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We're Evolving, But It's Not the End of the World

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Up until about ten thousand years ago we (man) were hunter-gatherers. The period following that saw us apply our brains a bit more and embrace agriculturalism. In any case, it's only relatively recently that we've been able to survive without using the muscles and physical attributes which we've always depended on. I can't help but feel that's a shame..

If you've seen WALL.E you'll remember the increasingly obese humans, who spend their time drifting around on reclining chairs, controlling everything they need by way of heads-up displays. An amusing, (exaggerated), yet terrifying prospect!

I love what I do for a living. Being a freelance web designer affords me the reasonable living, freedom, and pleasure, which not all careers can offer. It's not without its drawbacks however, and top of the list where I'm concerned is the impact it's had on me physically. And socially. I can't help but wonder if I'd have been better off as a builder..

Rule 1: Stay Active

The biggest gripe I have with working with computers is that I find myself sitting for most of the day. Typically I don't even need to move much before I start work - I don't have a walk across town because I work from home. Without actually moving my legs or arms, how can I expect to retain any of their muscle content and control? I'm also pretty tall, which leads to inevitable problems with my back. You know something's not quite right if your back only stops aching when you assume your working position!

I'm definitely weaker than I used to be. Definitely less flexible. What am I going to be like in twenty years' time?! I don't even want to think about it..

If our bodies were intended only for sitting and working on the web we'd all look like giant blobs of silly putty with eyes and one arm with 20 fingers for typing. No one wants that. Trent Walton

In order to keep this under control, and maintain some semblance of a masculine form, I have to keep active whenever I'm not working. I've always loved mountain biking, climbing, walking, and it's now become pretty crucial that I continue them.

Staying active during the day is just as crucial. Taking regular breaks and actually moving will get blood flowing through your legs, reduces the chance of (don't laugh) repetitive strain injuries, and helps keep you flexible.

Being active is the first rule I try to live by.

Rule 2: Get a Decent Chair

A couple of years ago I had bought what I thought was a good office chair. It came, along with the majority of my office furniture, from a large Scandinavian furniture distributor. It looked great, and for the price I paid I certainly couldn't complain.

Months later I started having problems with my leg (of all things) and it wasn't long before I was reading up on sciatica, talking to Chiropractors, and having treatment which would have been familiar to victims of Randy Savage's top rope manoeuvres.

My chair wasn't good enough. The main stem was loose and I was sub-consciously compensating for the wobble by tensing my lower back. In doing so, I trapped a nerve, and that was causing me pain in my leg (the things you learn as a web designer).

Legs should be positioned comfortably and feet should be flat on the floor or on a footrest with the legs and hips perpendicular (between 90-100 degrees) relative to the spine.

The lesson I learned, the hard way, was to invest in a proper chair. I've since done this, and the back problems have disappeared. Precisely which office furniture you opt for will be a question of your own research, but don't underestimate how important it can be.

Rule 3: Drink Water

I'm starting to sound like my Mum.. It's true though, as an office worker, you're likely reaching for the coffee when you should be reaching for water. A huge proportion of you could be dehyrating yourselves on a daily basis without even being aware of it.

The effects of dehydration in the workforce are manifold and are mainly represented by a loss of concentration and lower productivity. - Kendrick Struthers Watson

How much water do you think you need? It varies of course, but you should be looking at drinking around 7 glasses of water per day. And don't just neck a couple of litres in one go; drink little and often during working hours. "Stay away from the dark" as they say, but we're not going to dive into the nuances of urine color analysis just now..

Rule 4: Wash Your Hands With Cement

It's so embarrassing these days; shaking hands with someone who earns their living carrying out manual labor. Daily handling of nothing rougher than a magic mouse has given me smoother palms than my 6 year old daughter.

The solution? Wash your hands with cement powder and keep a block of raw timber on your desk for grip-practice. Using these simple techniques should help maintain healthy calluses and blisters, a true sign of being a real man.

(This one was a joke..)

Rule 5: Stop Staring at Your Screen

Eye strain is something which is more likely to affect you as you reach middle-to-old age, and it's more likely to affect you if you spend your working days staring at a computer screen.

At age 40, only half the light gets through to the retina as it did at age 20. For 60-year-olds, it’s just 20%. - Bnonn

Matte screens diffuse ambient light, causing less reflection, and making it much easier on your eyes in most environments. Unfortunately, owing largely to superior color accuracy, glossy screens leave matte screens standing in terms of sales figures. As a result many manufacturers no longer give you the choice, though Apple did bring back their antiglare display to the MacBook after a brief period of ditching it.

Eye strain isn't something I suffer from (as far as I'm aware), but I try to stick to rule number 5 all the same. Stop staring at your screen! It sounds daft, but taking a break to read magazines, walk down the street, look around, does exercise your eyes. Altering your field of vision is good for you.

Rule 6: Make Contact With Human Beings

There are other disadvantages to earning a living as I do, but these are only likely to affect those of you who are independently employed. Being a freelancer can be lonely (aaah).

I recently moved to France, and one of the highest priorities on my "Things I have to change about my work" was meeting people. I have daily contact with loads of folk, and I love the web design community, but I do most of my professional socializing from behind my desk. I work from home, and therefore most of my human interaction is with my wife and kids. That can be stressful.

When you realize your partner has carried out your last ten usability tests, something needs to change..

Thankfully, I stumbled across a company in Bordeaux (53 Mondays, hi guys) through a service called desksnear.me. They kindly opened up their office space to me, and I now luxuriate in the train commute and city bustle I fled from several years ago. Working with people, bouncing ideas off them, talking about normal things (even if it's just once or twice a week) has saved my sanity.

And my wife's.

So that's my final rule: if you work from home, do your best to get out whenever you can. It might mean going wireless in Starbucks, or sharing office space - but isn't flexibility one of the benefits of being a freelancer? Take advantage of it!

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