you can afford one, great.

00:08:11   If not, just find a comfortable chair.

00:08:13   I mean, for a long time, I had a relatively inexpensive chair.

00:08:17   And it was fine, as long as I adjusted it and corrected it

00:08:20   appropriately.

00:08:21   Sometimes you have to put-- maybe you

00:08:23   were putting a cushion at the bottom to support

00:08:24   the curve of your back and the lower part.

00:08:27   Whatever it is.

00:08:27   make sure that's comfortable. Desk is one of those funny things that some people spend

00:08:32   a lot of money on desks, I've never really found the need to do that. I think a desk

00:08:35   itself is something that I just like a nice big wide workspace. I want something that

00:08:40   allows me to access and re-end deal with all of what I need on a day on a regular basis

00:08:45   without having to do, you know, reach and lean in awkward in awkward ways. And it should

00:08:51   be at a height that lets you either adjust its height to fit the rest of it, or be at

00:08:58   the height so that when you're in your ergonomic setup, so when you're sitting in your chair

00:09:03   at the appropriate level, so your leg is at a 90 degree angle, your arms, when they touch

00:09:09   the keyboard, should also be loose and free at your side, which I'll talk about a little

00:09:13   bit when I talk about keyboard in a moment.

00:09:15   But basically, you want to make sure your desk isn't constraining your work environment

00:09:18   in that way.

00:09:19   be just-- most desks, I think, are probably

00:09:21   designed for someone who is probably between, I don't know,

00:09:25   maybe less like 5, 8 to 6 foot, something like that, it seems.

00:09:29   I have no idea what that is in metric.

00:09:31   But at least in the United States,

00:09:32   that seems to be a standard desk height, which,

00:09:34   if you're in that range, works pretty well.

00:09:36   But if you're particularly tall or particularly short,

00:09:38   you might need to adjust your desk appropriately.

00:09:40   The next thing, and this is very important,

00:09:42   and something that I used to not really pay attention to,

00:09:44   is you want your monitor to be at a height such

00:09:48   that your eye level, when you're looking straight ahead,

00:09:51   I find it works best is if you're about a third down

00:09:54   on your monitor-- and this is the main display

00:09:56   that you're working on-- if you have multiple displays,

00:09:59   whatever one you're kind of looking at most of the time,

00:10:01   you want it to be about that level.

00:10:04   So when you're looking straight ahead,

00:10:05   you're hitting about the line that's

00:10:08   a third down on the monitor.

00:10:10   And that's because you want to be able to keep

00:10:12   your neck in a neutral position so that you're looking straight

00:10:14   ahead for the most part.

00:10:15   Obviously, your eyes are going to be moving around.

00:10:17   I have a nice 27-inch display.

00:10:19   And so my head is moving around within that.

00:10:23   But a lot of people, especially I find with Mac monitors,

00:10:27   they have a very short stand compared

00:10:29   to the height of the monitor.

00:10:31   And so I always have to find that I take that monitor

00:10:34   and I have to put it up on something.

00:10:35   It's a book.

00:10:36   It's a box.

00:10:36   I think right now the one in front of me

00:10:38   is sitting on an iPad One box, just the little white box

00:10:41   that it came in, which for me works perfectly.

00:10:43   And you just want to elevate it up so that you're not

00:10:45   looking down, so that you're not kind of straining your neck

00:10:47   the entire day.

00:10:49   Because that's, again, just one of those problematic things.

00:10:51   You want everything in your body to be as neutral as possible.

00:10:54   You want it to feel as though you could just

00:10:56   sit in that position and be totally comfortable,

00:10:58   be fairly relaxed throughout the entire day.

00:11:01   And the next part is your keyboard.

00:11:03   And this is probably the most important part

00:11:07   in terms of-- this is probably the most controversial part,

00:11:11   too.

00:11:12   I find that your keyboard is the thing

00:11:13   that you're trying to-- if you're trying to avoid getting

00:11:16   RSI, which is one of the biggest fears I think anyone

00:11:19   in this industry has, is getting repetitive stress injury.

00:11:22   There's all kinds of forms and various of that.

00:11:24   And it's fairly not particularly well understood.

