How many hours a day do you spend at your desk? 4? 8? 12?! According to the most recent State Bar of Wisconsin Economics of Practice Survey (2013), lawyers in private practice in Wisconsin spend an average of 47 hours per week on work-related activities. That’s 9.4 hours per workday, and unless you are one of the relatively few lawyers who spend their days in court, the majority of those hours are likely spent sitting in your chair, staring at a computer screen.
That’s more than most people (and certainly most lawyers) sleep – a 2012 analysis of the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey revealed lawyers to be the second most sleep-deprived of any occupation. Lack of sleep, and the perverse pride some lawyers get from boasting about how little sleep they get (regardless of how inefficient they are being), is a topic for another day. I only bring it up now to highlight that even if you aren’t sleeping long hours, you spend a large enough proportion of your life on the other side of consciousness to know that your mattress purchase is not the best place to save money. You want to spring for a good one.
The idea of spending money where you spend your time (coined the “comfort principle,” by former Lifehacker writer, Jason Chen) makes sense, and following it will tell you that like your bed, your work space – which includes your desk, chair, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and so on – is not a place to merely make do. Think of it this way: we can infer from the above two studies that Wisconsin lawyers, on average, spend about 40 percent of their waking life at work, mostly at their desk. Do you really want to spend 40 percent of your life sitting in an unsupportive chair, squinting at a small screen, or using a wrist-wrenching keyboard and mouse setup?
Tison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411™). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by email.
The answer for most people, of course, is no. When it comes time to actually purchase such items, however, the comfort principle is often ignored. “After all,” the thinking goes, “it’s just office equipment. Besides, we don’t have time to research chairs and we still have perfectly fine 19” monitors from the last time we bought computers. We’ve got a budget and real work to do, so let’s just make a decision and move on.”
If that sounds familiar, please allow this article to serve as a small reminder that if you are going to spend such a large chunk of your time on this earth in front of a desk (as most lawyers have acquiesced to doing), you should at least make yourself comfortable. To help you get started, below are a few recommendations.
Keeping your keyboard and mouse on your desk is not good for your wrists, back, or shoulders. You want a tray that is low enough to allow your arms to rest comfortably at your side and that can tilt negatively (down and away), so that your wrists are in a neutral position. Try a Humanscale 500, 700, or 900 ($250-$300) or the Uplift Keyboard Tray ($200).
More pixels and greater surface area generally mean more productivity and less eyestrain, so I recommend that you use at least two 22”-27” monitors, such as the Dell UltraSharp U2415H ($330), or one 34” ultrawide monitor, such as the LG Curved Ultrawide 34UC97-S ($999) or the Samsung 34” Ultrawide Curved Screen ($999).
You want your mouse to be ergonomic and have productively programmable buttons. Try the Logitech MX Master ($100), or, to prevent forearm twisting, try the Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4 ($90).
So You Want To …
As attorneys, when there is a task we want to perform more efficiently, or an office product that we believe could improve our work lives in some way, visiting stores and scouring the Web to determine the best solution doesn’t always make it to the top of our to-do lists. Rather than go without, let Practice411™ do the work for you.
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The idea of spending money where you spend your time doesn’t just have to do with physical comfort. It really has to do with your overall experience. For example, two of my favorite work keyboards, the Das Keyboard Model S Professional ($139) and the Das Keyboard 4 Professional ($169), might not be more “ergonomic” than a standard keyboard, but the way the keys feel to me when pressed (both of these have mechanical keys) provides me with a more positive experience when working (and, at least for me, leads to fewer mistakes, too).
Your chair might be your most important work space purchase, so I recommend looking beyond the typical chain office-supply stores. Brands such as Acuity, Soma, Herman Miller, Humanscale, and Steelcase are good places to start. If you want one of the very best, try the Herman Miller Embody ($1,449). For a bargain, try the IKEA Markus ($200), which, I have found, works great as a personal home-office chair, but is not one I would want to sit in all day, every day.
When it comes to improving your physical comfort at work, there is plenty more for us to cover in the future – standing desks, footrests, monitor stands, and headset phones, to name a few. But don’t forget that you can also extend the concept of spending money where you spend your time to other work devices, for which overall experience and usability, and not just comfort, are important – devices such as computers, phones, and tablets.
In the end, whether you work 4 or 14 hours per day, and whether or not you have the funds for every life-improving office gadget right now, I hope you keep in mind that a surprisingly big part of your quality of life is the quality of your work-life. Make decisions accordingly.