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Switching to an Ergonomic Keyboard Saved my Freelance Writing Career

March 30, 2011 – 2:27 pm

Like many freelance writers, I grew up completely ignorant of ergonomics.  Although I had heard the term batted about during my school years, I had never really considered the effect that a lack of respect for basic ergonomic principles could have on my health and ultimately my livelihood.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was engaged by a client to research and write on trends in the ergonomics and workplace safety industry that I was forced to take a cold, hard look at my own habits and the harm that they were doing to one of my most important writing assets:  my wrists.

On the face of things, it seems odd that it took me as long as it did to come to terms with the fact that ergonomics must be a key component of any freelance writer’s workplace environment.  For example, my mother had undergone carpal tunnel surgery while I was a teenager in order to deal with wrist problems of her own that had developed after many years spent in the administrative and IT sectors.  I had also experienced issues in the past during my classical piano training that indicated posture and hand position were often the difference makers when it came to practice with or without pain.

It wasn’t until I began to experience a startling soreness and numbness in my wrists and forearms after long 10 to 12 hour sessions at the keyboard that I began to connect the dots between the 50,000 words I was writing every week and the poor ergonomic habits encouraged by my standard PC keyboard.  I knew from my recent research into ergonomic typing styles that I needed to make some serious changes to my own workflow in order to avoid chronic pain and potential long-term damage to my wrists and hands, and that lead me to a search for a keyboard that would be safe to use during extended writing sessions.

The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 incorporates several features that are specifically designed to encourage proper typing posture and provide support for the wrists.  The 4000’s keyboard is not only split into two distinct groups of keys, but these segments are also curved away from each other and slightly recessed into the unit in order to create a more natural hand position.  The keyboard’s center peak also eliminates the need for the wrists to be pointed straight ahead at a 90-degree angle while typing.  A broad, lightly padded front attachment on the keyboard provides additional wrist support, incorporating a gentle slope that avoids the ligament pinching often associated with standalone gel wrist pads.

I have to admit, the idea of a canted, split keyboard was a hard sell for me.  I had avoided these types of ergonomic units for years and cursed them mightily every time I had to sit down at a colleague’s desk and interact with one.  After a short week-long learning curve, however, I discovered that the new keyboard design in no way impacted my productivity.  The reduction – and eventual disappearance – of wrist pain made the seven days of clumsy typing well worth.

It has been nearly three years since I replaced my stock rectangular computer keyboard for a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.  Consequently, it has been three years since I have felt any pain or discomfort while typing, despite the fact that my workload has increased logarithmically during that same period.  In all honesty, this keyboard saved my wrists, and I strongly encourage other freelance writers to investigate similar ergonomic solutions if they have not already.

Have there been any downsides to moving to the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000?  Well, I have to deal with deep sighs and frustrated outbursts from friends who attempt to type at my machine, and many of the keys have had their original lettering worn away over three years of constant use (although this problem did not occur to a friend who has been using his MS 4000 for nearly as long, so maybe I have particularly acidic fingers).  So, essentially, the answer is no.  In fact, I just purchased a second Natural Ergonomic Keyboard as a backup in case this one ever gives up the ghost.

I can honestly state that moving to an ergonomic keyboard is the best freelance writing-related health decision I have ever made.  I only wish I had been able to get over my prejudices against alternative keyboard layouts sooner than I did.

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