Designing ergonomics into student workspace

Becoming a student introduces a whole lot of changes into your life. All of a sudden, things like cooking and laundry start featuring more in your busy schedule. The housework fairies that used to operate at the family home, rarely cross the threshold of student digs, so time spent on mundane chores tends to increase.

Other parts of life also change. The difficulty balancing time spent propping up the union bar and time spent  working at your desk, will be a constant preoccupation. Or at least it should be. Organising time is all about maximising efficiency, so that when you actually do get some free hours, you can party on with a healthy conscience.

New courses and lectures tend to spark extra heavy workload, so time at your desk needs to be well spent. One of the best ways of maximising efficiency in study, is to have a well configured workstation. Lying on your bed, propping up books, with plate of toast in one hand and laptop precariously balanced on your kneecaps will not help smooth things along. A super slick, ergonomically configured workstation allows you to turn around work quicker, in greater comfort, and lessens the chances of succumbing to RSI type ailments and other related aches and pains. If you work at a computer for long hours at a time, you need to work smart. Here are some tips for creating a workspace that will support not hinder what you are trying to achieve…

Typically, a workstation consists of a desk, chair and computer. In halls and good  private landlord student accommodation, provision is usually made for a dedicated study area. Investing in a well made and supportive ergonomically designed chair is a good place to start in kitting out a workspace. Choose a model which is padded and has a dynamic support which tilts backwards, offering adequate lumbar protection. Aim for a seated position which reclines slightly, don’t sit totally erect. The more adjustable a chair is in terms of height and tilt, the easier it will be to find the ideal working position. Ensure you can place feet flat on the floor or on a foot rest.

The desk height will impact on the chair and computer monitor position – check to see if it is adjustable. If it is too low, consider placing chocks under the legs to increase height. The top of the computer screen should be two to three inches above eye level for the best ergonomic position. Many students have laptops which force their gaze downwards, not a good thing for comfort or posture. Place the laptop on some thick text books to raise it to a better level and plug in an extra keyboard below for writing.  Using the laptop in this way as a monitor, you should be arm’s length away from the screen, with elbows and wrists relaxed. Avoid placing the monitor screen to the side of the desk as this increases the likelihood of shoulder and neck strain.

Natural light in a workspace is always good for morale, so keep windows clear if possible. A pin board over the desk is a useful place to put inspirational quotes, personal photographs and other bits and pieces you want near by. If space allows, a pot plant spills out oxygen and positive ions into the atmosphere which could give you the academic edge! Task lighting over the computer is essential for those times when you are working late into the night. Arrange important items so they are close at hand – shelves and cabinets containing all your books and papers need to be easily accessible and well organised. Long hours staring at the screen can cause eye strain so it is essential to have regular breaks – stop every half an hour or so, adjust your focus and perform some stretches and gentle exercises. This helps to get  blood circulating around your system, refocuses your energy and promotes mental sharpness.

A well put together workstation that takes into account your health and comfort whilst you toil away, makes a really good long term investment. By adopting good practices early in your academic life, you will be saving yourself the pain and discomfort that is eventually caused by poor posture and the strains and stresses of a badly configured working environment.

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