What should your work surface be like?

We have looked at what is best for a work chair in your office or at your work station.  Let us now
consider possibilities for your work surface for same activities.


As they say in the real estate world, look for the best place to put your work surface within the limits of your available office space or within a room of your home.  Now that you know the real estate location, what should you consider next before placing the work surface into your work area?  Make sure the area feels right and that where the work surface is place is not a distracting location.  What do we mean by that?   For example having your primary work surface at a window with view of the garden may be calming to you, but having a view of the sidewalk or street may be distracting to you due to people or vehicle traffic.  Some people prefer to have their work surface facing a doorway so they can see who is coming into their area.  However, again this may be distracting due to people movement around the office or in the home, so it could prevent your ability to focus.  If you prefer turning your back to the door to prevent possible distractions but still want to know when someone may be entering your work area, a mirror posted on a wall above your work surface may be a solution to that as it limits how much you see behind you.  When it comes to location, you have to decide what works best for your focus and work style.


Your primary work surface should be at your elbow level.  That would be where your wrists remain straight and your forearms are horizontal when working at it. For most people, the primary work surface should be off the ground by 30 inches for handwriting and 26 inches for computer work.  However, to get the right height for you, concentrate on what keeps your elbows at approximately a 90-degree angle when working and does not cause fatigue your arms and shoulders.  If your work does not require use of lots of extra materials, then try to limit your movement with a work surface or desk that has drawers for storing what you are not using.  Having at least one deep drawer for files and other drawers for supplies and material storage makes working easier since your items are nearby when you need them. 


Keep urgent items on your work surface and everything else in baskets or files that are out of sight.  However, make sure they are easily retrievable when you need them.  When placing your tools or other work items on your work surface, place the items you use the most often within arm’s reach to prevent movement and strain.   Remember to save your workspace by removing things from the work surface when you are not using them.  One way is to consider hanging reference data, which is not sensitive, on a bulletin board close to the computer or phone.  If your data may be semi-sensitive, but not does not need to be secured by locking it away, tape it under your keyboard or pencil tray inside a drawer.  If your data does need to be under lock and key, place it in the first and closest folder in lockable file cabinet or desk drawer. 


You may also want to consider having an optional standing work surface for some work tasks to reduce back strain from sitting too long. If you think two work surfaces require too much extra cash and space, remember this second work surface can double as extra space for spreading out if you have a task that requires.  If more work surface is often necessary for your work, you may want to consider using rolling tables, carts, or small storage or file cabinets to create an L-shaped area.  A cart with shelves that is movable for extra work surface or storage space wherever it is necessary may be ideal because you can move it out of the way when you are no longer in need of the extra surface area.  Or if the work is rare and not too large, you may just need a small triangular-shape table in an open corner for use as a temporary work surface.  If you have a credenza, chest, or other furniture which may be useful as a possible work surface, keep it clean.  That way your work area looks tidy and you are ready for those large jobs that need to be spread out over a larger area than your primary work surface allows.   


It is also acceptable to use your guest chair, if one is available in the work area as a holding space for in-work items or reports.  Move this chair closer to the work area to limit your movement.  Using the guest chair in this way also has the added benefit of discouraging people from coming in, having a seat, and taking up your time when you have an urgent task or project to complete.  If people have to stand to talk with you, they will cover what they need to say and move on quicker.  If you feel the conversation is necessary, you can always empty the chair temporarily to the floor or another surface to allow for longer conversations.  Just make sure you keep the work stack within your line of sight, but not so close to the other person that it may be tripped over.

** Bonus tip for increasing your productivity- Stay organized by making sure you to clean off your work surface each day before leaving your work area.  This ensures a clean work area is available for you the next time you start working.

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