Free Tips, Tools, & Resources for Boosting Your Productivity

How would you like to get more done every day?  I am a productivity-driven person, so squeezing out every moment of my work day is essential to me because I want to get a lot done and be able to relax at the end of the day.  Little frustrates me more than wasted time, including my own errors, as well as inefficient equipment or systems.  I wouldn’t exactly say I am a patient person.  If you’re like me, you might feel like you’re doing everything you can to boost your productivity.  However, I have found that a few free resources, such as browser add-ons and an online generator, as well as better equipment can save quite a bit of time that quickly adds up.

First, check out these great Firefox add-ons.

  • LeechBlock: a Firefox add-on that allows you to block sites so you can avoid their distraction.
  • Customize Google: CustomizeGoogle is a Firefox extension that enhance Google search results by adding extra information (like links to Yahoo, Ask.com, MSN etc) and removing unwanted information (like ads and spam). All features are optional and easily configured.
  • FlashGot: Download all the links, movies and audio clips of a page at the maximum speed with a single click, using the most popular, lightweight and reliable external download managers.
  • StatusBar: View and manage downloads from a tidy statusbar – without the download window getting in the way of your web browsing.
  • Flashblock: Flashblock is an extension for the Mozilla, Firefox, and Netscape browsers that takes a pessimistic approach to dealing with Macromedia Flash content on a webpage and blocks ALL Flash content from loading. It then leaves placeholders on the webpage that allow you to click to download and then view the Flash content.
  • URL fixer: URL Fixer is an extension for Mozilla Firefox that corrects typos in URLs that you enter in the address bar. For example, if you type google.con, it will correct it to google.com (asking first, if you enable confirmation).
  • Tab Mix Plus: Tab Mix Plus enhances Firefox’s tab browsing capabilities. It includes such features as duplicating tabs, controlling tab focus, tab clicking options, undo closed tabs and windows, plus much more. It also includes a full-featured session manager.
  • ScrapBook: Helps you to save Web pages and organize the collection.

And, a final productivity booster for any browser:

Now, take a look at these ergonomic products that maximize on comfort and minimize movement, thus making any workspace more efficient.
  • Ergonomic Mini Keyboard: a smaller, more compact design helps minimize movements for faster typing
  • Ergonomic Mouse:  a handshake grip like this Evoluent mouse offers is much more comfortable and prevents straining; pair it with a slim-lined ergo keyboard that lets you pull it in close, and you have an efficient little typing space!

Finally, be sure to take a look at these productivity tips for mousing and a mini keyboard.

Check out these free productivity add-ons, a free white noise generator, and efficient ergonomic equipment to get a little boost at work.

Why Anyone Can Benefit from a Left-handed Keyboard

Finding the right keyboard for you can be more challenging than it sounds.  It used to be that you just typed on whatever keyboard your office provided.  Now there are tons of options out there for the everyday typist.  It’s totally up to you what you want and what you choose- the important thing to consider is fit.  You want your hands to be able to fly over the keyboard efficiently and comfortably, not getting caught up with poor design.

I’d like to take a moment to highlight the benefits of a left-handed keyboard.  Now, before you righties sign off, a left-handed keyboard may be a good fit for you, too!

Ergonomic comfort

Left Handed Keyboard Mouse Placement ComparisonBefore I get to why a left-handed keyboard is great, it’s important to keep neutral typing posture in mind.  Neutral posture is where you keep all of your muscles in a neutral or relaxed position so you can protect yourself from pain and even injury. With a left handed keyboard, many typists find it easier to sustain extended hand and arm posture.  That’s because left- handed keyboards have standard QWERTY keyboard, but with the number pad relocated on the left side, which allows you to move in your mouse closer to the keyboard.  This minor change reduces the strain caused by reaching out for your mouse.  By keeping your arms closer to your body, you will lessen the strain in your arms and shoulders. A left-handed keyboard lets you move your mouse closer where your key pad would have been, making your typing more ergonomic and more comfortable, whether left- or right-handed.

Increased productivity and efficiency

A left-handed ergonomic keyboard, like all ergonomic keyboards, is designed to minimize effort while type, making every keystroke more efficient. But the left-handed design can further increase your productivity by allowing you to multi-task with your hands. For example, instead of moving back and forth between your number pad and mouse during spreadsheet data entry, you can use the number pad with your left hand and the mouse with your right hand.  Gamers also benefit from using the number pad and the mouse on your right simultaneously when game function requires concurrent actions.

