With all of the tips and information about how to develop into an excellent transcriptionist, we’ve overlooked a critically important component that doesn’t involve formatting, understanding legal terminology, using tools within your word processing program to increase your typing speed, and so on. That component would be ergonomics.
Prioritize setting up your workstation in a way to minimize the potential for causing yourself physical harm.
“Workplace ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace, keeping in mind the capabilities and limitations of the worker. A workplace ergonomics improvement process removes risk factors that lead to musculoskeletal injuries and allows for improved human performance and productivity.”
Those who don’t work in the field may not believe, may not understand just how physically demanding typing for long periods of time actually is. It’s especially true if, like me, you do it pretty much full-time and many days include the additional “and then some”. Carpal tunnel syndrome is always a concern. But there are other concerns as well, including eye strain, muscle pain (arms, hands, legs, buttocks), general fatigue, joint pain, neck and back issues. Any one or more of these issues are very likely to arise over and over again.
The good news is much of these issues can be mitigated with a reasonable ergonomic set-up, and I also highly recommend periodically changing from sitting-down typing to standing-up typing as frequently as you can. The best news is good ergonomics need not be achieved by buying an expensive desk, an expensive office chair, or a highly engineered device to raise and lower your monitor to proper heights.
Let’s get started…
An expensive workstation desk is wonderful, but again, not necessary. For more than a decade I’ve worked on a modest, antique drop-leaf table that’s the perfect height for me, with plenty of surface area for all of my transcription work needs.
It’s best to select a chair that supports the curves of your spine and back. Your chair height should be such that your feet are flat on the floor, thighs parallel to the floor. You do not need to purchase an executive-quality adjustable leather office chair. (But you can!) In my case, an old, well-built high back wicker chair that I already had, and probably purchased at a garage sale, had just the right seat height and fits my back like a glove! If you have an adjustable chair, all the better! Armrests should be positioned so that your arms rest gently on top with relaxed shoulders.
If your chair is not an ideal height or not adjustable, use a footrest if you need to raise your feet (or a small stool, or stack old books, or that stepper you exercise with); a seat cushion or even a pillow to raise your rear-end up a little bit. Again, this does not require a significant investment; perhaps none at all depending upon what you can use around the house, but remember, you’re looking for an arrangement that gives your feet support with the thighs parallel to the floor.
Minimizing the frequency of moving excessively, leaning in and out, reaching for things, aside from being a distraction, can lead to muscle and joint pain rather quickly. So keep your key office and transcription components arranged so that you’re not constantly moving out of an ergonomically correct position. I have a shelf to the side of me with stapler, staple puller, stamps, notary gear and book, et cetera, right where I need them to be. My cell phone sits in a stand just beyond the keyboard, between the keyboard and my laptop. Keep the important stuff close.
KEYBOARD & MOUSE:
Now this is the place where I would spend the money. Your hands, arms, fingers, wrists — they’re your livelihood. Protect them as best you can. This is achieved by choosing the best keyboard for you personally that is comfortable, effective, and makes it easier on your most important transcriber body parts.
That said, ultimately it is about personal preference. My personal recommendation is a split wave keyboard. I have large hands. When I started in legal transcription, I started using a 9″ notebook. It’s what I had. Three months into transcribing with my tennis-racket-sized hands on a 9″ notebook resulted in terrible arm pain that got so bad the pinky and ring fingers on both hands went periodically numb. After purchasing a full-sized laptop and an ergonomic keyboard (highly recommend the ergonomic Microsoft 4000 or 7000 with the ergonomic mouse or anything much like those), all of that discomfort vanished within a few days and I was back pounding the keys better than ever. I love split wave keyboards so much I cannot envision ever returning to a standard keyboard. Try it! It takes some getting used to, but the difference in effort and reduction in stress in the wrists is significant. It allows your hands and wrists to be positioned in a much more relaxed and natural state and not turned out as they are using your laptop or standard remote keyboard.
Make sure your mouse is within easy reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. While using either the keyboard or mouse, keep wrists straight, upper arms close to the body, and hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Try your very best to hit the keys lightly (I’ve tried, I can’t, I pound and do have some knuckle joint sensitivity as a result) and same goes for the mouse. Light touch, light clicks, light on the movement.
Back in the “olden days” phones got really small, so small and foldable, they’d fit in the palm of your hand closed hand! Then came the smart phones and they got “huge”. Fact is they’re far smaller than the landline phones of yesteryear. So if you frequently talk on the phone with clients, subcontractors, partners, don’t try to pinch a cell phone between your ear and shoulder; that’s inviting neck problems. Use a headset, Bluetooth device, or speaker option and save yourself some grief.
MONITOR & PLACEMENT:
Your monitor should be placed directly in front of you and approximately an arm’s length away. Head up! The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. Use a blue-light filter to reduce eyestrain. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard. For those of you who wear bifocals, drop the monitor an additional one to two inches for improved viewing angles. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to either side.
SIT AND STAND:
Perhaps you’ve heard in the medical realm that “sitting is the new smoking” when it comes to heart and vascular disease. So I type sitting and standing at approximately a 50/50 split during any given day. And yes, you can invest in an adjustable standing desk in order to make everything described above work to mitigate distress on the body parts, for very little investment.
Side note: I find that my hands and arms feel even more relaxed and I believe I actually type a little faster when standing because my hands aren’t resting on anything (for the most part), but more or less hovering just above the keyboard. Would love to know if anyone feels the same way if they stand and type.
Also one other lesson learned via pain response while transcribing. I don’t like transcribing while wearing shoes. Always in my stockin’-feet! Well, my original home office had concrete floors. It wasn’t long before the heels of my feet start hurting from all of the pedal work going on down there. That was originally resolved by putting one of my slippers on the floor to support my heel. Ultimately I invested in two inexpensive fatigue mats. And the reason I got two is because my home office now has hardwood flooring, so I actually have one fatigue mat under my chair to keep from scratching up the floor, and one out in front for my feet and foot pedal.
My final words of advice: Take frequent breaks. My rule of thumb is that I limit myself to no more than one hour straight of typing without taking at least a 5-minute break, stretch out the fingers, get my eyes off of the monitor (though I don’t look at the monitor all that much when I type anyway). Get up, do a few laps around the room or the house, then get back at it. I also tend to limit myself to no more than 6 hours total type time (that’s not total work time, total time actually striking the keyboard) in any given day… well, unless it’s a same-day expedite worth a lot of money, then I’ll break that rule!
I’ve been doing this a very long time, tens of thousands of pages over thousands and thousands of jobs with zero back problems, zero neck problems, no “transcriber-related” vision problems. The better ergonomic set-up that you have for transcribing, the more comfortable you will be doing it, you will truly be physically safer, and you’ll be more effective and efficient at your job.