In the previous post, I spoke about getting your computer ready for you to work, but I didn’t spend much time talking about getting yourself ready to work. In a series of posts, I will cover tools beyond your computer that can help you be a better developer.
As developers, we spend a lot of time at our computers. We obsess over the technical specifications of the newest laptop, and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the newest library that was released, but we don’t spend much time talking about how we — as human beings in physical bodies — interact with the tools of our trade.
Generally speaking, these days many programmers are working on powerful, lightweight laptops. The freedom of being able to work from anywhere — a coffee shop, an airport, or even sitting on the couch — has led many of us to ditch the notion of large, noisy computer towers in favor of the ultrabook.
As we put away our gargantuan computers of years past, we also traded in our ergonomic desk setups for hunched-over, strained-neck, cramped sitting styles in laps and on table-tops to use our primary tool of the trade. Gone are the keyboard trays, the gel-padded wrist protectors, and the $500 chairs.
The issue at hand is that laptop keyboards are attached to the screen of the laptop, which, when seated at a regular desk, forces the laptop user to look down. This posture consequently rounds the shoulders in wards towards the chest. Keeping the neck and shoulders in this unnatural position for hours at a time can lead to long-term injuries, including RSI (repetitive stress injury), nerve damage, migraines, and more. (For all of the potential risks, ask a professional chiropractor or musculoskeletal specialist).
As you can see in the figure(1) above, there seems to be no decent way to achieve good posture while using a laptop without additional peripherals.
Enter Carolina Morning Designs* and the Japenese-inspired minimalist furniture that Linsi Deyo and her partner Patrick Clark offer for sale on their website. Linsi and Patrick have designed the Zen Office, a desk that keeps you seated close to the floor and re-stacks your skeletal structure so that your back stays straight, your head is not bent over, and your arms are in a comfortable typing position.
This type of seating is called “active sitting”, as you engage the core muscles of your abdomen and back to help you stay seated. It is uncomfortable to take a slouched position at the Zen Office.
In addition to the floor position, it is also possible for the Zen Office to be repurposed in other ways. If you prefer to switch between sitting and standing, you can easily use the Zen Office along with a wireless keyboard and mouse to accomplish this.
Having used a gamut of seating situations for computer work, ranging from cardboard-box standing desks, to $22 Ikea hacks for a standing desk, and even yoga balls for active sitting, I can say with confidence that I don’t think I will ever need another desk besides the Carolina Mornings Design Zen Office. Since it breaks back down to two small packages, with no tools required for assembly, I can take it anywhere, and whenever I get tired in one position, I can quickly move to another.
What sort of sitting and standing arrangements have you used for computer work? Do you alternate throughout the day, or just stay in one position?
*I found Carolina Morning Designs while researching sleeping on the floor, as I have been living in a yurt again and in my packing for gSchool have refused to bring a mattress or purchase a new one. If you love sleeping on a firm surface, as I do, check out their modular platform bedframes and other minimalistic sleeping surfaces.
1: Griffin, Timothy, “The Adaptive Laptop”. October, 2001. Timothy Griffin, Industrial Design Program, The University of Calgary. http://tim.griffins.ca/writings/mdp-intro