Keyboard Wrist Rests are a Lie

Since December I’ve been working with a physical therapist to help with some shoulder and neck pain that keeps recurring. After many hours of therapy including dry needling we’ve determined there’s nothing wrong with my back or neck and it must be posture-related. I’ve been constantly tweaking my standing desk setup to make sure I’m maintaining decent posture.

Floating Wrists

Part of the research took me into proper keyboard setup. I have a keyboard riser to put it at the proper height when standing at my desk. I discovered that the wrist rest is a complete lie and I was using the keyboard improperly. Resting your wrists while typing can compress the nerves in the wrist leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. Some experts say you can rest your palms instead to keep the angle of your wrists more neutral. I’ve found an even better approach – let your hands float over the keys & rest your hands when you’re not typing.

I place my keyboard at the edge of the riser so that there is no space available to rest my hands. When using the treadmill under the desk I found I was putting way too much weight on the rest to maintain balance. By forcing my hands to float above the keyboard I reduced the fatigue greatly and it made me more mindful of my overall posture.

The Wirecutter had a great article in March about ergonomic keyboards and typing ergonomics. While they don’t specifically mention the hand floating technique there are a lot of great tips on keyboards.

Standing Desk Back Pain

I’ve been using a standing desk for over 2 1/2 years. About nine months ago I started mixing in walking on a treadmill to my daily life. I noticed something over the course of this summer – standing at my desk brought back a ton of lower back pain. I thought I had licked the back pain early on with yoga stretches to improve my hip flexor muscles. Turns out, I forgot how to stand.

How are you supposed to stand? There are a TON of great posts out there about the right posture. I usually refer to this one when someone new starts standing. The thing I forgot is something so slight that you won’t notice until you’ve been standing for a while:

BEND YOUR KNEES SLIGHTLY

Seriously? Yup. We/I have a tendency to stand straight up (when I’m not dancing at my standing desk) and pull the knees back, locking them. While this is “easier” to stand it ends up putting a ton of strain on your knees and changes your posture, stressing your back. I thought I was having sciatic nerve problems but it turns out it was in fact sacroiliac joint pain from locking my knees.

Dancing at my desk, walking on the treadmill and balancing on a single foot didn’t seem to aggravate the back. Turns out my knees naturally don’t lock back in those situations. Use your leg muscles to stand by letting the legs bend just slightly. You’ll notice a huge improvement in a short time. I noticed in minutes there was a difference.

The Downside to Treadmill Desks

Just Published

The New York Times just published an article on their Well Blog entitled “The Downside of Treadmill Desks”. It’s an interesting read.

The article mentions a study performed by two groups at the Brigham Young University in Utah and published to the PLoS One Journal in April. After studying 75 individuals it was determined that while there is a significant positive health impact on using a treadmill desk, productivity and cognition decreased.

My Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned before I’ve been using a treadmill desk since February of this year. Personally I’ve seen a huge increase in concentration and cognition when using the treadmill.

I average about three hours of use today, sometimes up to five. I tend to use the treadmill in the morning the longest, then stand midday and revisit the treadmill at the end of the work day. I’ve found in the morning the treadmill boosts my concentration more than a cup of coffee would. I almost always forget I’m even walking on the treadmill.

My experiences may differ than the study because I have ADHD. The treadmill, it seems, busies the part of my brain that likes to derail my concentration. My original goal for using the treadmill desk was not for the exercise/calorie burn but rather the assist with concentration.

Observations & Realities

I think the reality of treadmill desks at a normal office job present the following limitations:

They’re Loud

You’re going to be walking on a machine. The machine can be loud and your hooves smashing down on it are going to be loud. You’re going to want to reduce the noise as much as possible (if you’re considerate) which means slower speeds and potentially an unnatural gate.

I’ve found speeds below 2mph aren’t effective for my needs. I need to be at 2.5mph or greater for me to see a real attention benefit – and then anything over 3.2mph usually causes too much sweat.

Humans Perspire

You’re going to sweat. I don’t care if you use a fan (which adds to the noise mentioned above) you’re still going to sweat even at 1mph. Those dress pants and undershirt are going to be really pretty after walking six miles.

You can try to keep cooler by using a fan, changing clothes, taking a shower. All of these things modify how you’re going to work and walk. Worrying about not sweating too much will ultimately reduce your speed which will keep you from hitting the right speed (if your speed is anything like mine).

If your office isn’t equipped with a shower or a place to change that’s convenient, your coworkers may not want an afternoon meeting with you.

You’re Vulnerable

When you’re on a treadmill desk, you’re vulnerable. How so? You’re walking, sweating, breathing hard and wearing workout clothes in front of your coworkers. I’m sure the whole office isn’t on treadmills (huzzah if they are!). This will unavoidably single you out. Until you really get comfortable with the treadmill and the way you’re integrated into your workplace you are going to feel like a weirdo.

