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Create a Healthier Home Office

Whether your home
office is a desk in
the corner of the kitchen or
an entire room devoted to
running a business, you'll get
a lot more done-and feel
better about doing it—if your
space is organized and comfortable.
"Being surrounded
by clutter and chaos saps
your energy, disrupts your
concentration, and increases
anxiety and tension,"
explains Jackie Craven,
author of The Stress-Free
Home
. With more than 20
million Americans working
at least part-time
from home-and looking
for ways to make
their lives easier-
companies are
increasingly taking
ergonomics and
even
nature
into
consideration
when designing
office products.
Snap up these
must-haves and you'll be on
track to have your most productive,
stress-free year yet.

  1. Soothing paint colors

    We've all heard that cool
    hues like blue and green
    create a tranquil atmosphere,
    while warm colors, such as
    yellow and pink, are energizing,
    but it's really a matter of
    personal preference. "When
    choosing a shade for your
    office, though, there are
    some rules worth following,"
    says Diane Roggow, a color
    psychologist in Westminster,
    Colorado. First, muted tones
    tend to be more peaceful
    than bright colors. Second,
    stay away from white.
    "It refracts light, so your
    eyes fatigue quickly," says
    Roggow. And finally, don't
    overwhelm a room with too
    many contrasting colors-
    the busier the space, the
    harder it is to focus. To find
    your perfect hue, pick up
    samples at a paint store and
    try them on a wall before
    committing to a room. We
    like the new Benjamin Moore
    Modern Tranquility line, with
    easy-on-the-eyes shades like
    Capri Coast, Latte (left), and
    Green Tint (from $41 per
    gallon; benjaminmoore.com).
  2. An ergonomic workstation

    The average desk is 29 ½
    inches tall, a measurement
    that's been around since
    the 1950s, when mostly
    men worked in offices. "It's
    much too high for the
    typical woman," says Sally
    Longyear, an ergonomist in
    Palo Alto, California. While
    an adjustable chair will usually
    solve any height issues,
    some desks can be raised or
    lowered. They tend to be
    very "office modular"-and
    often pricey-but if you
    want the ultimate fit,
    they're the way to go, says
    Longyear. If you're on a
    budget, the Ikea Galant
    desk ($139 to $239) and
    Fredrik computer workstation
    ($119 to $149; both
    at ikea.com) have tabletops
    that can go as low as 23 5/8
    and 25 5/8 inches, respectively,
    or as high as 38 5/8.
  3. Fully adjustable seating

    Sure, it's tempting to drag
    your dining room chair
    over to your desk, but a
    seat you can set to your
    proportions will improve
    your posture and prevent
    back pain. A good chair
    should have an adjustable
    back, seat, and armrests, as
    well as a lumbar support
    that moves up and down
    and in and out. A seat that
    slides forward and back
    to suit different leg lengths
    is a bonus but can be
    hard to find-unless you
    buy the Leap chair
    from Steelcase ($799;
    homeofficesolutions.com).
    Once you have your
    chair, raise or lower the
    seat so your feet are firmly
    on the floor or on a footrest
    (see No. 4), and your hips
    are slightly higher than
    your knees. "That's the
    ideal angle to avoid stressing
    your back," Longyear
    explains. To prevent
    repetitive strain injuries,
    your wrists should be
    lower than your
    elbows and your fingers
    should be slightly
    below the level of
    your wrists when typing
    and using your mouse.
    Finally, when you sit with
    your hips against the back
    of the chair, there should
    be no more than a fist's
    length between your knees
    and the front of the seat.
  4. A footrest
    If you don't have a
    height-adjustable desk and
    chair, you may need a
    footrest under your workstation.
    "Your feet should
    be flat on the ground or on
    a footrest. If they're not,
    you tend to either scoot
    toward the edge of the seat,
    which is terrible for your
    spine, or tuck your legs
    under your butt, which can
    cause both neck and back
    pain," says Longyear. The
    Fellowes standard footrest
    ($24; staples.com) has two
    height adjustments, plus a
    textured, no-slip surface.
  5. A hands-free headset