In recent years, left handed keyboard have increased in popularity with right handed users because of the benefits they provide. The ability to use the mouse and the number pad at the same time can increase your productivity and efficiency on the computer. And as with all ergonomic keyboard they also provide better comfort and ergonomic protection.

Warming Up January!

Dreading January & February?

Ever since being a child, I have hated the first two months of the year.  The holidays were over, which meant no more Christmas presents, and the next major holiday would be Valentine’s Day- what a drag for those of us without significant others!  Even now that I’m married, who really likes V-Day or wants to celebrate it after spending a ton on Christmas and travel, not to mention the yearly events of anniversaries and birthdays??

I don’t think I’m the only one who dreads January and February.  For most of us, it’s cold and bleak outside, which just makes the time that much more depressing.  If you find yourself dreading the post-Christmas season or suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) , you might be pleased to know that there are some simple office remedies that have helped others like your.

Warm Up & Brighten Up!

Usually it’s the cold and the added dark hours that get people down in winter, even clinically speaking, so dealing with those two factors is essential in dealing with your own mood and boosting your productivity.

  • Warm up! Winter is cold.  Plain and simple.  If you don’t have access to a thermostat or find that you are still cold, there are some great ergonomic products made just for you!  You won’t need them all, but just using a heated keyboard, heated mouse, or heated foot pad will keep your fingers and feet (the outer extremities of your body) toasty warm and much more likely to keep working well.  Plus, you won’t dread coming to work or feel the need to dress in 17 layers.
  • Brighten up! Whether you don’t like the dark, or, like millions of others, you actually suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), adding light through the use of light therapy is sure to brighten your work space and your mood!  An improved mood usually aides in productivity.  Plus, it’s portable, so you can take it home with you for the long evenings and late-to-arrive mornings, too.  Many people enjoy them in their kitchens.

Don’t dread these early months- make the most of them by staying warm and feeling less depressed even if you suffer from SAD.

Tips for Avoiding Wrist Pain & Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is an increasingly popular work-related injury, and not in a good way.  Even though CTS is not a new medical problem, due to the excessive use of our hands and wrists as we type, mouse, and text, more and more people are suffering the effects of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a medical condition named for the narrow passageway known as the carpal tunnel, which is approximately the size of the thumb and is located on the palm side of the hand. This “tunnel” is surrounded by ligaments and bones and is in place to offer protection for the median nerve running through the arm and into the wrist, hand, and fingers. This important and much-needed nerve sends the signal to bend and move the fingers. When certain movements are repeated frequently or excessive pressure is put on this particular area, a host of symptoms may appear, often making the simplest of tasks difficult and even painful for many.

What Are Some Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Usually CTS presents in the form of pain in the wrist and hand, burning, tingling, or numbers in parts or all of the fingers.  If you notice any of these symptoms, do not ignore them!  Check out the tips below to avoid the onset of CTS and find relief.

  • Correct your posture.  You may not realize that there is proper and improper hand and wrist positioning.  Essentially, DON’T bend or cock your wrists.  DO everything you can to avoid cocking or bending of your wrists.  If you feel pain as you are typing, texting, or mousing, stop what you are doing and re-position yourself.

  • Try ergonomic products.  In particular, an ergonomic keyboard is designed to better your hands, while an ergonomic mouse makes mousing more natural and less straining for your wrists.  Regardless of what keyboard and mouse you’re using, be sure to keep them side-by-side and on the same surface to reduce movement and therefore injury.  So, lastly, a keyboard tray will store both and at a lower spot so your arms, wrists, and hands can work more comfortably.
  • Wear a wrist splint. If you’re already experiencing wrist pain, one of the trouble spots is night time.  So often, we flex our wrists and sleep with them in quite odd positions, never even aware of it.  Thus, wearing a wrist splint at night time can protect you from doing more harm.

Using an ergonomic keyboard and ergonomic mouse at work and wearing a wrist splint at night can greatly reduce wrist pain and injury.

Why You Should Make New Year’s Resolutions

Why Don’t We Make Resolutions?

