Called Freelancer Bootcamp, we covered accounting, ergonomics, blogging and photography. I'll talk about the first two today.
Listening to an accountant give a workshop on how to file a tax return is like going for a root canal - painful, but necessary. And I say this with apologies to my husband, who actually does root canals (though in all fairness, given how difficult it is to make tax law even mildly interesting, I suppose accountants can't be blamed.) Some freelancers in attendance must have found it useful since there were lots of questions, but since a) I have an accountant who handles my money and b) I don't have much money to handle, I mostly a) doodled and b) kept close watch on the baked goods until the coffee break.
He almost had me when he brought up Brad Pitt as an example of a good deductible. If I were to fly to L.A. and interview Brad Pitt and come back straight away, I could deduct the entire trip, he explained. But if I stayed for two weeks (because, say, Angelina was out of town and Brad needed companionship) then I wouldn't be able to deduct my airfare. Excuse me? What difference could it possibly make to the Quebec government if I stay one night or fourteen in the arms of Brad Pitt? The airfare stays the same. I puzzled that one out until that workshop was over.
Bernie Shalinsky on the other hand, the ergonomics expert, was more interesting. He explained, using illustrations of stick figures with bendy spines slumped over their improperly positioned stick computers, how the right set-up in a home office can help productivity. This was of special interest to me, seeing as I broke every single rule he laid out and I paid for my transgressions with a frozen shoulder last fall. And while 'frozen shoulder' doesn't actually sound that bad, it meant months where I couldn't sleep, wash myself, lift a grocery bag or laundry basket, vacuum (now that I think of it, there were a few advantages) or move properly. Months people.
So, if you want to avoid problems like carpel tunnel, neck and back pain, and yes, frozen shoulders, he suggests the following:
*Take a break every 20 minutes.
This one is problematic for writers, particularly fiction writers, since they get into the zone, and can't just walk away and or they'll break the flow. But Bernie insisted an hour is the longest one should go without moving around and/or stretching.
I like the so-called 20/20/20 rule. Take a break every 20 minutes, even if only for 20 seconds, and look 20 feet away.
*Use a proper chair.
The new design is one that incorporates five splayed legs on rollers, proper lumbar support, with an open back with room for ones buttocks. There should be an adjustable spring underneath to increase or decrease the tension, and the back should tilt back slightly. Rocking is also good, and no arms is best. This one was a surprise to me. Apparently, your arms and shoulders will be more relaxed if you leave the arms off the chair. This is one of the biggest mistakes he sees in offices. Just rest your arms on your lap and you'll see what he means.
*Have an adjustable height work surface.
This is clutch, as we're all different heights, so positioning the chair is not enough. Place the keyboard tray in such a way as the shoulders are relaxed. If you don't have a desk tray, and the desk is 28-30" above the floor, it's too high for most people.
*The keyboard should be positioned just above lap level, and the keyboard itself should be as flat as possible.
You need to maintain a flat, neutral wrist position to avoid carpel tunnel. Keep your elbows at a comfortable, open angle. You want to avoid reaching for anything - keyboards, as well as phones, pens, mugs of coffee. And if your keyboard has those little plastic feet attached either fold them away or break them off. Do not use them to lift the keyboard.
*Don't use a trackball on a mouse.
It can lead to thumbitis. No one wants thumbitis. Ask a Blackberry addict about thumbitis. You will have a lot of pain, and get zero sympathy. In fact, I'm guessing you will be mocked cruelly. (And now I'm left wondering if this is a new condition, or if gladiators had carpel tunnel problems from improperly supporting their wrists from waving their swords about, or thumbitis from lugging their shields in battle. If they complained about thumbitis, it isn't in any of the records, unless they were the ones thrown to the lions.) The Roller Mouse Pro has a trackball built into the keyboard centre.
*Use a headset for the phone.
No more squeezing the phone between your head and neck. The reasons are obvious.
*Use a wedge footrest.
This supports your feet and lifts your legs so you have proper seating posture. Ditto for the wrist rest, if you feel you need one, but don't use it for your wrist. Use it to support your palm, which lifts your arm into that neutral position.
*Place the computer screen directly in front of you.
It seems like common sense, but you don't want to look left or right, or strain even in a small way, because over time the little movements like tilting your head forward a few inches can add up to a big pain in the neck. It should be about arm's length away. If you have problems seeing the screen, you can get glasses made specifically for computer use. Make sure the screen is clean, and increase the font size and viewing size so you reduce eye strain.
*Beware of glare.
And not just from that guy in the next cubicle who resents your promotion. From windows and harsh overhead lighting, glare on the screen and in your eyes can create all kinds of headaches if you're forced to squint. Uplighting is a good alternative, as is a softer ambient light, but it's not always an option in an office environment. Some office workers have resorted to baseball caps or even golf umbrellas to keep the harsh light at bay. Take an old photographers' trick and make sure there is no contrast between the monitor and the background.
And to reward your patience and kind attention, I offer you this, because no blog on ergonomics would be complete without a photo of Brad Pitt playing a gladiator: