Although I still have desktop (maybe not for much longer), I find myself using a laptop more and more these days. And using a laptop presents its own special challenges.
Last week I looked at ways to set up your work station, and in particular your seat, to support you better as you use your computer. Again, remember the ergonomics is secondary to the way we use ourselves as we sit. In fact, if we use our body well, with awareness and understanding—with body intelligence in fact—we can cope well with all manner of situations, and we don’t have to rely on the ergonomic set up to do it for us (not that it does!).
The beauty of a laptop is that it is portable, so there’s less chance of getting stuck in just one arrangement, and working in a variety of positions is definitely good for us. When you observe people working on their laptop, however, what you see is usually not so great. You see people hunched over and scrunched up, with neck compressed and arms held tightly in, and many more uncomfortable contortions – all doing the opposite of helping us improve productivity, project confidence and be more comfortable!
So, here’s my advice for using a laptop with the easy, upright poise which does engender productivity, confidence and more.
At a table or desk…
If you’re using your laptop at a desk or table, everything I wrote about your seating arrangement last week holds true, especially the advice to raise the height of your chair so that your hips are a little higher than your knees. Then tilt the screen of your laptop so it’s easy to read without having to scrunch down. Starting out from a comfortable upright position balanced on your sit bones, allow your eyes to look down toward your screen, initiating a slight rotation or nod forward of the head (without collapsing your chest) right at the top of the spine (roughly between your ears and behind your nose). Experiment with your screen to find the right angle of tilt so you can see it easily.
It’s also useful to be aware of the hinging action of your torso at the hip joint. This is where the higher level of your seat comes in really useful. You can hinge your whole torso forward a little at the hip joint, moving it as one lengthening, breathing unit, to enable you to see the screen better while maintaining a beautifully integrated back.
A laptop also makes it easier to experiment with non-traditional set ups. There has been a lot of press over the last few years about the dangers of sitting too much, and with a laptop you can easily mix things up and try out standing. I’ve noticed that recently there have also been a few reports noting that standing can have its problems too. As with sitting, it’s not just the position, it’s how well (or not) we use ourselves in that position that counts.
When standing to work, as with sitting, watch that you are not hunching over or sticking your head out. Place your laptop, and tilt the screen back, so you can see it easily while maintaining an easy, upright stance, just using your eyes to initiate a slight nod forward of the head from the very top of the spine. As you stand be aware of your feet on the ground, shifting your weight so you have a more-or-less even distribution of contact with the ground, and think of your knees as soft to avoid locking them. Remember even though you are standing you are not rigid – that you are breathing and moving even in relative stillness.
An added benefit of standing is that when you pause to think about your work, for instance, you can easily take a step back, move, even walk around the room. Getting up and moving is always helpful!
On your lap!
If you are using your laptop actually on your lap, sitting on the couch perhaps, put something under it, if possible (like a cushion) to raise the height somewhat, making it easier for you look at it without hunching down. Again, tilting the screen is important to enable you to see it without scrunching up, and is especially important if you have nothing underneath it. If you like to sit cross legged, a cushion can be doubly helpful in raising the height of the laptop and giving it more of a surface to rest on. Take care not to have your laptop too close, so your arms are cramped into your body as you type.
There can be many challenges to our bodies in using the wonderful technology available to us. Laptops offer us flexibility and variety – we just need to remember that how we use ourselves is the most important part of the equation in our own comfort and productivity.
Do you use a laptop? Do you prefer it to a desktop computer? What do you find challenging? Let me know – I’d love to hear from you.