Can't live with your laptop, can't live without it? Here's how to avoid laptop RSI.
I wrote 5 Reasons Why Laptops Are Bad For Your Health in a not-quite fit of rage a few weeks ago. I hate what they do to people's bodies and judging by some of the comments and feedback I received since then, so do some of you.
Make The Best Out Of A Bad Laptop
Once I calmed down a bit, I got to thinking, "but what about people who already have a laptop and can't afford to replace it? They still need to know how they can make the best out of a bad situation".
Of course, you could get a docking station, but that would defeat the point. If you can't afford to replace your laptop, then the chances are you won't be able to afford a docking station, either.
So here is my answer: 4 laptop problems and solutions - ways in which you can mitigate or prevent RSI while using a laptop, apart from throw it away (although if you have the opportunity...).
To recap, in my previous post I highlighted these issues with laptops:
- They make you bend your neck.
- The keyboard is cramped.
- The keyboard is off centre.
- The trackpad interferes with the keyboard.
- The screen is too small.
Let's deal with each of those issues.
Four Laptop Problems And Their Solutions
Problem: laptops make you bend your neck
The number 1 issue with laptops is the screen height. With you looking down on your screen all the time, you'll get cramp in your neck.
Requirement: You'll need a monitor stand or an unopened pack of printer paper for this one.
Solution 1: Get an external monitor
Just pop your monitor on the stand or paper. Job done.
Solution 2: Get an external keyboard
Can't afford a new monitor? Put your laptop on the stand instead and plug in a keyboard (or pair it, if it's bluetooth/wireless). Sorted.
Problem: laptop keyboard is cramped or off-centre
Laptops by their nature are designed to pack a lot of power into a small, portable bundle. This has the unfortunate side-effect of squashing your fingers together while typing.
Solution: Get an external keyboard
A standard keyboard has the keys properly spaced. Your fingers will thank you for the extra room and so will your wrists, arms and shoulders. If you combine this with the external monitor from point 1, then you could be on to a winner.
You may have spotted there's a bit of a theme developing here...
Problem: trackpad interferes with the keyboard (or vice versa)
Trackpads can be over-sensitive and basic laptop design often puts them too close to the keyboard. When you're typing too near the trackpad, you end up moving the cursor accidentally and mess up words where you didn't intend.
Solution: Get an external mouse or alternative trackpad
You can get a cheap USB or wireless mouse (maybe bluetooth), or you could swap to a better ergonomic mouse, depending on your operating system.
Type and mouse better. Curse less.
Problem: laptop screen is too small
Unless you’ve got something like a top of the line Macbook Pro, with one of those lovely high resolution Retina screens, you’re going to have to deal with squinting at tiny icons while you work.
However, even a “decent size” laptop screen is still only around 11-13 inches. That’s fine for an hour or two for someone with 20-20 vision, but if you’re using that kind of screen for much longer… well, it’s just not worth the headaches IMO.
Solution: Get an external monitor
A monitor doesn’t have to be the highest resolution to help your eyes out, it just needs to be large enough for you, with good contrast and to be properly adjusted.
If All Else Fails
What about when you're on the move?
If you're absolutely insistent on using your laptop while traveling, get a fold up keyboard or a tablet with a stand instead.
You'll obviously need a table to lean on for that, so if that's not an option then make sure to limit your TIME using break software.
So, that's my (admittedly biased) take on how to deal with laptop health risks.
As you may have guessed, the keyword to take away from this article is "external".
Since you can't do much about the machine itself, connecting up external components can transform your work space. Nuff said.
P.S. And if you ignore all of that advice... don't say I didn't warn you!
Discussion Question: How do you work around these issues?