It’s easy not to make New Year’s Resolutions.  Maybe it’s procrastination, maybe it’s laziness, maybe we just don’t feel like it or feel they’re not worth the time.  Many people feel like resolutions are just that- a waste of time.  They seem like lofty goals that won’t amount to much, except disappointment or feelings of failure.  However, choosing to forego making resolutions altogether can be a mistake because even the process of thinking through the upcoming year is worth the time itself.  That’s because it will force you to objectively evaluate where you are and where you want to be.

Now that I’ve motivated you to make resolutions this year {I have, haven’t I?}, the main thing to keep in mind is to be reasonable.  You’ll probably not become a millionaire in the next year or win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Instead of setting yourself up for failure, why not choose good goals that are beneficial for you, but also achievable with some work?  For instance, losing 20 pounds {rather than trying to get back to your high school size} or eating red meat once a week {instead of giving it up cold turkey} are do-able resolutions.  While the first thing that usually comes to mind is losing weight or working out more, forgetting about ergonomic health altogether.  Taking care of yourself ergonomically means being every bit as intentional at your desk as you are in every other part of your life.

Here are some pointers for ergonomic health you can implement as a New Year’s Resolution.

  • One of the main things you can do is to keep your work space clean and organized so you don’t over-reach to get the stuff you need (as a bonus, you’ll feel better too).
  • Additionally, keep good posture.  Sit up relatively straight with your back and even your arms well-supported as you sit at your desk day in and day out.  Use a keyboard tray to keep your keyboard and mouse lower than your desk so that you keep your arms well-positioned, at a downward angle.
  • Lastly, never, ever cock your wrists as you type or bend any part of you awkwardly.

Making assessments of the past year and looking forward to the next is worth the time, even if you don’t make every goal.  Just remember to make reasonable goals like maintaining ergonomic health.

The Importance of Sitting Ergonomically

Sitting Less

Too many people are uncomfortable at work and suffer from the aches and pains of having to sit all day.  In fact, experts tell us that too much sitting is literally killing us.  They recommend standing as much as possible, which is a great idea except for how challenging that is at work.  One way to achieve less sitting and more standing is to use an adjustable height desk which allows you to raise or lower the work surface for different purposes.

When you are sitting, it’s essential that you provide yourself with as much support as possible so you can sit in a “neutral” posture.  Being neutral is all about minimizing the amount of work  required by your muscles so you don’t have to suffer from over-straining your muscle.   The best tool for helping you maintain good posture is a well-adjustedergonomic chair that is actually designed to support and encourage ergonomic sitting.

Tips for Adjusting Your Ergonomic Chair

Having an ergonomic chair and knowing how to use it are two different things.  here are some tips for making sure your chair fits you.

Evaluate your chair.  If purchasing or choosing a chair, check the seat pan to make sure it’s not too small.  You should have at least an inch to spare on each side and you shouldn’t feel any sore spots while sitting.  Lastly, make sure the seat depth is fitted for your height; the seat should not touch quite the back of your knees. If this evaluation reveals any problems, you should strongly consider finding a better ergonomic chair that is the right size for you.

However, if your chair fits but still isn’t providing the support you need, take the time to customize it to be more ergonomic and more comfortable .

  • Place your feet flat on the floor. Raise or lower your chair until you feet are firmly on the floor. If your desk is higher or you need additional height,  use a foot rest to provide proper support. Don’t pull your feet under your chair or cross your legs; this will put pressure on your back and knees.
  • Recline a little. Don’t try to sit straight up. Your body relaxes better when you are slightly reclined. Move the back rest to lean back at a small angle from a straight-up position. This will decrease pressure on your spine.
  • Adjust the back support. If your back rest moves up and down, try several heights to find the best fit to the natural shape of your back. You can also easily add portable lumbar support if you need more padding for your lower back.
  • Move your armrests. Keep your armrests completely out of the way while typing. Resting your elbow on your armrests can compress the ulnar nerve at your elbow causing pain or injury.  Only use your armrests to take the weight off your shoulders while you are not actively mousing or typing.
  • Position your keyboard properly. The most comfortable place for your keyboard is about an inch or two off your lap, with your forearms almost parallel to your legs, the keyboard tilting slightly downward  away from your body. A keyboard tray allows this adjustment to happen quickly and easily.

