What Monks Can Teach You About Healthy Computing

“Many experts recommend use of a document holder or other device that will put the reading material at eye level or slightly lower to avoid bending forward or stooping to read from a lower surface. These posture techniques, although simple, are very effective and can add years to your life and reduce needless suffering.”

– Dr. Scott Fuller

What Monks Can Teach You About Healthy ComputingWhile reading and writing we often tilt our head down and collapse our torso in order to work. When typing or mousing, the source documents are usually placed flat on the desk and to the side of the keyboard, forcing us to either look down or to look again and again to one side.

Repeatedly looking down or to one side can contribute to neck and upper back discomfort. To avoid a collapsed posture and neck and back tension, learn this simple lesson from the monks.

A lesson from monks about healthy computing:
Many of us have seen paintings of monks with quill pens diligently transcribing ancient texts. Their work was placed directly in front and they sat fairly erect, writing on slanted surfaces.

Computer work often involves entering information from source documents. These should be located beside the screen and in the same plane. This reduces the size and amount of head and eye movements between the document and the screen and decreases the likelihood of muscular and visual fatigue.

The best way to position documents correctly is to use an adjustable document holder. An administrative professional for 15 years, administrative coordinator Pat Potter CPS of Savannah, Georgia, says most of her jobs have involved extensive typing from paper documents. At her current position with Georgia Institute of Technology Savannah, she often types technical papers for professors. She appreciates the invention of the “document holder.”

“As paperless as we may think we are becoming, with the amount of written text I have to transcribe into electronic format, I could not function effectively without the document holder,” Potter says. Using one with a magnetic line guide helps her to stay on track, even after interruptions.

“The document holder also keeps my eyes from traveling all over, and it enables me not to experience a stiff neck or constant bobbing of my head if the paper were lying flat on the desk,” she says. Head and neck rotation and eye refocusing is exactly what you’re trying to eliminate by using a document holder, says Kramer.

Document holderThough you can put your document holder close or even attached to the left or right of your monitor, Kramer believes the best document holder offers “in-line viewing.” Positioning the document between the back of your keyboard and the bottom of your monitor (usually at a slight angle) is “in-line viewing.” Likewise, she says to use a slant board, which has an inclined surface, for reading and writing at your desk.

You can also create your own slanted surface between the keyboard and the monitor with a cardboard or thin hard surface (most commercial document holders are too tall or have a limited slant which may block part of the monitor). Tape the board to the bottom edge of the monitor and tape a single-sided thin foam weather stripping at the bottom of the board so that documents do not slip down.

Investigate using a slant desk or slanted document holder when you write and read so that you can avoid collapsing your torso and tilting your head down. Here are some options:

A portable, adjustable slant board placed on top of your desk for writing and reading.

A slanted drafting table instead of a desk (for convenience, use a large travel coffee mug that can rest on a slanted table without spilling your cappuccino).

Slant your desk by putting blocks or upside down mugs under the back legs of the desk.

Working at a computer can be a pain in the neck, literally, if you let it. That’s why you don’t want to miss out on some often inexpensive solutions to rid yourself of the aches and pains, eye strain, fatigue, and more that can accompany long-term computer work.

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