In its simplest definition, ergonomics is the study of how best to tailor our work to our selves. Detailed anthropometric data on our physical capabilities (ie: height, reach, length of thumbs) has helped designers improve the comfort and efficiency of everything from our workstations to our can openers. Our office chairs are adjustable, our keyboards curved; the screens on our ATMs are all a certain height. But you don’t need a degree to make your workstation more ergonomic. Any job/task can be modified to be made more efficient. And it’s not all about the height of your chair either; try incorporating your own behavioural patterns into task management, along with any quantitative measurements. The only thing you need to know is…
Let me demonstrate by applying my industrial design training to basic data entry…
In the above example, my boss asked me to modify (and/or re-enter) dozens of lines of data that had been adjusted since their initial entry. The data consisted of numbers (no discernable pattern), and the lines to be changed were located randomly throughout the document. Keeping everything 100% accurate (and in proper order) was paramount.
What do I know about ‘me’?
1) I naturally write at a slight angle to the page.
2) I automatically press the backspace key when I make a mistake.
3) I have the number pad memorized (wondering how?)
4) I get motion sick very, very easily
How did I use this self-knowledge?
1) Because my body positions itself naturally (and therefore most comfortably) at an slight angle to any print work, I taped the paper at the same angle – although it’s a bit hard to tell from the photo.
2) Taping a visual cue over the backspace key was the only way I found to stop my finger from unconsciously pressing the button.
3) Since I have the pad memorized, I kept my eyes on the paper and both hands on the keyboard. One hand worked the tab key to skip data sets, while the other ‘owned’ the number pad.
4) I tend to get nauseous when I’m overloaded with visual stimuli or when my eyes switch focus too frequently. Yah, I’m a real treat to ride the bus with. I always try to nab the front seat in cars, and the same principle works for data entry – keeping everything front and center. I slid the cardstock (and scotch tape) frame down the page to isolate each data line. Similarly, the screen was shrunk to limit the lines shown, and was moved to the bottom of the monitor to be as close to the paper as possible (to reduce eye movement).
Note: My coworker, when faced with the same task, memorized the numbers on the page so she could keep her eyes on the number pad while typing (unlike myself, she didn’t have it memorized). She reorganized the setup of the task to cater to her individual strengths. Kudos.
Let me tell you a secret…
You already know all about ergonomic task management; you apply its principles every day. The key is to practice it consciously. There is an incredible amount of flexibility in even the most structured environments. You may only have space and permission for micro-adjustments, but even those can have a phenomenal impact on your comfort and efficiency. So next time you’re washing the dishes, or writing up a memo, take a blank-canvas look at the task in relation to you and your environment, and make it your own!