Good posture is the key to healthy, more comfortable sitting. Start with a good, ergonomic chair that is adjusted to fit you. Add a foot rest and additional lumbar support to minimize muscle loads. Adjust your chair and correcting you posture can have a huge impact.

Tips for Back Pain Part 2: Ergonomic Adjustments

Ergonomic Adjustments for Less Back Pain

Last week we talked about back pain, its symptoms, and its causes.  We started off with a basic premise: back pain stinks.  Whether it’s from an injury or just chronic achiness, no one enjoys a stiff or painful back.  Did you know that 8 out of 10 adults experience lower back pain, over 50% of whom will experience at least one more episode, and that it is the 5th leading reason people see a doctor?  Some common forms of this back pain is a sharp, sudden pain or, conversely, a dull ache that is hard to trace.  For some, the pain shoots down a leg or worsens at night when lying down.  Most people report that their back pain is not the result of a specific injury or illness.  This leads us to believe that most back pain is caused by life style and habits.

Today, we’ll focus on ergonomic habit changes you can make that will help you deal with back pain.  You have to be able to live and work without chronic pain, so here are some simple ergonomic adjustments you can make to your work station, as well as better habits to keep your back from getting strained.

• Develop new habits, starting with posture.  You should try not to slouch in your chair or sit in positions that place strain on any body part.

• Your monitor should be at eye level.  Looking down at your laptop or monitor is killer for your neck, shoulders, and back.  An easy fix is a monitor lift so you can raise it to eye level.

• Your keyboard and your mouse should be on the same surface and close together.  Over-extending your reach also strains your back.  Thus, keeping your keyboard and mouse close together minimizes your movements and keeps your back more neutral.   Many workers find that using an ergonomic mini keyboard (which leaves out the numeric key pad usually on the right) helps them keep the mouse (and therefore their arms) in tighter, which helps avoid strain.

• Since you sit most of the day, make sure that your chair is comfortable and helps you maintain good posture.  Alternatively, an adjustable height ergonomic desk that allows you to sit or stand gives is ideal because it gives you freedom to stretch out your back and legs.

Take short breaks to stretch out your body.  Sitting all day is incredibly hard on your back.  Thus, take breaks to stand and stretch.  Be sure to stretch gently and slowly so you don’t injure yourself.

Even if it’s “normal” to have back pain, experiencing it is not the way life is supposed to be. You are your best ally in caring for back pain or strain.  By monitoring symptoms and making a few life style and ergonomic adjustments, you can alleviate and even avoid many stress-related injuries, like back pain.  The main thing to remember is to take care of yourself at home, work, and play by developing new habits, such as good posture and stretch breaks.

Tips for Back Pain Part 1: Symptoms & Causes

Back pain stinks.  Whether it’s from an injury or just chronic achiness, no one enjoys a stiff or painful back.  Did you know that 8 out of 10 adults experience lower back pain, over 50% of whom will experience at least one more episode, and that it is the 5th leading reason people see a doctor?  Some common forms of this back pain is a sharp, sudden pain or, conversely, a dull ache that is hard to trace.  For some, the pain shoots down a leg or worsens at night when lying down.  Most people report that their back pain is not the result of a specific injury or illness.  This leads us to believe that most back pain is caused by life style and habits.

What are some of the main causes of back pain?

There are probably a thousand different ways you could hurt your back.  However, there are a few general causes we can pin point.

• Muscle strain

• Spasm

• Ligament sprain

• Joint problems

• Herniated disk (aka slipped disk)

• Unusual activities that put strain on your back
How do I deal with my back pain?

Ruling out an actual injury, think about what you have been doing the past few days or weeks that could have caused strain on your back.  If there have been any unusual activities, such as moving furniture or playing a sport or starting a new exercise routine, then that may just be it.  Try to stretch your back and rest it for a few days and see if the pain diminishes.  If the pain persists, call your doctor.  It may be a hassle to schedule a visit, but your back is worth it.  Don’t take any chances.

Back pain is common and a leading reason for visiting the doctor.  Review your recent life style and changes you have made to see if they are contributing factors to your back pain.

