The motivation

About a year ago, like most developers, I started to feel my wrist tense and tired at the end of my working days. Nothing as severe as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) yet, but I took it as a serious sign that it might be coming up sooner than later. So I decided to start my ergonomic journey and fully equip myself to improve my comfort and hopefully buy some time. This post is all about my experience and evaluation of different items.

Rating system

This simple rating system has nothing fancy and is only there to give you a gross idea of what items are more important, in my opinion. Hopefully, it will help you choose which items you could integrate into your lifestyle first.

Criteria:

  • Comfort: The impact it made on my comfort
  • Simplicity of change: How simple the change is to integrate into your lifestyle and time to get used to it
  • Price: $$$

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My starting point

Even if I invested quite a lot in ergonomic stuff in the last year, I wasn't starting from scratch either.

1. Chair - Secret Lab Titan

Rating

  • Confort: 4/5
  • Simplicity: 5/5
  • Price: 3/5

It's easy for developers to start bending forward and getting closer to your screen while coding and getting in the zone. That why when shopping for new chairs, I always look for one with a headrest. I find it helps me to think about keeping my back straight and my head high.

The Secret Lab Titan chair is comfortable and durable. You can tell it's a very high-quality build that will last for a long time the second you get it. I remember that even the packing was very well made and high quality. It tells you a lot about a product right from the start. Pretty much everything on this chair is adjustable, which makes it highly customizable. It even has adjustable lumbar support that you can set to your convenience.

A chair is a pricy item, especially the ergonomic ones. However, when you compare the Secret Lab Titan with similar ergonomic chairs, it's one of the cheapest I've found.

Pro tip: If you can be patient, they go on sales a few times a year, and you can get as much as 150$ off.


2. Desk - UPLIFT Standing Desk V2

Rating

  • Confort: 3/5
  • Simplicity: 3/5
  • Price: 1/5

This desk was the latest addition to my gear right before I started my ergonomic journey. I got the idea to get a stand-up desk after my employer bought some to make shared stations that everyone could use in the office. I began to use them more and more and felt that a stand-up desk could be valuable for my home office.

Sitting for long hours is bad for your health, and some will even say that sitting is the new smoking of our generation. Unfortunately, these days, more and more jobs require to sit in front of the computer for many hours. A stand-up desk offers an alternative to sitting all day as you can switch between sitting and standing.

Uplift is one of the best brands out there, and for a reason. The desk is incredible. It has a clean and beautiful design, it's robust, and there are many options you can choose from; cable holes, cable management system, size, color, rest mat for your feet, etc. I won't lie though, even if you go with one of the cheaper models, the options add up pretty quickly, and the bottom line is quite expensive if you want the whole package.

It's an excellent item, but definitely, a luxury one that you should probably get last. I honestly don't use it enough and still sit most of my days. I guess it takes more discipline than I have to get the most of this item. My advice to you would be to make sure you'll use it enough before investing that much money in a desk.


3. Monitor arms - Range Single Monitor Arm by UPLIFT Desk

Rating

  • Confort: 4/5
  • Simplicity: 5/5
  • Price: 4/5

I bought these at the same time as the desk as an add-on. The arms deserve a section of their own as they make a pretty big difference in my comfort. Monitors are rarely at the right height for your eyes, as only a few models on the market come with an adjustable stand. A monitor's arm allows you to set your screen at the perfect height and at a proper distance from yourself. It also frees up a lot of space on your desk as a bonus.


4. Mechanical Keyboard - Das Keyboard Pro

Rating

  • Confort: 4/5
  • Simplicity: 5/5
  • Price: 4/5

That keyboard is the first "ergonomic" item I ever got, and I have had it for over ten years now. Once you taste the feeling of a mechanical keyboard, I don't think you can ever go back to a regular one. I'm not sure it can be considered officially as something ergonomic, as the difference in the strength needed to press a key is very subtle. However, when you think that you probably make a few million keystrokes a year, it can add up and make a real difference. I cannot live without a mechanical keyboard anymore.


The experiment

5. Keyboard Layout - DVORAK

Rating

  • Confort: 4/5
  • Simplicity: 1/5
  • Price: 5/5

I've been intrigued by DVORAK for a long time and never had the guts to make the jump. I ended up practicing a bit here and there, but I could not use it functionally to work.