00:11:26   But the part of it that is understood

00:11:28   is that if you are working not in a great way

00:11:32   or in a manner that is uncomfortable to your body,

00:11:34   putting a lot of tension and stress in your body,

00:11:36   you'll hurt the tendons in your forearms and arms and hands

00:11:40   and things and create a lot of pain, which then may prevent

00:11:42   from doing your job.

00:11:44   For me, I've always used-- I think

00:11:46   this is-- I first got this keyboard probably back

00:11:49   in 2000, 2001, basically when I started working commercially.

00:11:54   And it's the Microsoft Natural split format keyboard.

00:11:58   It's relatively inexpensive.

00:11:59   I think it's about $40.

00:12:00   And it's a split format.

00:12:04   And by that, I mean the keys from A to G,

00:12:07   looking at the home row, A to G are sort of split to the left.

00:12:11   And H through the semicolon are split to the right.

00:12:15   So that when you put your hand on it,

00:12:19   your forearms are no longer parallel.

00:12:21   Your forearms instead are kind of creating a trapezoid.

00:12:25   Yeah, it's a trapezoid.

00:12:27   Which is a very natural position.

00:12:29   If you were to kind of just naturally put your arms out

00:12:32   in front of you and make your wrists parallel,

00:12:34   you immediately-- even if you do it right now--

00:12:37   you put your arms out.

00:12:38   And then you turn in your elbows to make your forearms

00:12:41   parallel, you already feel a little bit of tension.

00:12:44   The natural position, the one with the least amount of work,

00:12:48   is in that trapezoidal position.

00:12:50   And so for me, I find a split format keyboard great.

00:12:53   Some people don't like the clickiness of it or whatever.

00:12:55   I mean, there's millions of things like that.

00:12:57   There's really fancy keyboards you

00:12:59   can get into that have all the cherry switches and stuff

00:13:03   that I never really cared too much about.

00:13:06   But I find that the split format is great for me.

00:13:10   Secondary to that is that you saw it was great to get

00:13:12   a good mouse.

00:13:14   I use-- and this for mice in general,

00:13:16   I find that the best things you can find are almost always

00:13:19   from gamers.

00:13:20   So I use a gaming mouse.

00:13:21   I use a Razer DeathAdder.

00:13:25   And the reason I say gaming mice are the best

00:13:27   is they're designed and engineered

00:13:29   for people who use a mouse in a way that most of us never would.

00:13:34   If you watch someone who's a competitive StarCraft 2 player,

00:13:37   you'll see that they are using the mouse in a way

00:13:39   that none of us ever would, moving it thousands and thousands of thousands of times in an

00:13:43   hour.

00:13:44   And so the ergonomics and the experience of that are really good.

00:13:46   Putting it on a nice mouse pad is actually something that I recently did.

00:13:49   I got a SteelSeries 4HD mouse pad and it's fantastic.

00:13:54   It has this really nice feel in terms of the friction of the surface and that creates,

00:13:59   I think, a lot less sort of friction and tension whenever I'm using my mouse.

00:14:02   So definitely recommend getting both of those.

00:14:05   And that's kind of the experience and that's kind of how I set it up.

00:14:07   My goal, like I said, is that if I come into my office and I sit down and I'm in my normal

00:14:11   work position, that I should feel no tension or stress anywhere in my body.

00:14:16   I should be able to hold that position with great comfort for however long as I need to.

00:14:21   And it's really important.

00:14:22   I can't emphasize this long enough.

00:14:23   I've known enough people in this industry who end up just working.

00:14:27   It's like they're crunched over a laptop all day, every day, and just end up hurting themselves.

00:14:33   It's just a terrible, tragic thing that can have really big impacts in your career.

00:14:37   So please take care of yourself.

00:14:39   All right, that's it for today's show.

00:14:41   As always, if you have questions, comments, concerns, or complaints, I'm on Twitter @_davidsmith.

00:14:46   I'm on AppNet @davidsmith.

00:14:47   If you want to email me, my email is david@david-smith.org.

00:14:51   And I look forward to seeing you in San Francisco.

00:14:53   And as always, happy coding, and I will talk to you next week.