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Your Healthy Home Workspace

Genealogy, even as a hobby, can involve more "work-from-home" time than the average person is used to. Whether you spend a little time in the evenings or large blocks of time on the weekends or periodically, your body is being subjected to a surprising amount of unnatural computer time.

Many of us don't have a good working environment at home. The desk is covered with bills, if we even use a desk, or we're using the spare dining room chair. Some issues in a home office are simply unhealthy.

There are many things you can do to make your home office healthier and more productive. The first is creating a "home office" space instead of being an armchair genealogist. The big issue here is the state you hold your body in while doing what can quickly become hours of genealogy. If you literally just do a little genealogy these issues aren't as big a deal.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and I am not providing medical advice. This is information I've learned as I have researched setting-up my own home office. I highly recommend you do your own research (this post will help you identify topics you need to research, here's an article to start with). If you have specific medical concerns, seek advice from an appropriate medical professional. The goal of this post is to alert you to issues you may not have been aware of.

As a note, I've personally found before I addressed these issues that I often just felt off, whether it be a bit tired and draggy or achy as if I was extremely fatigued or coming down with something. As I "fixed" each issue, I started to be able to feel individual issues (sore shoulder or eye strain, for example).

What that means is when my workspace was causing all the issues, I just didn't feel great but didn't know it had anything to do with my workspace. You may not think your workspace is causing physical issues because you don't feel one part of you aching. It might be your workspace is causing too many issues to distinguish.

Think about the reality of how you do genealogy, not the intention. You may mean to just do some light searching while you watch a T.V. show but do you actually sit hunched over your laptop for an hour or more?

Consider your head to your toes to decide if being an armchair genealogist is worth the strain on your body or if you need to upgrade your "workspace."

Head

A major issue in today's world is neck problems caused by looking down at devices. In most of the population this is associated with staring at your phone. If you're a genealogist, you might be using a larger device but you're still bending your neck. This is a major issue for armchair genealogists who have a laptop in their lap or even on a surface.

You should be looking straight at your monitor. This, of course, has to do with the position you're sitting (or standing) in. Before you put effort into adjusting your workspace, make sure you take your neck into consideration. The majority of "healthy" work stations promoted today still leave you looking down at your monitor because that's the fastest solution (just setting a laptop on a difference surface usually doesn't address the height of the monitor correctly).

There is one main way to address this issue. Separate your monitor and keyboard. A laptop is a great portable solution but it is not the ideal set-up for regular work. I recommend dual monitors for genealogists whenever possible but if a dedicated office space isn't an option for you, consider getting a separate keyboard for your device and setting the device (i.e. the monitor) on something to raise it to the correct height. A keyboard is usually pretty easy to store somewhere like a cabinet or closet. There are various types of keyboard connections (including Bluetooth for devices where you can't plug anything in).

Remember, with getting your monitor to the height you need, this is personal to your body measurements and can change with a different chair or when standing. Before investing money, try out some different heights, even if they aren't practical solutions. I went through three or four options when I switched to a sit-stand desk as I found unexpected issues with each. I'm about to have to adjust my current system again, as I have it set too high. My problem isn't my monitor but...

Shoulders, I mean Elbows, or Arms, or...

Next, you need to consider the position of your arms on your keyboard. This can be tricky to correctly judge. I'm not a medical expert so I'm not going to go into too much detail because there are so many joints you need to get aligned properly.

This post from Zapier, a company made up completely of remote workers, i.e. people who need a great home office, gives more details on both a productive home office and an ergonomic home office as well as links to some online tools to find the correct height for you.

I recommend researching proper keyboard height and angle yourself before investing money in a new workspace set-up. If you're just trying to adjust using what you've got around the house, you're aiming for arms parallel to the floor or angled down (yes, down, angled up happens much more easily and explains why people have problems). The issue is, of course, you can hunch your shoulders up or do strange things with your wrists and think you've achieved the proper position.

Once again, this is a mix between your chair or standing position and the surface where your keyboard/mouse is. You likely won't feel small issues if you don't work for very long (vs. the strain in your neck from looking down at your monitor). However, having your keyboard at the wrong angle can too quickly sneak up on you and you don't realize that's why you feel off or your hand hurts or your neck aches.

Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes

We all know a good chair is important and we all need something different for our body type. This is why armchair genealogy is popular! That should be a comfortable and supportive chair. But it's not a work chair.

Genealogy can be all-consuming and we can end up sitting far longer than we intended. Not only should you find a supportive, comfortable chair, you should make sure you get up and stretch and if possible, change your leg position if you sit for long.

This is a big time to consider what you actually do versus what you intend to do. I don't worry about sitting to watch a T.V. show or even a movie. When that sitting extends longer, I don't even want to sit for an hour (trust me, I'm constantly catching myself sitting for more than two hours because I'm so engrossed in my research or writing).