Weirdos can’t concentrate well. You need to realize you’re not a weirdo.

It Takes Practice

The study specifically mentions typing ability deteriorates when using the treadmill desk. This is an obvious side effect of walking while typing. But like with most things in life, it takes practice.

I was a hot ass mess trying to type and walk the first couple of weeks using the treadmill desk. I couldn’t find the right height for the monitor, keyboard, speed to walk at. All of those things will eventually gel together and you’ll find the right combination. I’m typing at my normal rate of words per minute and my accuracy is just fine.

Believe What You Want

The huge flaw in this article and the abstract of the journal article is this – it doesn’t indicate how much time the participants were given. If you don’t give someone a chance to adapt to the new situation it’s obvious they’re not going to be productive!

You’re going to have to find out if a treadmill desk works for you. Don’t believe everything you read and don’t assume the variables apply to you. Don’t assume I’m right either. A lot of the reasons the treadmill desk works for me has to do with working remote at home and my brain’s specific issues with ADHD.

All I can suggest is give it a whirl!

 

My Signal-to-Noise Ratio

I’ve mentioned before on this site and other places that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and that I’ve been doing a lot to manage it. I didn’t really connect the dots until I started working remote for Automattic almost two years ago. It’s a continual process for me and I’m continuing to make adjustments over time to combat it. I have good days and I have bad days.

Medication

After I got diagnosed with ADHD by an accredited counselor and my primary physician, I started on medication to help. It was my goal at that point to not be on the meds long term but rather use them to show me where I could be. It’s hard to see the destination without an idea of where you’re going or even why you’re going.

The medications worked pretty quickly. Within the first week I started seeing things in life I always ignored. I went to a museum in Houston with family and discovered myself reading the signs around exhibits and actually taking in what I was seeing. It was amazing. Within a couple months I realized I wasn’t eating food regularly any more (it’s a common side effect) and my personality was changing too. We also increased the medication a few levels to figure out what was the right level to be at. I ended up taking myself off of the medication a bit earlier than I had wanted to originally but I could see the longer I was on it the harder it would be to come off. I wasn’t addicted per se but the clarity I got from it was hard to give up. Really hard.

Post-Medication

Since I’ve been off the medication I’ve been using the tools my counselor and I came up with to help with concentration and focus. Primarily its a mix of the following:

  • Exercise
  • Note taking
  • Music
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness

Exercise

Being active is a huge part of the success with dealing with ADHD. Working at home gives me a ton of flexibility to include exercise in my daily routine. I’ll break up my day around noon with a bike ride, walk or step aerobics in my basement. Since February of this year I’ve been using a treadmill under my standing desk with some good results. I try to walk in the morning and afternoon and then stand in between. I find it gives me some different kind of focus than when just purely standing. I haven’t fully decided if I’m more successful with the treadmill desk but I am benefitting from the activity being more regular health-wise.

Note taking

Taking notes is a huge deal with ADHD. You have to leave yourself a reminder of where you left off on a task or else you will forget. Short notes are sometimes not even sufficient – a few words is sometimes not enough to remind you. It’s crazy how often I can forget to do something even hours later without a note. I haven’t found the perfect single place to leave notes so it’s a combination of sticky notes on my monitor, handwritten notes next to my keyboard and electronic notes in Evernote. I should boil it down to one place but I tire easily of a single solution and then stop using it.

Music

I’m not quite sure how I’d survive without music. I’ve been listening to electronic/trance/techno music since I was 12 years old when I discovered it allowed me to concentrate on tasks. Most electronic music (if there isn’t a lot of vocals) will busy the part of my brain that is trying to derail me. Working in a regular office environment you’d always find me with my headphones on. Working at home I’m using open speakers and I find that I don’t get the same effect. I actually don’t listen to music consistently throughout the day but when I find myself straining to finish a task, I find the right music to assist.

Meditation & Mindfulness

I should practice formal meditation more. Years ago I would set aside time to meditate and I enjoyed it. In the two years I’ve worked remote I’ve only done a full meditation exercise a handful of times. I tend to use short moments of meditation thought to help center myself when I feel like I’m going too many ways. Being mindful of yourself is a big help. Be aware of when you’re started to swerve off course and recognize the signs. Being on the treadmill desk is a little like meditation … it’s amazing how much around me sort of fades out when I’m walking and working.

The Noise

What it comes down to is you have to try to reduce or replace the noise in your head with something else. In radio engineering Signal to Noise Ratio is the amount of desired signal vs the background noise. You want more signal than noise otherwise your transmission isn’t effective. Signal is analogous to the task or idea you’re trying to focus on and the noise is everything else going on in your brain that’s trying to derail it. You have to find the ways that work for you to reduce the noise or improve the signal.

