Monday, January 05, 2009

Laptop Ergonomics for Mobile Professionals

Tips for good ergonomics on the road ...

"The New Year is a great time to get yourself organized and make virtuous resolutions. It's also as good as any to face an unpleasant fact: Your notebook is not your friend. Yes, it helps you be productive. But here's what happens when you're using a laptop on the road: You tilt your neck down to look at the screen. Meanwhile, you bend your wrists in order to type on the keyboard. And you do this for hours--in hotel rooms, airplanes, conference rooms, and other places not exactly known for proper ergonomic set-ups.

"Laptops are inherently unergonomic--unless you're 2 feet tall," is how physician Norman J. Marcus put it recently in The Wall Street Journal.

What can you do about it? Read on.
At the Office

When you're working at home or at the office, you've got a lot more control over your ergonomics. Some essential tips:

Attach an ergonomic keyboard. In the mid 90s, I was diagnosed with tendonitis caused by poor ergonomics and too much typing. An ergonomics expert recommended I switch to the M15 split keyboard, which was branded by IBM and Lexmark, an IBM spin-off. The idea is that a split keyboard minimizes strain on your hands and wrists, because you don't have to keep stretching to reach the keys in the middle of the keyboard. Trust me: This isn't marketing hooey. I faithfully used the long-discontinued keyboard with good results for years.

I recently switched to the Kinesis Freestyle Solo ($99), which is available for PCs and Macs. The Solo's keys are quiet (unlike the clackety-clack of the Lexmark keyboard) and comfortable to press. I've tried other ergonomic keyboards, such as the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 ($25 and up), but the Freestyle Solo is the only one I recommend. Yes, a split keyboard takes some getting used to--but it's well worth it.

Get a trackball. While you're upgrading your ergonomics, stop fooling around with a mouse. The ergonomics expert I consulted steered me toward trackballs. They're easier on your hands because you don't have to grip them, as you do a mouse. You just move the ball gently with one or more fingers and click a button. I recommend the Kensington Expert Mouse ($85 and up), which despite its name isn't a mouse but a trackball.

Add an external monitor. Unless your laptop has a 17-inch screen, I'd recommend attaching an external monitor of at least that size. Be sure to position it properly; check this diagram to see what I mean. Dual monitors give you productivity benefits, too. You could have your e-mail open on one screen and your Web browser on another, saving you from having to jump between them. For tips and suggestions on setting this up, read Steve Bass's "Dual Monitors, the Only Way to Go."    (Continued via PC World)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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