Organize your Computer Workspace

If you've ever ended a long period of computer use with an aching back, tired fingers, or sore neck, you likely have a computer workstation layout that is not ergonomically correct. Organizing your computer workspace can not only save you from unnecessary aches and pains, it can help you be more productive. Here are some tips to help you get the most comfort from your computer setup. If you have a laptop, rather than desktop computer, adjust the tips as needed.

Let's take the traditional desktop computer layout: your monitor, mouse and keyboard should be positioned properly for best comfort. There are many resources for information on ergonomics so I won't repeat them here. If you need some guidance, the OSHA website (offers helpful information. What I'd like to focus on are some tips and tricks to get that ideal positioning. Often, the space constraints of seating, desks, cable lengths, and even location of power outlets cause us to make positioning compromises that are ergonomically unsuitable - let's fix that!

Desk and Chair Position: Start by disconnecting everything - we will need to move things around a bit. Next, consider your ideal desk and chair position. Find a good spot where your desk and chair will fit, making sure that there is some room to move while getting into and out of the chair. Do a couple "test fits" while seated and try reaching for things you may use - check your arm reach distance. This is your "work zone", and we will build the rest of your computer positioning from here.

Monitor Position: The next item to position is the monitor; like the computer, it needs to be on a solid, flat, level base, meaning your computer desktop. Putting it on top of a pile of cardboard boxes off to the side is not a good idea! Use the ergonomic guidelines to determine the best height for your use. Also consider sunlight: if the monitor will be in a sunny spot, you may want to consider some method of shading the monitor, or it will be "washed out" and the glare may be annoying. If you have multiple users, you may consider purchase of an adjustable monitor stand. This way each user can adjust the height easily. Don't try to connect the power and video cables yet.

Mouse and Keyboard Position: Now that the monitor position is set, determine the best position for your mouse and keyboard. Again, sit down and do a test fit - and don't forget to pay attention to the mouse location. Both mouse and keyboard should be on a flat, level surface. Again do a test: move the mouse around and make sure nothing interferes with movement. You will need about a four inch distance of travel in each direction from the center point. Again, don't connect any cables yet - we are only setting the best positioning.

A word about mouse pads - use a good one! If you have a ball mouse (look underneath; if there is a ping-pong sized ball underneath, you have a ball mouse), any flat mouse pad will work. If there is no ball, but instead a red or blue light, you have a laser mouse. If you have a laser mouse, get a light-colored mouse pad without any patterns. Bright/Dark patterned mouse pads tend to throw off laser mice, leading to "jerky" mouse movements.

Computer Case Position: Your computer case (many call it the "Tower", "CPU" or "Hard Drive") should be located on a solid base, not teetering on the edge of that old typewriter stand. On the floor is not the best either, as dust and lint will be pulled into the interior, clogging up the cooling fans. If your desk does not have a space for the computer case, get a small, inexpensive computer floor stand from an office supply store. This will keep your computer on a solid base and sufficiently high enough to prevent dust and lint infiltration. Also, don't put the computer inside a closed cabinet or drawer - it needs to get cooling airflow. Once more, don't connect any cables yet-we are still in positioning mode.

Cabling: OK, now that your computer case, monitor, mouse and keyboard are in their ideal positions we can take stock of cabling needs. Let's take things one at a time:

Power cables: Most computers/monitors come with standard 6-foot power cables. Likely your best positioning efforts will put the electrical outlet beyond the reach of the nearest wall outlet. Resist the urge to move things! Instead, let's measure what we need - take a flexible measuring tape or even a piece of string and measure the distance from Monitor and Computer to the wall outlet. Make sure that you don't go diagonally, don't cross heaters or water hazards. Instead, go around obstacles, make square corners, and add about 1 foot of extra length for some play.

Now that you have the distances, you can purchase a surge protector or battery backup unit with the proper cable length to get to the wall outlet.

Monitor Video cable: Again, the best positioning may mean the video cable does not reach. Not to worry, you can get video cable extenders to add length. Take the same string and measure the distance from back of the monitor to the back of the computer. Subtract the length of the existing cable and then get a video cable extender for the remaining length.

Mouse and Keyboard cables: Here we have two options. Option 1: purchase a wireless keyboard + mouse combo kit. By going wireless, you reduce wiring clutter, have much more freedom to reposition, and it just makes life easier overall for less than $45. Option 2: If you like your current mouse and keyboard, no worries - there are extender cables for those also.

Now you can connect everything together - and reap the benefits of a comfortable workspace that will reduce fatigue, enhance your computing work, and improve your productivity. Enjoy!

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