Last year, I finally decided to commit myself to do it for real. How did I do it? I set myself a plan to force myself to use it every day more and more. I started by 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, an hour, half-day, etc. Learning DVORAK requires a tremendous amount of discipline and willpower when you've been using QWERTY for so many years. At first, it feels so unproductive and frustrating. It's normal and expected as you are going (in my case) from >90 wpm to <20 wpm and continually making mistakes and looking at your keyboard.

The benefits

That being said, there's a lot of benefit of going through rewiring your brain to DVORAK and retrain your muscle memory. First, you'll learn touch typing for real as there's no point looking at the keyboard. Of course, you can switch your keycaps around, but it defeats the purpose of learning to touch type.

Second, it feels much, much more comfortable. There's a considerable controversy out there about if it reduces RSI or not. So far, I've seen no scientific proof that it does. However, here are some facts. Did you know that you can type 70% of English words on the home row compared to only 32% in QWERTY? You make whatever you like with this information :D. Personally, I enjoy DVORAK, and I don't think I'll ever go back.

In the end, this change is by far the most difficult to implement and get used to. On the other hand, it costs nothing. I guess it's more of a personal preference at this point.

If you are interested in that kind of thing, Colemark is also worth a look.


6. Keyboard - ErgoDox EZ

Rating

  • Confort: 4/5
  • Simplicity: 3/5
  • Price: 3/5

Keyboards still have the same unergonomic design they had in the '60s. The fact that all the keys are clustered together forces you to turn your wrist in a position that causes a lot of stress on them. On the other hand, Ergonomic keyboards are designed so that your forearms are straight, and thus you don't have to turn your wrists.

As I said above, I'm a big big fan of mechanical keyboards, and I wasn't willing to give that away for ergonomy. It made my search for the perfect keyboard much harder. Ergonomic mechanical keyboards are rare, but they exist, and you'll find them if you search enough. After throughout research, I finally found THE one, the ErgoDox EZ.

Here are a few features that made me fall in love with it:

Split design

That keyboard allows you to position each half where it makes sense to you. Typing at shoulder width will enable you to keep your chest open and instantly leads to a more relaxed posture.

Ortholinear

When you extend your finger, it doesn't go sideways, right? So why are the keys on your keyboard not directly on top of each other? The answer is archaic design. The ErgoDox EZ has linear columns of keys, reducing finger travel and fatigue. It's also one reason why switching to an ergonomic keyboard is not so easy to get used to. Your finger muscles are so trained to move in specific positions that you'll keep hitting between two keys at the beginning.

Mechanical (with customizable key switches)

Mechanical! You can choose from more than 15 key switches, each having a different feel type. There's something for everyone's taste.

Fully customizable and programmable layouts

This feature is what sold me over the other competitors. The fact that I wanted to switch to DVORAK and that I could configure multiple layouts with this keyboard seemed almost too good to be true. Of course, you can change layout easily at the OS level; however, having all of your layouts and configurations burned directly into your keyboard firmware is another level. With this keyboard, you have some keys that don't exist on a regular keyboard, which you can assign to anything, event macros. It also means you can plug the keyboard into any computer and start typing—a real plug-and-play experience.

Interested in my layouts and configurations? You can clone it or download it here


7. Mouse - Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball

Rating

  • Confort: 5/5
  • Simplicity: 4/5
  • Price: 4/5

Last but not least, the trackball. If you only have the budget for one item, this one made the most significant difference in my comfort. It may seem scary at first to switch from a mouse to a trackball, but it's relatively easy to get used to it. You'll be up and running in minutes, and your pointing accuracy will get better and better over time.

I like this trackball because you can operate it with any finger or even with the palm of your hand instead of relying only on the thumb like most trackballs. It allows you to split the stress between different parts of your hand and avoid fatigue.


Put it all together

I bought all of that right before the pandemic and then got stuck home since then. In hindsight, maybe I got lucky, but that timing couldn't have been more perfect. I hope that I convinced you to invest a bit more in your workspace ergonomy, especially if you work in front of a computer all day long like me.