    "Cradling the phone in
    your neck is one of the
    worst posture mistakes you
    can make," Longyear
    warns. "It compresses the
    nerves that run from the
    base of your skull to your
    hands. It also causes pain
    and headaches by increasing
    muscle tension." A handsfree
    headset will not only
    save your neck, it will also
    let you type, file, walk
    around, and multitask while
    you sit through a conference
    call. The new Plantronics
    Calisto Pro Series ($280;
    plantronics.com), below,
    comes with a handset and
    wireless Bluetooth headset
    you can use with a landline
    or cell phone.
    1. A heavy-duty paper shredder

      Getting rid of piles of
      paper (some of it sensitive
      material that can leave
      you vulnerable to identity
      theft if you were to just
      toss it into the recycling
      bin) automatically instills
      a sense of calm, says
      organizing expert Donna
      Smallin, author of The
      One-Minute Cleaner
      . "I go
      through my papers to be
      destroyed while I'm on
      hold," she adds. Many small
      models are hefty enough
      to slice and dice documents,
      CDs, and credit cards.
      The ShredderShark (from
      $57; target.com) slashes up
      to 12 stapled pages at once.
    2. Natural elements

      Bringing bits of nature
      inside helps create a more
      restful space, says Phyllis
      Harbinger, an interior
      designer and feng shui
      consultant in Cortlandt
      Manor, New York. Using
      real potted plants and
      fresh flowers
      (instead of fake
      ones) is an easy
      place to start.

      "Green represents renewal,
      which is important in your
      work life," says Harbinger.
      "You always want to make
      your business more fruitful
      and satisfying." A small
      bonsai or aloe plant like
      ones from Office
      Playground come with
      seeds, planters, and care
      instructions ($20; officeplayground.com). Other
      objects from nature-say, a
      quartz rock or seashell
      used as a paperweight or a
      piece of driftwood for a
      doorstop-help keep work
      in perspective, even if only
      in a subliminal way.

    3. A calming fountain

      The sound of flowing water
      has long been associated
      with meditation and
      relaxation. "It's white noise,
      which helps block out
      distractions like street traffic
      or the TV in the apartment
      next door," says Craven.
      The Tranquil Falls
      tabletop fountain,
      below left, is handmade
      with copper,
      slate, and river stones
      ($229; serenityhealth.com).
    4. The right lighting

      "Your computer screen
      should be the brightest
      spot in the room," says
      Longyear. "If your overhead
      light outshines your
      monitor, your eyes have to
      work too hard to read the
      screen." To save your
      sight, turn off or dim the
      overhead bulb and add task
      lighting. Place either a
      floor or desk lamp at the
      side of your monitor and
      angle it so it illuminates
      just your desk, not your
      computer screen. "That
      will help reduce glare,"
      explains Longyear. Sunnex
      floor and table lamps ($250
      and $210; comforthouse.com)
      come with 20-watt
      daylight-simulating halogen
      bulbs and flexible necks for
      precise adjustments. If you
      don't want to invest in a
      new lamp, replace your
      regular bulb with a
      full-spectrum version that
      combats eyestrain ($10
      to $16; comforthouse.com).
      Finally, to avoid glare from
      sunlight, don't put your
      desk in front of or opposite
      a window.
    5. One planner/calendar

      According to a survey by
      Whomi, a New York City -
      based maker of timemanagement
      accessories,
      79 percent of women rely
      on at least two different
      methods for tracking
      schedules, while 65 percent
      report using three or
      more. To stay organized
      without having to coordinate
      multiple calendars,
      keep a single agenda for
      home and work. For paper
      fans, we suggest the
      8-Days-a-Week planner
      from Bob's Your Uncle
      ($16; seejanework.com),
      below. It has room for all
      your Monday-through-
      Sunday appointments, plus
      an extra column for someday
      to-dos like "Learn
      Italian." If you prefer your
      agenda in digital form, opt
      for a smart phone you can
      use for e-mail and appointments,
      in addition to
      making calls. The iPhone
      from Apple ($399; apple.com), above, is still the one
      to beat, but no matter
      which model you choose,
      it won't do you much good
      if you don't learn how to
      use it properly. Smallin
      recommends teaching
      yourself one new feature
      every day to avoid
      becoming electronically
      intimidated.

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