A Guide to Creating an Ergonomic Workstation for Studying

For students, creating a mentally and physically ideal study space can also be critical for academic performance, time management, and even memory. As such, the items that you choose for your home office or study space should be designed to promote your health while enhancing your productivity.

Ergonomic workstation prepared for work.

The truth is, lack of movement (or sedentarism) is equally as damaging as having the wrong chair. A report by CNBC confirms this, going as far as to suggest that sitting in an office chair is worse for your health than smoking, killing more people than HIV.

Sedentarism is impacting a whole new generation of college students. With the option for entirely online degree programs, students are spending more time in front of the computer to study, attend class, and view lectures. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the modern student or worker should aim to stand two to four hours during their average eight-hour work day. These numbers can differ, depending on a person’s average daily hours of work and television consumption.

So how can you get your work done while making sure that your body doesn’t suffer as a result? Follow these suggestions to help create an ergonomically correct home office to facilitate your online learning.

What Is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is a branch of applied science that deals primarily with designing and arranging things that people use regularly. The purpose is to ensure that people interact with objects, tools, and work or living spaces in the most efficient, safe, and healthy way possible. It enables workers to have a tight grip on tools, better posture in chairs, and more access to effective equipment they may be required to use daily. According to OSHA’s Ergonomics Brochure, ergonomics is important to businesses because it helps ensure higher production rates while keeping employees happy and healthy.

For non-traditional students who are working while enrolled in school, or even returning to college in pursuit of a master’s or doctorate degree while working part or full time, ergonomics may be even more important. A desk job followed by a study session compounds your sedentary screen time. That means optimizing your desk at work and at home can be a lifesaver.

The goal of an ergonomically correct office is to make working and studying comfortable for your body, supporting the areas that need it while you get things done.

Benefits of Home Office Ergonomics

Physical Health

Proper ergonomics lowers the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as well as the associated costs by preventing their primary risks. These include disorders like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, occurring when a person repeats the same motion continuously while maintaining an improper posture (like typing on a desktop computer in your home office).

Focusing on proper ergonomics at home helps the body inherently have better posture, allowing it to stay aligned and decrease discomfort and pain. Creating a proper home study space can reduce overall stress and help you stay focused, which could help increase your engagement and productivity.

Improved Productivity and Quality of Work

According to a study done by W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, proper workplace ergonomics had a statistically significant effect on production. The results of this study confirmed that effective ergonomic workplaces can lead to an increased productivity among workers, as well as lower levels of pain associated with long-term sitting. More productivity means you stay focused longer and potentially complete tasks quicker or with less mistakes, and the same holds true in your home office.

How to Create an Ergonomic Workstation

Eighty-two percent of work and study hours are spent being sedentary. This means creating a workplace that is comfortable yet ergonomically correct for standing, sitting, and moving around is essential. It can be valuable to factor the cost of your home office setup into your budget for college. This allows you to create a proper environment while accounting for all of the necessary expenses in advance.

Ergonomic Desk Selection and Setup

What to look for in a desk will be determined foremost by what type of desk you prefer. If you are looking for a sitting desk, make sure there is enough room between your knees and the underside of the desk. Ensure the height allows your arms and hands enough room to type on the keyboard without having to reach too far.

Some desks come with a keyboard tray to change the height and angle of a keyboard without changing other aspects of the desk. This function makes it easy to adjust the keyboard closer or farther away from the user. It also allows you to sit comfortably at a desk, with your feet flat on the ground and knees at a 90-degree angle.

There are a wealth of standing desk options on the market. If you choose this type for your studying needs, figure out how large you need the desk’s work surface to be, as well as how much space you can take up on the floor. Measure your own height and where you would like to keep a keyboard. Measure for the monitors you may need, and make sure you buy a desk that can accommodate them.

Make sure to have something soft and supportive to stand on, like a yoga mat. While standing, focus on not slouching, keeping your feet on the floor, and your computer screen positioned at eye level.

Choosing an Ergonomic Computer Chair

There are a few things to look for when purchasing a chair. It should be adjustable, allowing you to sit comfortably with your thighs parallel to the ground. The seat should be adjustable as well, tilting forward and backward, allowing for about a fist to three-finger gap in between the back of your calf and the front of the seat.

The backrest should be adjustable, allowing lumbar support for the lower back. Using the proper backrest to support the lumbar curve helps relieve pressure on the back vertebrae. A chair that allows you to change your posture throughout the day is good, because it allows the muscle load of your body to shift and parts of your body to recover from static positions.

Optimize Your Monitor to Avoid Eye Strain

Eye discomfort is common for computer users. The symptoms of computer vision syndrome include:

  • Dry or burning eyes
  • Eye strain
  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light

To prevent developing or further agitating these issues, your monitor can be customized.

Adjust the brightness of the monitor to the lowest level you can to see things more clearly without eye strain. You can invert the colors of the screen to be black backgrounds with white text as a way to cut down on the amount of light your eyes have to take in.

The top of the screen should be either at or below eye level. If you have to tilt your head back to view the computer, lower your monitor to prevent straining your neck. Make sure there are at least 20 inches between your computer screen and your face. The closer the screen is to your eyes, the harder they have to work to focus. Be aware of the screen’s position to the sun or any open windows. Bright light will reflect off the screen if you don’t put some type of anti-glare cover on your monitor.

