Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Do this at your desk to be more productive

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Office workers face a variety of obstacles to greater productivity, from workplace distractions to repetitive stress injuries. But some minor changes to the desk environment may be surprisingly effective in overcoming these hurdles.

According to Kate S. Brown, the owner of Impact Organizing in Sarasota, Fla., the scarce resource for any worker is attention. To keep that attention in the right place, she suggests viewing the desk as having a working surface and a storage component. Most people have a working surface cluttered with old papers.

“They’re not really active, they’re not really in play. They’re just nagging,” says Brown. “But if I go to a blank desk with the files I need to balance year-end accounts, I’m increasing the odds that’s going to happen.”

Brown suggests keeping the working surface clear and reserving the storage space of the desk for items likely to be used in the next week. Everything else should go to a back stock area out of sight where it’s not a distraction. Likewise, it can be helpful to silence other potential distractions like audible email notifications.

Cloud-storage products like Evernote and Shoeboxed can also make it easier to shift to digital storage, as can smart phone cameras, which are the “poor man’s document scanner,” says Brown. “Take cell phone pictures of pages and email them to yourself instead of hauling them around.”

Digital files can also reduce time spent filing since they just need to be retrievable through search. Big buckets are better for this purpose than tons of subfolders, and keywords can help. For instance, Brown changes the subject lines of her emails before saving them to include keywords that will be easy to find later.

A focus on proper ergonomics of the office space can also be a big boon to productivity. James Mallon, executive vice president of the ergonomics consulting firm Humantech in Ann Arbor, Mich., believes one key is finding ways to stand more throughout the day.

“It could be by having a fully functional sit-stand desk, or just standing when you’re on the phone or in a meeting,” Mallon says. “Standing helps keep you alert and changes your body position more frequently.”

While the health hazards of sitting too much are well-documented, standing too much can lead to a greater risk of varicose veins or hardening of the arteries.

“You don’t want to stand all day,” says Mallon, who uses a sit-stand desk himself. “If you can get it close to 50/50, that’s great.”

Mallon also notes that while many people focus on chair quality, “what tends to be the problem is that people don’t have their monitors at the right height.” In most cases, they’re too low. They should be high enough to allow a neutral neck position and should be about an arm’s length away.

Since laptops don’t allow for these geometries, they should be used in the office with a separate keyboard and mouse set at about the height of the resting elbow. The mouse should be as close to the body as possible.

“People who don’t use that numbered keypad on the keyboard should get a keyboard that doesn’t have that, or use a left-handed mouse,” Mallon says. Those who wish to sit and stand during calls should get a wireless headset. A dual-monitor setup can be another productivity booster.

Beyond these options, Mallon recommends that organizations educate their people to make good choices.

“Ergonomics is relatively simple in the office,” he says. “There are only so many things that can go wrong and there are known solutions to those problems. You’ve got to empower people to make those choices.”

And, in the end, the choice to embrace better organization and ergonomics at the desk level can pay off in enhanced productivity. By creating a more pleasant and comfortable workspace, they also make the idea of getting back to work considerably more appealing.

© CTW Features

Chris Gelbach CTW Features