Tech Life I need that time

Desktop Accessories

On the list of things I do a lot, typing is up there close to breathing. It started with the Apple II forever ago and now it’s now and I’m still typing every single day and each day I wait for the sharp pains to start racing up my forearms My only guess that I haven’t been afflicted with carpel tunnel or some other repetitive stress injury is that I’m either genetically predisposed not get it or I’m not repetitively injuring myself.

My guess is the latter. I don’t think whatever genes prevent repetitive stress injury have had the necessary time to bake. You’ll have check-out my great-great-great-great grandson who will either sport these evolved RSI-friendly genes or a plug in the back of his head. Depends who wins.

A repetitive injury-free lifestyle involves adjustments to habits and environment. The single best habit you can have is a short attention span. Nothing is repetitive when you can’t focus. You think I’m joking and I kind’a am, but my understanding is that much of the RSI issue is that you stay in the same position for long periods of time where the muscles keeping you in said position get angry. This paragraph is five sentences long and I’ve changed position twice.

If you don’t have NADD, well, then you can change your environment and your environment is your desk. Here’s are my favorite desk accessories:

First, the Big Three. Monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Let’s straighten one thing out first. Any tool which is physically betweteen you and your content is worth investing in. Stop worrying about your processor speed or your front-side bus. Focus on nailing the big three, starting with:

Monitor. I’ve been here. A couple of times. Your monitors are your eyes to your content and if you aren’t spending dollars here to get two flat panel monitors then you’re spending your time organizing your content, not surfing it.

Keyboard. I used to be fussy about my keyboard. I’d swear by the Microsoft Natural keyboard, but I’ve been on Apple’s standard keyboard for many years and I don’t have any complaints. Keyboard characteristics that I care about are feel and sound which, oddly, intersect quite a bit. A semi-padded “click” is what I want to feel and hear when I hit the letter R. Too clicky, too hard, or too deep a push and I’m no longer thinking about what I’m writing, I’m thinking how annoying my keyboard has become.

Mouse. Two essentials here. Wireless and shape. I’m using a Microsoft Wireless mouse, which is a mouthful, but it feels natural in my hand. I can’t live without a right click and a scroll wheel and the mouse has both… and a bunch more buttons that I never use.

Regarding Wireless. A good measure of any tool is the average number of times a week you pick it up and throw it across the room. My average for wired mice was once a month. See, your wired mouse doesn’t stay in one region on your desk. It wanders depending on how your sitting in your chair, your posture, and how much coffee you’ve had. Each time I was sitting in odd position on a caffeine induced writing episode, my wired mouse would find that region on the desk that was inaccessible via a wired mouse. I wouldn’t notice that subtle tug the first three times I tried to drag the mouse to the unreachable… or would I? The fourth time I’d yank the thing out of it’s USB and sling it across the room. It’s one thing to have your significant other interrupt The Zone, it’s a other thing to have poorly designed non-sentient piece of crap get in the way.

Speakers or Headphones? I’ve got both and I use them depending on what I’m doing. Right now, I’m cranking Local H and sitting at my desk with my wireless headphones and a terrific glass of Pinot from Nicholson Ranch. If you walked in my office, my headphones are a handy visual clue, “Don’t bother me”. If I’m doing the same thing with speakers, I’m not in the Zone, I’m just filling time. Wireless is also essential for headphones. I’m using Sennheiser’s right now and I’m going to give them a solid B mostly because I’m so happy about not having to replace the busted headphones I kept tossing across the room. With wireless, I still need to fuss with various controls from time to time, but they work perfectly 90% of the time and they never get wrapped around my chair.

Huge Stack of Paper. Do this right now. Go walk to the closest laser printer and grab a healthy stack of paper and plop on a non-intrusive corner of your desk. Why? Because you sometimes need to write things down on paper. I know you’ve got to-do tracking application or maybe you’re using your mail application to get things done. In both cases, you still need paper. The act of writing down a something on a piece of paper gives that something more reality and if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, well, all the more reason to pilfer some paper. Don’t worry, we’ll make more.

Wander Spots. My desks at work and home have visually interesting places to take mental breaks. A stack of books, a photo… any sort of nerd knick knack that feeds your brain. This is where you stop to reflect on the last thirty seconds of your life. How am I doing? Is this feeling right? Maybe I should take another sip of wine. Ok. Back to work. These frequent mental breaks may sound like a lot of work, but these micro-breaks may very well be the reason I’m not wearing braces on my wrists. I stop. I wander. And I return to what I was doing. Sometimes.

Direction. I’ve been flip-flopping on this for years. Do you face the people who walk in your office or do you show them your back? The argument for the back is that anyone who wants to invade your space not only needs to come into your office, they also need to ask for your attention. My theory is that some small percentage of folks will spend the eighth of a second between when they walk in my office and when they ask for my attention asking themselves, “Do I really need his attention? He looks busy.” If the answer is “No”, we both save time. Whether this is true or not, I recently returned to facing my door because folks were scaring the shit out of me walking in my door, sitting down, and then asking for my attention. WHO IN THE. WELL HI.

Since my return to facing the door, I’ve realized that, as a manager, you’ve gotta face the door. That eighth of a second between when you see someone walk in the door and they say something is invaluable. Are they pissed? Is this important? Are they confused? What hat do I need to wear? All of this analysis goes down before anyone says a thing and that analysis prepares me for whatever has just walked into my space.