If you have special health issues, make sure you address those and don't get sucked into a genealogy sit-a-thon. If you're pretty healthy, don't ruin it by sitting too much doing genealogy.

A complete checklist plus more healthy work ideas are included in the Summer 2020 edition of the Genealogy Virtual Subscription Box.

Here are some of the products I recommend for healthier genealogy research sessions.

Adjustable desk/monitor solutions

This is the current version of the workstation I use.


It's so much more efficient to have dual monitors and I didn't want a "manual" height adjustment (I had that previously and ended up not standing up because it was too much work). It was important the monitors and keyboard both raised, as well. The older version I have has a better shelf and some other differences but this gives you an idea of what you can get. Note that a clip-on option like this requires a sturdy desk because all the weight is extended on that arm.

Previously I had this very affordable monitor stand.

If you click on the image and look at the images provided, you'll see the very un-ergonomic suggestion of leaving your keyboard on your desk while you stand. You can't do that for long. I had a rolling cart I'd place my keyboard on but that became too much work in addition to the manual height adjustment.

If you want just a standing desk, this is a great affordable way to get a dual monitor stand you can adjust to your exact height. Just find something to set your keyboard and mouse on.

Standing desk accessories.

I only really use one accessory since I use a sit-stand desk. That's the anti-fatigue mat which I find a must.

I would consider changing and getting a mat with "bumps" like the one below (FYI, this product suggests taking off your shoes since it has "massage" bars but you do want to wear supportive shoes for most of the time you're standing. I don't like wearing shoes inside the house so I really have to think about this and my feet really like when I remember to stand in good shoes).

There are lots of other standing desk accessories if you'll be spending hours standing every day.

Diffuser

I can't really recommend one diffuser because there are too many factors affecting what will be best for you. I will say having a diffuser in my office is one of my favorite things. Whether it's helping with allergies or concentration, I love it.

If you aren't familiar with diffusing essential oils, first do a little research. It's easy to get started but it's not something to do blindly. First, some essential oils can negatively impact pets, children, or people with certain conditions. You may be creating a workspace in a shared space instead of a private office.

Similarly, even if you don't have any negative impacts, if you aren't in a dedicated office or not in it for hours, you might want different features like a timer (so you can set the diffuser to only run for an hour vs. the standard auto-shut-off).

If you're sitting near your diffuser (such as in a small office), an intermittent option is usually better than a diffuser that only runs continuously. Essential oils are potent by their nature and you don't need to have them running non-stop for hours. Most likely you'll get more benefit from limited use (such as using a diffuser for an hour or using it for a few hours on an intermittent setting).

If you're already familiar with diffusing essential oils, you'll have your own preferences.

One thing I really like about diffusers, particularly if you're working in your living area versus a dedicated office, is they come in options like vases so they can blend into your decor. They can also act as a mini-humidifier if you get an ultrasonic option (and some humidifiers can take essential oils on a felt pad so you may not even need a new product).

Take a look at all the options on Amazon, here.

Blue Light Blocking Glasses

I wasn't so sure about the blue light issue at first but it's not hard to "block" it with a setting on your device or with a pair of inexpensive glasses.

These glasses were recommended by another blogger as affordable. As far as I can tell they do work. I actually use them when reading on my Kindle at night. I'm not sure if it's the mental activity from reading or blue light that keeps me awake (I have an older Kindle with no setting to reduce blue light so I don't know if it's really producing it).

I have found I become sleeper if I read wearing these but as you'll see in their reviews, they are really hard to keep clean. Since I was skeptical I wasn't willing to spend more (and I don't normally wear glasses so wearing glasses can become annoying, meaning I didn't want to invest in better glasses).

Many people do genealogy online at night so I highly recommend you look into blue light and ways to block blue light on your device so you get a better night's sleep.

Creating the Right Sound

I have young children, there's no quiet. I do sometimes wear earplugs but I can't do that when I need to have an ear out for the children (which is most of the time when they're home). I have a sound option on my office diffuser which I do sometimes use.

What I've found most helpful, when I can adjust the sounds around me, is using an app on Alexa for a sound I find helpful. When it's chilly I like a fireplace sound. I've used the Rainforest or rain sounds. I've found "Space Deck" can really help me concentrate.

I don't find white noise or ambient sounds a must but I do find them helpful when there is some type of distant background noise distracting me. If you're at the dining room table and someone's watching T.V. in another room, white noise can help reduce that distraction.

There are lots of free options through apps on Alexa, Google Home, or even on your phone or tablet. You can try one of these without making a financial investment. (If the distraction is louder, I wear earplugs and turn up the "white noise" as if it was music. This drowns out the distant noise more than just the earplugs or just the white noise).

Remember, having a routine can also help you focus on genealogy, quickly, if you're limited on time. Get your preferred sound going, start the diffuser, settle into your ergonomic workspace, adjust your lighting, and get to work!



Healthy Genealogy Workspace | The Occasional Genealogist

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