It’s tempting to go looking for a bargain when it comes time to stock your home office with equipment. And there’s nothing wrong with looking for a bargain in itself; if you find a high quality item on sale, by all means, get it now – don’t wait until it goes back up!
But buying certain items just because they’re cheap is a no-no. These are the items that you’ll be using every day as you begin to work at home and you need to make sure they’re top notch – or at the least, not harming you.
What I find most ironic is that the items you absolutely must not skimp on are relatively insignificant, cheap items in the grand scheme of things; you can get away with a budget computer (in most lines of work), even though it is generally considered one of the biggest expenses of a home office, but you can’t get away with the same when it comes to the following five, fairly mundane, items.
Yeah, these items may not be the things you look at in the catalogues with a smile on your face, dreaming dreams of how wonderful they must be, but that’s exactly why it’s important to remember: these things are worth your dosh.
When a fairly good, ergonomic office chair of mine broke at the end of last year, it was towards the end of the month. As you freelancers will know, that’s just before most of the cash for the month comes in, and I had to work; I couldn’t wait long to buy a replacement.
So what did I do? I went to K-Mart and grabbed the first mid-back chair on sale and went home. It was a decision I regretted for a long time, though I stubbornly held onto the back-killer for just a couple of months shy of a year.
You’re going to be sitting in your office chair for hours every day; anywhere between five and fifteen hours, depending on how impending your deadlines are! Unless you want to cause some serious back and posture problems, get a good chair. I’ve also noticed that a good, supporting chair increases productivity by a mile.
Like many people, here’s another item I skimped on. I’ll be honest, I’ve still got a cheap and dodgy desk in my home office. The design is totally unergonomic and not very sturdy to boot – after several moves of house, this desk doesn’t have much life left in it. It’ll be dead by the next move, I reckon. But it also can increase the tension in my wrist as it makes it hard to get to the mouse, and doesn’t provide a great view of the monitor either – causing eye and neck strain.
A good desk is expensive, and that’s why we skimp. But not only will a good one save you in medical bills later on, it’ll save you in the long run. One good desk that lasts ten years is much better and cheaper than a series of crappy desks that fall apart after two years of use. This general rule goes for everything listed here.
My mouse is a Logitech VX Revolution. It was a bit pricey for a mouse at AU$150 (at the time, I’ve seen them for $100 now) and it’s actually meant to be a notebook mouse, but the ergonomic design has done wonders for my wrists over the years I’ve owned the device. It’s been a long time now, but I still have faint memories of cheap mice giving me wrist pain in the past.
The scroll wheel is starting to die on the ergonomic rodent. Guess what my next purchase will be? Another Logitech VX Revolution. Most people – at least almost every single person whose system I’ve seen – opt for the $10 wired mouse or its $30 wireless sibling. They’re priced that way for a reason. Steer clear.
At one stage about three years ago I was starting to develop some serious wrist pain from keyboard usage. I was waiting for it, in a sense – I am a writer, after all. And while I hadn’t cheaped out on the keyboard I was using at the time, I had been blinded by all the extra buttons and functions that would supposedly make life easier and computer use quicker (this was back when keyboards with heaps of function buttons were cool).
And despite not totally skimping, I still got a dud product. It was a dud because it had not been designed with any ergonomic thought whatsoever and the relentless need to type eventually became relentless pain.
Also, it was really hard to get the gross accumulated crumbs out of its nooks and crannies, but that’s another story.
So I went out to look for another keyboard that would not strain my wrists and I found one that worked wonders. It also happens to be the only product I own from Microsoft (and of course I’ve heard all the lame jokes about using a Microsoft keyboard on a Mac). The Natural Ergonomic 4000 brought quick relief to my wrists and can be configured in just about any position you like.
I mentioned I’d buy another Logitech ergonomic mouse when my current one dies. Well, when it comes to my keyboard, it’s not just speculation. I’m already on my second Microsoft Natural Ergonomic – exact same model and all. Just don’t spill coffee in the thing like I did and you should be fine.
When most people think of spending money on a monitor, they think of bang per buck in terms of inches per buck.
Size isn’t everything, and sometimes less is more. There are a few things to consider when it comes to monitors, and again, from personal experience in less than ergonomic conditions.
The first thing to worry about: some monitors are not adjustable. You can’t change the height and you can’t change the tilt so that it more naturally lines up with your eye level. These monitors are no good.
Also, cheaper monitors – particularly CRTs but also some LEDs I’ve used – can emit a high frequency noise that can cause headaches or just become perpetually distracting and get in the way of productivity.
The final thing to consider is that some monitors are just to big for what you need. Others are too small. The point isn’t to buy the largest screen you can afford; it’s smarter to find the screen that suits your work and however much you need to see at one time without straining your eyes. I personally have found 30″ displays straining, even though I dreamed about having one for years. While 24″ took some getting used to, it’s a perfect strain-to-size compromise for me.
If you do want more real estate but don’t want the strain of trying to take in one whole large screen at once, consider getting dual monitors. You only have to focus on one at a time but still have heaps of real estate space.
Now, of course, getting a screen that is small enough is not going to cost extra – it may just save you some money. But remember that cheaping out has undesirable ergonomic effects in the monitor department, too.
So you’ve considered what you need most and purchased your items carefully. If each of the items in this list are high quality and suited to you, you’ll find a massive improvement in your comfort and productivity in the office. The little things do matter, especially when they all add up together.
Once you’ve got a great ergonomic system, you can go spend $200 on some old computer* with 256MB of RAM – who cares about the thing, you’re comfortable!
* I do not actually recommend cheaping out on your computer. If you went to someone’s MySpace profile with only 256MB of RAM these days you’d probably cause an explosion. Still, the point is about priorities.