Find the Best Computer Keyboard for You

There are two basic keyboard designs: the flat keyboard and the split angled keyboard. These are both standard, rectangular-shaped keyboards that have a numbered keypad on the right side. Ergonomically speaking, the theory is that if you angle the sides of the these keyboards slightly up in the middle, it helps to keep your wrists in a straight neutral position.

Curves and inclined spaces on an angled keyboard provide a resting place for the wrists. The ideal keyboard would have an adjustable incline that would allow for customization as needed, so explore the many alternative keyboard options to find what works for you.

Identify the Best Ergonomic Mouse

According to the U.S. Institute of Health, heavy computer users are more at risk of medical issues like carpal tunnel due in part to the way their hands move around on their desk. Using an external mouse (instead of your laptop’s trackpad) makes your desk even more ergonomic, allowing your wrists to rest in a neutral position, relieving any unnecessary pressure on the hands while at work or studying.

Ergonomic computer mice are curved along the outside, or have a raised space to support the thumb, almost as if you are giving it a handshake. Before purchasing a mouse, try to test it out and see how it feels in your hand. Your wrist should not be clenched or flexed. If you are gripping the mouse with your fingertips or squeezing it between your thumb and pinky, the mouse is most likely to small.

Adjust Your Workstation Lighting

Proper lighting is important to optimizing your study space, as lighter environments tend to keep you awake and aware, while darker spaces may make you feel groggy. To improve brightness in and around your computer, try to create a study space near a window for natural lighting. A desk lamp is also a good idea. Experiment with different levels of brightness and color temperatures to find what works for you.

Aside from proper lighting helping to ease eye strain, a German study looked at the effects of color temperatures and their brightness on the productivity of students, finding that students were more creative under warm light and more concentrated under cold. Consider the temperature of your lighting as well to create the perfect studying conditions.

Set the Ideal Room Temperature for Productivity

Because temperature preferences tend to vary significantly among individuals, there is no set temperature that can satisfy everyone. However, if your home study space is too warm, it may make you feel tired and groggy. If your home office is too cold, you may feel restless or easily distracted.

Recommendations from the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers suggest that summer temperatures in an office should range between 73° F and 78°F. In the winter ideal office temperatures range from 68°F to 73°F. Finding the perfect temperature for your own office is important to keeping up a productive study or work pace, so experiment to find your own optimal range.

Eliminate Distractions

Getting distracted at your computer can sometimes seem easier than staying on task. To avoid an unproductive week, eliminate the distractions that take up your time. Eat your meals at a set time for consistency. It can be easy to go through a whole day without eating when you are focusing on your work, but that’s not best for your body, mind, or productivity.

Turn off social media notifications during work or study time. When you are home, these can easily put you in the “distracted” mindset, allowing for social media to take precedence over your focus. Don’t allow yourself to check Facebook or Twitter during working time, but set aside some time after you have completed your work or studying to check in on what you missed. This allows you to get your social media fix without it distracting your overall day-to-day successes.

It can be hard to get out of your pajamas when you are only going as far as your computer to begin studying, but this can lead you directly into a mental trap. If your mindset is not fully tuned into the work you’re about to begin, you could become distracted by the relaxed nature of your outfit and lose productivity. A change of wardrobe can help shift your mind into study mode. Wear clothes that are comfortable and casual, but focus on creating a routine in your morning. Wake up, shower, and get dressed at a similar time every day. This will help you get out of the comfortable mindset, allowing for more productivity in your work or study day.

Take Study and Work Breaks for Good Health

No matter how optimized your workspace ergonomics are, it’s important to take mental and physical breaks from study time. Sitting for an hour or longer without moving can put stress on the body. Breaks don’t have to be complicated or derail your study sessions; they can be as simple as standing up and walking around the desk a few times. The purpose of breaks is that when you sit back down, you will be in an entirely new posture, giving your body rest when it needs it.

Short and frequent breaks to move around during a study session can be more beneficial than longer, more infrequent breaks. Researchers recommend that you give yourself 10 to 15 minutes for every 60 minutes you are working. Break up your sitting time by using the restroom, filling a water bottle, or grabbing a snack (save social media updates for later; the point is to get up and away from the computer).

Try these exercises to reduce eye strain:

  • Blink often and allow yourself to take frequent pauses of rest
  • Close your eyes for a minute, refocusing away from the monitor at something in the distance, or rolling your eyes all around

Try these body exercises to keep fatigue at bay:

  • Clench the hands into a fist as hard as you can, and then release stretching your fingers as far as you can. Repeat three times.
  • Put your arms straight in front of you, bend your wrists as far down as they will go and hold for three seconds. Extend the wrists up as far as they will go, hold for three seconds. Repeat this five times.
  • Stand up straight with your hands on your hips. Bend back gently at the waist. Repeat five times.

Creating a space and proper work or study routine allows for both the mind and body to work at maximum ability. Proper ergonomics in a home office provides support for the body while allowing you to be productive and focused on the tasks at hand.

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