6 One-Off Investments From $19-$99 That Make WFH-Life More Comfortable
Create a comfortable home office space that supports your productivity and health.
The daily commute used to be rewarded with a cozy office, free coffee and fruits, a desk, a comfortable chair, and a complete, ergonomically correct desk setup. At the beginning of the pandemic, the masses were ordered to stay at home and continue their work from there. Since the pandemic commenced, we improvised desks in our closets, on ironing boards, at the corner of the family dining table, or in the separate bedroom. That temporary working from home solution is starting to seem permanent.
We’ve made ourselves comfortable at the office. Per year added to your employee loyalty, ten quirky, non-essential personal items are added to the desk, to make it feel more like “your” space. Have you made the same effort to create an ideal WFH environment that supports your productivity and health? Ignoring pains and stiffness while sitting on a barstool or piled-up beer crates might be doable for a short while, but you’ll feel it in your back sooner or later.
If your desk is an ironing board, you’ll eventually you’ll also need that. You’ll be re-assembling your “desk” space several times a week, which is annoying and unnecessary. Saving a few square feet to place a “proper” desk or table, reserved for work only is a better approach.
Assuming you work from a laptop, I suggest considering the following six investments in the price range of $19.99 to $99 to make working from home more comfortable:
#1 Computer/blue light-blocking glasses ($50)
Eyestrain is largely caused by digital overuse, which has increased since the pandemic started*. You’re staring at the screen for hours on end, probably neglecting the 20–20–20 rule. Reduce sore, dry eyes and headaches per today by relaxing your eyes frequently via looking at something that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. While you’re at it, blink! Your eyes need to stay lubricated. Normally we blink 15–20 times per minute, but that amount is reduced to only 7 times when reading text on a digital screen*.
Blue light-blocking glasses are said to prevent damage to your retina from long-term exposure to digital screens*, although research on this is not conclusive. I have experienced some symptom relief since I invested in a pair. It could be the placebo effect, but I’ll take it. At the time, I got my pair from Berliner startup Your Eyes Matter for 89€, but there are more inexpensive options available online.
#2 Ergonomically shaped desk chair ($70)
When I complained about an aching back, a co-worker once responded with “We are here to work, not to sit comfortably”. However, a constant ache can turn into a serious distraction I’d rather not have to deal with.
At the home office, I turned my small 90x90cm table into my workspace. For years I had been using the dining chair belonging to the set. The more hours I spent at “the office” on this particular chair, the more my back and bottom started to ache. I found a good deal for a €60 (around $70) ergonomic chair on eBay Kleinanzeigen (the German equivalent of “Craig’s List”) that would’ve cost me at least double the amount had I bought it new. I dragged the chair home and have now spent over 1000 50-minute sessions on it, making the total cost of this investment: <6 cents per session.
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#3 Laptop stand ($35)
Now the eyestrain and back pain was reduced, it was still prevalent. I noticed after a long time that when on the laptop, despite sitting on the ergonomic chair, I was looking down all the time. The screen was not at the right height. I invested in a basic laptop stand that heightened the screen to eye level. Miraculously my lower back and neck pains nearly vanished in thin air. This is the one I use. Cost: $35.
#4 Wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad ($99 once + $8 monthly)
After the previous purchase, the laptop was heightened and I couldn’t type on it anymore unless I’d hold my arms up all day. My next investments were a wireless keyboard and a trackpad. The keyboard is placed underneath/on the laptop stand, taking relatively no extra space on the table. I went for a trackpad for reduced strain on my wrists. Cost: $8 per month for a rented trackpad, and $99 for the keyboard I purchased. There are more inexpensive options, but I went for the Apple devices.
#5 Second screen: iPad & Duet Display App ($19.99)
Depending on what task I’m doing, having a second screen is more effective than switching back and forth on my 13,3-inch laptop screen (e.g. when going through rows-long spreadsheets).
I had an iPad already and preferred to keep my setup “agile”. After doing some research I learned that I could use the iPad as a second screen for merely $10 (the full price is $19.99 but I got it when they had it on offer).
Take care: if you have a late Mac, you’ll have Sidecar built-in, which does the same. Then you won’t need any external apps.
Have an iPad? That Means You Have a Second Screen
“Using an additional display can double your productivity by reducing time to switch contexts.” — Duet Display.
#6 Thermo bottle ($32.95)
So you don’t have to walk back and forth to the kitchen after each cup of tea or coffee. I don’t like distractions such as thirst to bother me when I’m in the flow.
Before starting up the laptop I fill up my 20oz bottle with hot water. I use this bottle that was gifted to me. I’ll notice it standing next to me, grab it because it’s there, stay hydrated, and get closer to the recommend daily water intake without making an effort.
#7 Learn Touch Typing (free)
An extra tip: this is a regular practice and time-investment that will reduce strain on your wrists. TypingClub is a great free resource. You’ll be:
• Making it easier on the eyes, as you won’t be searching for keys on the keyboard, moving back to the screen, and back to the keyboard again, etc.
• Preventing your wrists from moving side to side and hereby preventing RSI or reducing symptoms you might already experience.
• Training muscle memory in your fingers to learn by heart where the keys are, so you can type and therefore work faster and get more emails or writing done in the same amount of time.
There are no affiliate links in this piece. I simply want to share this with you because it took me years before the idea of investing in some of these items came to mind, and I wish I did it sooner because they instantly alleviated some minor and less minor pains, making working at the computer more enjoyable, and me feeling less like a stiff and crooked glued-to-the-computer dungeon creature. Nobody wants that.