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Being a freelancer has many perks, from the ability to work anywhere to building your business as you choose. But there's a problem, and it's even more dire than deadlines or late-paying clients: it's that for many freelancers, there is no escaping sitting and staring at the computer for hours, day in and day out. This single act is repeated every work day (and often on the weekends), and according to studies, it can contribute to premature death.

Scary right!? While our bodies were not designed to sit for prolonged periods of time, there's often no escaping it. And the good news is that even just a few ergonomic adjustments will make your work environment safer.

Stretch and move every hour

Maintaining the same position and using the same muscles over and over again is bad for your back and neck. Ergonomists recommend taking frequent and brief rest breaks — at least onc per hour — to perform stretches such as:

The elbow pump: Start by touching the opposite shoulder blade. Next, grab your elbow and gently pull in the opposite direction.

The knee jerk: Lift one leg and hold the knee. Pull this leg up to your chest (or as close as you can) and hold for at least 10 seconds. Change legs and repeat.

The ballerina: Raise your arm above your head and extend it as far as you can to the opposite side. Be sure to keep your back upright as you perform this move.

Stretching and moving frequently maintains proper blood and nutrient supply to your muscles, thus preventing fatigue and discomfort. If you don’t have time to stretch, find a good reason to get up from your desk. Grab a cup of coffee or take a lap around the room.

Alternate between sitting and standing

Jack Callaghan, a professor from the University of Waterloo conducted a study to find the ideal sit-stand ratio. Using advanced ergonomic and health risk models, he concluded that the golden ratio between sitting and standing lies between 1:1 to 1:3. This means that for every hour, stand for 30 (minimum) to 45 (maximum) minutes.

Adopt the 20-20-20 rule

Regardless of what position you hold or how many digits are in your paycheck, using laptops and smartphones is the new norm. Unfortunately, our eyes haven't evolved to handle the blue light that screens emit. As a result, staring at screens for too long can damage the eye cells.

Your eye doctor has probably recommended the 20-20-20 rule. It means that for every 20 minutes that you spend gazing at a screen, you should look away at an object that is 20 feet, or reasonably far, away for a minimum of 20 seconds. Why 20 seconds? This is because your eyes take about 20 seconds to relax.

Optimize your workstation placement

One of the most important ergonomic practices entails finding the right positions for all your computer accessories. Here are a few guidelines:

Monitor

  • Your monitor should be centrally placed. Placing it off-center can result in neck and shoulder pain.

  • Sit an arm’s length away. This will enable you to view the whole screen without twisting your head or neck. Ideally, your monitor should be 20 inches from your eyes.

  • Position the top of your screen so that it’s level with your eyes and perpendicular to the nearest window to reduce glare.

Keyboard

  • Adjust your keyboard so that your elbows are suspended comfortably at your sides. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your wrists should not be bent.

  • A keyboard tray can help your arms and wrist adopt the correct slightly downwards angle for typing.

  • When typing, your forearms should be relaxed, with your elbows adopting an open angle of 90 -110 degrees.

Mouse
Grip your mouse loosely. In the same way that typing too hard on your keyboard causes pain, holding your mouse tightly causes unnecessary strain.

For people with carpal tunnel syndrome, a vertical mouse has many benefits, such as reducing pronation of the forearms to minimize CTS and other RSI injuries.

Mind your posture

Even if you’ve invested in a ton of ergonomic upgrades, you might still wind up in pain if you don’t maintain good posture. For starters, you should remove your wallet, keys and phone from your back pocket before sitting down. These items tend to put extra pressure on your glutes.

In addition:
● Sit up with your back upright
● Distribute your weight equally on both hips
● Keep your knees bent at a 90-degree angle
● Ensure your feet are resting flat on the floor
● Don’t sit in the same position for more than half an hour. Stand up, move around often.

Environmental setting

One of the most overlooked aspects of ergonomics is workplace setting. The lighting,temperature, and humidity are equally important factors to consider.

As freelancers, we must take responsibility ourselves to ensure our work isn’t slowly killing us. And all the fancy ergonomic desks and tools in the world won't help if we don't. On that note: sit up straight!

*Jon Muller is the founder of Ergonomic Trends, where he writes about ergonomics, office productivity, and the best ergonomic products. *