15 Responses

  1. julian 18 years ago

    I’ve been a fan of facing the door ever since I read about it in Feng Shui. Basically the idea is that if you can see (even from the corner of your eye) all of the places from which an attacker might come, you can have greater peace of mind. You should try to sit such that you can see any of the doors and windows in your office. Obviously this can be difficult, but I’ve found that the effort of thinking about it has been worth it.

    Coworkers and attackers are pretty much the same thing in the office setting.

  2. I’m knocking on wood as I have that same ability to avoid RSI and whatever else. I think my distraction plays a heavy part in that, but that overall I make myself comfortable. The less time I can think about the things in between me and my work, the more I can get done. But a good distraction always helps. I might need to look into a wireless mouse. All of the ones I use just have 6 foot cables.

  3. patrick 18 years ago

    Wireless good. I finally got my wireless mouse for work a couple of weeks ago. All that time getting frustrated at the stupid evil cord for getting in the way is now freed up for… well, other things I suppose.

    Wireless headphones was something I hadn’t really thought about. I may have to invest. The cable for my HD555 ‘phones irritates me constantly, but they’re awfully comfortable for all day wear.

  4. Matthew Braun 18 years ago

    A “me too” for the comment by Julian with an added note. I’ve seen it suggested that if you just can’t face the door (space requirements or whatever), hang a mirror so that you can see the doorway.

    Seriously; getting back to work after a coworker has scared the crap out of you because you didn’t hear them come up behind you is annoyingly difficult and time consuming.

  5. Also being a frequent, nay constant, typist, I am surprised I haven’t felt the shooting pains in the arms yet. Most of my activity is performed in my office at work where I can’t just up and decide to upgrade my computer without having to fill out an Authorization of Expenditure form complete with a round of approvals. Hence, I have no flat screen (much less two) and am wired on all fronts. The tricks I have employed are to 1. raise my monitor way up high because I’m tall, 2. use a piece of tape to fasten my mouse cord to the back of the desk with just enough slack that I never feel tension on it, 3. surround my desk with daughter’s artwork, 4. have plenty of paper, scratch paper, post it’s laying around, and 5. have Yahoo Launchcast customized radio playing all day long. This is especially helpful because I am in an office by myself with one small window, 4 walls and a door, at the very end of a hall that no one travels down. I don’t bother anyone, and I don’t have to listen to the HVAC hum.

  6. Alex Givant 18 years ago

    “sharp paints”??? Should it be “sharp pains”?

  7. But sharp paints is so much funnier. Fixed.

  8. Imho real fans of accesories will like this article ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I always face away from the door. Who wants to know what’s going on outside anyway?

    “The fourth time I’d the thing out of it’s USB and sling it across the room.” You’d the thing? ๐Ÿ˜›

  10. As freaky as it looks, I use this keyboard every day, and have for years.

    It does have the side effect of keeping people from using my computer.

  11. julian 18 years ago

    Matthew, the mirror idea is great, I hadn’t thought of that! That should make it easier to figure out office layouts in the future, thanks.

  12. Michael Natkin 18 years ago

    carpel -> carpal

    (apparently a carpel is some part of a flower)

  13. I’ve managed to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome due to avoiding all the recommended advice concerning good posture.. My posture is a big no-no, with my feet up on my desk or on a box of files I should have put away months ago, with my keyboard in my lap. I’ll sometimes find myself with my feet up on top my crt–at home anyway. If I tried it at work I’d probably owe the employer a new lcd. I think the reason this works is that I’m always changing positions, trying to find a comfortable position in my $50 staples chair. It also helps that my fingers have transcended the home row. Nothing is ever typed the same way twice. The only problems I have had is some minor strain from using the scroll wheel instead of the arrow keys to scan through thousands of pages.

  14. I have always been RSI-free, despite some quite scary habits of sitting curled up with keyboard on knee, until starting a new job about 9 months ago. After some messing about, time off sick and a modification to my desk I’m back at work but still not quite right. A Kensington Expert trackball has really helped and I’m working on training myself to use it with alternate hands.

    Rands, I do think you’re right about the fidgeting, I work in a cramped office facing a wall with a co-worker so close beside me he’s probably reading this now. There just isn’t space to keep moving around although maybe I’ll just go ahead and annoy everyone regardless!

  15. Floid 17 years ago

    Being tall helps. Sitting in a funny position where there isn’t a surface to press your wrists against helps (and may or may not be better for your back, depending exactly how you sit and who you talk to).

    Basically, if you’re grinding your carpal tunnel against something all day long, you’re going to have a problem. If you can actually practice ‘correct’ typing posture with your wrists up off the desk your chances of avoiding it are much improved. Mice are even worse than keyboards, since the whole concept of them implies dragging your wrist across a surface.

    If what really matters is keeping pressure off your wrists, this means you can switch to using your palms for support — using the ball of your thumb or a point inwards towards the fingers on the heel of the hand. Radio Shack used to sell a great so-called “wrist rest” that was a contoured piece of firm foam-covered plastic specifically contoured to cup that part of your hand; today everything on the market is a gel or foam that seems to encourage the user to squish their wrists down into it — at which point it’ll pack down and be no better than a firm surface anyway.