{photo credit}

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder Naturally

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to as SAD, is a seasonal form of depression that happens during the shorter days of winter.  While SAD can affect anyone, and does affect up to 20% of the US population, it is usually more severe for those in living in farther north or in higher altitudes.  That’s because there is even less sunlight the farther north and higher up you go.

What are the Symptoms of SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder manifests in feelings of depression, increased fatigue and sleep, feelings of anxiety, etc.  It’s no fun.

How Can I treat SAD?

There are a couple of ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Medications.  Talk to a doctor and see what (s)he prescribes.  Some meds are successful, others are not, and there are certain side effects. It’s up to you if you want to go the route of medication- again, speak to your doctor before deciding one way or another.

Waiting It Out.  Since SAD is seasonal, the feelings of depression will subside once spring comes.  However, November through February can be a dreary waiting time as you fight to feel normal.

Natural Remedies.  One of the simplist natural remedies is light therapy. Light therapy involves purchasing a special light which replicates the rays of the sun. The person suffering from SAD sits in front of this light with their eyes open. This light is not found in normal incandescent household lights, and must be purchased exclusively for this type of therapy.  The light can be moved from room to room or even taken to the office.  A great bonus for light therapy is that it can be bought over the counter and does not have side effects.

Whatever type of therapy you decide to try in your battle against Seasonal Affective Disorder, it is important to keep in mind that it is treatable. Light therapy is one of the most straightforward and natural solutions for people who suffer from this disorder.

How to Give an Expensive Ergonomic Gift

Looking for a great Christmas gift for that hard to shop for someone in your life?

Have you ever had a gift that totally flopped?  Maybe you spent hours shopping for it only to spend a fortune and still not hit the mark…or maybe you had great ideas but not the money to execute them…or maybe you just ran out of ideas ans had no idea what to get, especially for those who truly seem to have everything.  Regardless of the reason, it’s never satisfying to feel you’ve let someone special down for Christmas.
4 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Stress
Christmas shopping is stressful enough even when you know what you want to get.  Not too long ago I posted some tips for avoiding holiday stress that I feel are worth revisiting because, while simple, they really help cut down on unnecessary stress:
  1. Make lists and prioritize daily.  Make a to-do list of activities you must compete for the holidays.  This list should be specific and date oriented. For example, instead of listing “get for the Christmas party at my house”, break down each aspect of your party with a target date for completion.  The more specific your tasks, the better. Making a general list sets you up to leave something out. Always set the dates early so you’re not in a frenzy to get the task complete.  Review and update your list on a daily basis.
  2. *Shop online.  A lot of time is spent driving all over town as you shop.  Make your shopping list early.  Almost anything on your list can be found online. Sit down one evening, take your list, get focused only on shopping, and begin. You’ll be amazed just how much shopping you can get done in only one evening.
  3. Make time for yourself. Even if it is only one or two hours per week, take time for yourself.  Make a list of things you’d like to do that relax and refresh you. Read a book.  Get a massage. Watch a movie.  Whatever it takes to clear your mind and refresh you… do it!  You’ll be rewarded with more energy and a peaceful attitude.
  4. Don’t over-commit.  During the holiday season there are lots of things to do and many organizations and groups clamoring for your time. Choose your activities wisely and commit only to the ones you consider most important. Otherwise you’ll be anxious for the holidays to be over so you can get some rest.
*Shopping online can be one of the best things you do for others and for yourself.  You avoid the lines, the driving, and the stress by staying in the comfort of your own bed.
Thus,  I have a two-pronged approach for shopping this year: 1) Why not ask some  friends or family members you share with the receiver to go in on a better, more practical gift?  2)  Why not order that gift online?  Just for fun, here are 3 top bundled gifts that are sure to please and are easy to afford when there are several people going in on it.

3 bundled gifts for under the tree

  • Freedom Package: a fabulous ergo split-style keyboard and roller-mouse pro.  A sure to please gift for ease of use and strain-relieving, flexible design.
  • Let it Snow Bundle– 3 “hot” ergo products for cold offices and therefore fingers: a heated keyboard, a heated mouse, and a heated wrist rest.

 

  • Falalalala Bundle– Freestyle ergonomic keyboard, Rennaissance mouse, and split gel wrist rests.
Avoid holiday shopping stress by giving a practical, group gifts that are ergonomic and sure to please!