Much like radio engineers there are things you can do to improve signal and reduce noise – some of which I’ve mentioned. Everyone is different. For some the only thing that works is the medication – and it works well. Don’t be ashamed if you are on medication to help. There is such a negative stigma with taking medication for mental conditions which to me is crazy. Find what works for you! Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work down the road or if you fail with an experiment.

I Connected My Standing Desk to Evernote

I’ve been using an UpDesk since I started working from home in July 2013.  I typically try to stand over half of the day being careful to not hurt my lower back with multiple days of standing fatigue.  I do plenty of stretches and general movement while standing as well – but I do like to sit in my fancy Herman Miller Aeron chair once in a while.  Having the motorized desk is awesome for this because I can change the configuration of my workspace based upon my mood, attention momentum and other variables.  I noticed after some time, however, that I didn’t have a really good understanding of how often I switched configurations and generally how long I could stand.

So, I connected my standing desk to the Internet.

IMG_4173I’m using a SmartThings multi-sensor which has a magnetic switch, temperature and vibration sensor inside of it.  I attached the sensor to the bottom of the desk lift and the magnet to the bottom of the desk tabletop.  When the desk raises up, it sends a signal to the SmartThings hub over a Zigbee mesh network.

IFTTT RulesIFTTT is connected to my SmartThings account and I set up an action there for both the open and close events of the switch.  When either event occurs, an entry is added to an existing Evernote note with the action and time stamp.  It’s fairly simple and I wanted to send the events to a graph or spreadsheet but in the end I found the note and its history are sufficient for my needs.

Next steps?  Since I work remote I’m not tied to my desk.  I have the ability to work anywhere and on occasion I’ll work from a coffee shop or even my back porch.  I want to incorporate some sort of occupancy sensor to my office but I haven’t come up with the right solution.  Ultimately I want to know when I’m using the desk, not necessarily when there is movement in my office.  A weight sensor or maybe a limited proximity beacon of some sort would work.  I could pair the occupancy with desk position to determine the actual amount of time I’m sitting or standing and not just the change between states.

DeskSensor

Mounting Wires Under a Standing Desk

I purchased an UpDesk PowerUp Series I (original) last year and love it.  I got the standard maple-colored desk top and am very happy with the density of the wood, quality laminate and curved front edge.  The one thing I was not very satisfied with was the mounting option given for the clasps keeping the wiring under it from hanging.  I was given a good amount of these self-adhesive twist plastic cable ties:

WireTwist

Simple yet effective solution, right?  Yes but only if the adhesive pad would stick longer than a couple of days to the underside of the desk.  The adhesive was hit or miss on the surface.  I searched around for solutions that were permanent but not so much that if I wanted to move wires or add additional ones it would require unscrewing something.  I ended up finding these gems at Home Depot:

mountingbase

Source: HomeDepot.com

They have an adhesive backing to them and an optional screw hole for which I bought 1/2″ #8 wood screws.  Works like a charm.  You then take any old zip tie and feed it through and tie your cords up.

MountingBaseInstalled

So now I have the wires under the table all neatly attached.  I no longer have to worry about finding plastic ties fallen off the table and sticking to my hardwood floor.

Nerdy Fitness

Nerds are notorious for being the most disinterested in staying fit – well at least our stereotype.  I’ve definitely yo-yoed in weight over the years, being at my best weight about three years ago.  Job and other life changes got me distracted and I ended up 40lb heavier in a relatively short amount of time.

When I started working at home, I decided change was in order to make me a bit more aware of myself.  I ended up getting a standing desk and a really great Herman Miller chair as part of my office setup when I started at Automattic.  Standing throughout the day, and sitting at strategic points of fatigue and after exercise, has made a significant difference in my attention levels and I believe my overall health.

I also exercise at home fairly often.  I bought a stepper platform from Amazon – the ones used in gyms/clubs – and I do mostly step aerobics over my “lunch” time.  I shoot for 3 times a week and four if I’m feeling frisky.  Since coming off my ADD meds I find that exercise realigns my focus for the day.  I also put yoga into my routine although my goal at the moment is to drop weight so that yoga is easier.  😀

I’m definitely into metrics being a geek.  I wear a Nike Fuelband SE to track general movements, use a Withings WiFi scale to record weight daily, and record calories using MyFitnessPal.  I’m not looking for a highly accurate measure out of any of these devices but they do provide the barometer reading of my activity levels, general level of success, and help with planning the next step.  Since Fall 2013 I’ve been able to drop 30lb!

I’m seriously looking forward to spring/summer so that my partner and I can get out with our bicycles!