As a child, I remember doing my homework on the kitchen table with my parents. As I got older, more concentration was required and I moved my homework space into my bedroom where a desk was set up. It was just my books and I, for several hours every night. That was before computers were required to do homework. It sure was a simpler time… Nowadays, setting up a workspace at home can be more challenging.
As a rule of thumb, if your homework or your child’s homework requires more than an hour of work each night, the kitchen table or the couch just wont cut it and a special dedicated space should be set up for homework.
Here are some tips to help you set up a workspace at home:
Create a distraction free zone
Pick a quiet spot in your home where other people, television or noises wont disturb you. Homework time should be a short burst of focus and shouldn’t be interrupted. Turn off your phone and disable the Wi-Fi on your computer: Facebook can wait. Enjoy the silence. If you dislike silence, white noise machines can help blocking out ambient noises, or put on whatever kind of music helps you focus. [Did you know that video game music is actually a great tool to help you focus? It has been specifically designed to provide a stimulating background that doesn’t mess with your concentration!] If you find your mind wandering off, take a break: walk away from your desk and doing something else entirely for 15 minutes. Go back to your desk with a renewed laser focus and get back into it.
Using a computer
The design of a laptop computer is inherently problematic because the screen and keyboard are attached. Either your head and neck bends to see the screen, or your hands and wrists use poor posture at the keyboard. If you use a laptop frequently, consider buying either an external monitor (pricey solution) or an external keyboard (cheaper solution) to improve the workstation set-up. If you use a laptop only occasionally, you may find that positioning the computer in your lap for the most neutral wrist posture is most comfortable.
If you use a regular desktop computer, each of its parts can be adjusted as such:
- Center the monitor and keyboard in front of you
- Keep the mouse and keyboard within close reach and close to each other (your elbows should be supported and close to your body)
- You may be more comfortable if you use your arm, not just your wrist, to move the mouse.
- Choose a mouse that fits the size of your hand comfortably and is as flat as possible to minimize wrist strain.
- Top of monitor casing should be 5-8 cm above eye level
- No glare on screen
- Sit at arms length from monitor
- Use a negative tilt keyboard tray with an upper mouse platform
Sit up straight!
Practicing good posture can be a challenge when working for long hours on an essay or studying from a textbook. Follow this checklist and pick your workspace tools:
- A good chair is one that adapts to your body – you can change the angle and height of the seat, arm rests and back support.
- Chose one with a dynamic chair back (lets you move front to back freely)
- Set up the arm rests and so that you can relax your shoulders and keep your arms and elbows relaxed close to body
- Make sure your feet are on the floor or on a stable footrest, and that your thighs aren’t compressed.
- Use a document holder, preferably in-line with your computer screen.
- For textbooks, use a book holder to minimize the strain on your neck and place it in front of you [Cook book holders work well!].
- Use a stable work surface and stable (no bounce) keyboard tray
When seated, don’t cross your legs, slouch or lean to one side. Be sure not to crane your neck forward while you’re working. It’s easy to do when you’re in the middle of an intense work dash, but it adds undue stress to your whole body.
Furthermore, avoid tensing your shoulders. Pinching nerves or straining muscles in your back, neck, or shoulders can cause problems throughout your arms and hands. [Make sure you visit your chiropractor for anything severe or persistent!]
If you find that your posture starts sagging, it may be time for a break. Walks around the block or something else active make for a great study break. If you plan on being seated for a long period and you need little reminders to move, check out this free app from the Canadian Chiropractic Association. Every hour, it will guide you through 3 minutes of great stretches you can do at your desk. Your body will thank you!
- Use proper lighting to minimize the strain on your eyes when reading.
- Use the 20/20/20 rule (every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds) to limit the strain of the computer screen on your eyes.
- Keep your desk clean and tidy.
- Change scenery once in a while if you’re in a rut. Go to the library, work from a coffee shop but always return home for longer projects!
Here’s to a great new work space you can set up for yourself and to a successful school year devoid of back and neck pain.