Recently, Frugal Dad posted an article on making space around your home more productive. The options given were:
- Convert spare bedrooms, garages or back porches to a home gym.
- Create a home office with just a feet of empty wall space.
- Plant vegetables in a table top, square foot garden on your balcony or porch.
- Turn your formal dining room into a den, study or playroom.
- Create a reading and meditation nook.
I wanted to focus in on the idea of creating a home office. I have a few suggestions to make it both productive and ergonomic while still sticking to Frugal Dads’ idea of not taking up too much space.
Making Your Home Office Productive
If offices aren’t distracting enough, a home office can be even more distracting. Here are two basic, yet very influential, tips to keeping your home office productive.
Follow the Paper Trail & Keep it Accessible
When I took on my role at my company, one of the things I did was shadow the person who was training me for a few days. I have noticed that a lot of times “shadowing” becomes relaxation time and the biggest accomplishments wind up being office gossip, mastering the new coffee pot, and killer YouTube searches. However, I decided to look at the desk as a “system” and figure out an efficient paperwork flow chart.
What did I find?
- She was wasting paper and money printing paperwork that was never used by anyone. These reports are available through the supply chain and inventory programs we use. She also saved an electronic copy to the company shared server, which is backed up in case of failure. I checked with compliance and asked if this paperwork needed to be printed, or if an electronic copy was ok. Turns out all we needed was an electronic copy.
- She would print out a boat load of paperwork to cover her butt, and then toss it every month. Once again, these were all reports that were emailed to her. She printed them so her mailbox wouldn’t get full. I simply created an archive in Outlook and copy any important documents over. I also got a recycling container to limit paper waste.
- Lastly, she would file urgent/important documents together with product forecasts and bills from suppliers. When someone asked her for a copy of ___, it would literally take 10 minutes to find the paperwork. I have since separated everything into logical divisions using the combination of a wire mesh paper rack and filing cabinets and can find paperwork within minutes.
These aren’t huge productivity killers, but it definitely made finding the important paperwork more difficult. It was also incredibly wasteful of natural resources and our companies money.
Find Your Balance of “White Space and Color”
In publishing and art, white space is used to de-clutter, to make things less confusing or overwhelming. White space is emptiness, it is nothing. Without white space, you risk your information being lost down an abyss… never to return. The idea of white space is 100% applicable to your office.
All you need to do is look at this office to realize that:
What are some things that immediately jump out at you? Obviously, the paperwork. If you asked him or her to find you a document, could they do so easily? This person needs a better organization system. Once that is solved, it would be a good idea to make this desk a little more “homey” by adding some flowers, desk “ornaments” or pictures on the wall. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, you need to enjoy it!
What does a well-organized desk that utilizes “white space” look like?
Notice the flowers, lighting on the desk, papers filed on the right in both an organized and accessible manner, and the usage of wicker accessories to give the desk an even more “homey” feel.
Making Your Home Office Ergonomic
If you work at your desk for at least a few hours every day, you probably know the feeling of a sore back, eyestrain, aching wrists, and stiff knees. Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. The idea behind ergonomics is that you design your work area for maximum productivity, safety, and comfort.
Hands and Wrists
The largest contributing factors to the soreness you feel in your hands and wrists are the keyboard and mouse you are using.
You’ve probably seen the funky ergonomic keyboards before. What’s the idea? The soreness you feel in your hands and wrists is due to blood circulation being cut off to that area. This is because people typically have their hands angle in towards the center of the keyboard (think of the “G” key as the focal point with your forearms pointing at the key coming from the corner a bit). Optimally, though, your hands and wrists should be in a straight-line with your forearm.
There are plenty of keyboards that can help in doing this, but here is one: Kinesis Freestyle Solo Keyboard. What are the advantages? It has a zero-degree slope so that you are not extending your wrists. The keyboard can be split into a left and right piece, further aiding comfort and ensuring you keep your hands, wrist, and forearm in a straight line.
And what kind of mouse can help relieve stress placed on your hands and wrists? One of them, the Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3. And I was so taken by the first review on Amazon, that I couldn’t do the product justice:
In terms of my experience with this product, I have assisted several thousand workers with mouse-related injuries over the past 13 years, working for 10 years as a rehabilitation ergonomist […]. I have recommended the Evoluent literally thousands of times and have found it to be highly effective in the rehabilitation of upper-limb disorders, when used correctly.
In terms of training/qualification, I have an MSc (with distinction) in Health Ergonomics,[…]. My thesis was on ‘The Influence of Workstation Layout on Working Postures.’ I have taught many professional courses on computer ergonomics. I am currently (2008) engaged in my PhD at Purdue University, USA. I have been a full member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society since 2004.
Let me say at the outset that I take mouse injuries very seriously; they are far more prevalent than keyboard injuries, and may be far more disabling. I am ‘independent,’ by which I mean I do not sell any products, neither am I paid to endorse any products. As a professional ergonomist, I strongly believe paid endorsements are unethical. I am paid by my clients to give impartial, effective advice, that’s all.
Back injuries are also common from sitting at a desk because of poor posture either related to the height of the seat or the angle of the seat. One way to fix the issue is get a chair that has the ability to adjust its height and angle at which the back rest contacts your back.
However, chairs can get quite expensive. A cheaper alternative would be to elevate your legs while sitting at your desk. Elevating your legs naturally takes some of the pressure off of your lower back. One tool to help you in this quest is the Kensington SoleSaver Footrest. The foot rest has 3 variable heights and 3 variable tilts you can choose from. By using this during extended periods of sitting at a desk, you will increase circulation and decrease pressure on your lower back.
The healthy body can only tolerate staying in one position for about 20 minutes. That is why sitting on an airplane, at a desk in an office chair, or at a movie theatre becomes uncomfortable after a short time.
If you don’t feel like buying it, at least get up and stretch every 20 minutes. Or put some phone books down there to elevate your feet somewhat!
Go Get Some Work Done!
Hopefully, following Frugal Dad’s advice to utilize space in your house for a home office accompanied with my advice to make that home office both productive and ergonomic will set you up for success!
I only touched on 2 ways to increase productivity and 2 ways to improve ergonomics, so there are plenty of others out there. If you have any more suggestions, please bounce them off of me and the readers in the comments!