Create a Healthier Home Office

Whether your homeoffice is a desk inthe corner of the kitchen oran entire room devoted torunning a business, you'll geta lot more done-and feelbetter about doing it-if yourspace is organized and comfortable."Being surroundedby clutter and chaos sapsyour energy, disrupts yourconcentration, and increasesanxiety and tension,"explains Jackie Craven,author of The Stress-FreeHome. With more than 20million Americans workingat least part-timefrom home-and lookingfor ways to maketheir lives easier-companies areincreasingly takingergonomics andevennatureintoconsiderationwhen designingoffice products.Snap up thesemust-haves and you'll be ontrack to have your most productive,stress-free year yet.

  1. Soothing paint colors
    We've all heard that coolhues like blue and greencreate a tranquil atmosphere,while warm colors, such asyellow and pink, are energizing,but it's really a matter ofpersonal preference. "Whenchoosing a shade for youroffice, though, there aresome rules worth following,"says Diane Roggow, a colorpsychologist in Westminster,Colorado. First, muted tonestend to be more peacefulthan bright colors. Second,stay away from white."It refracts light, so youreyes fatigue quickly," saysRoggow. And finally, don'toverwhelm a room with toomany contrasting colors-the busier the space, theharder it is to focus. To findyour perfect hue, pick upsamples at a paint store andtry them on a wall beforecommitting to a room. Welike the new Benjamin MooreModern Tranquility line, witheasy-on-the-eyes shades likeCapri Coast, Latte (left), andGreen Tint (from $41 pergallon;
  2. An ergonomic workstation
    The average desk is 29 ½inches tall, a measurementthat's been around sincethe 1950s, when mostlymen worked in offices. "It'smuch too high for thetypical woman," says SallyLongyear, an ergonomist inPalo Alto, California. Whilean adjustable chair will usuallysolve any height issues,some desks can be raised orlowered. They tend to bevery "office modular"-andoften pricey-but if youwant the ultimate fit,they're the way to go, saysLongyear. If you're on abudget, the Ikea Galantdesk ($139 to $239) andFredrik computer workstation($119 to $149; bothat have tabletopsthat can go as low as 23 5/8and 25 5/8 inches, respectively,or as high as 38 5/8.
  3. Fully adjustable seating
    Sure, it's tempting to dragyour dining room chairover to your desk, but aseat you can set to yourproportions will improveyour posture and preventback pain. A good chairshould have an adjustableback, seat, and armrests, aswell as a lumbar supportthat moves up and downand in and out. A seat thatslides forward and backto suit different leg lengthsis a bonus but can behard to find-unless youbuy the Leap chairfrom Steelcase ($799; you have yourchair, raise or lower theseat so your feet are firmlyon the floor or on a footrest(see No. 4), and your hipsare slightly higher thanyour knees. "That's theideal angle to avoid stressingyour back," Longyearexplains. To preventrepetitive strain injuries,your wrists should belower than yourelbows and your fingersshould be slightlybelow the level ofyour wrists when typingand using your mouse.Finally, when you sit withyour hips against the backof the chair, there shouldbe no more than a fist'slength between your kneesand the front of the seat.
  4. A footrestIf you don't have aheight-adjustable desk andchair, you may need afootrest under your workstation."Your feet shouldbe flat on the ground or ona footrest. If they're not,you tend to either scoottoward the edge of the seat,which is terrible for yourspine, or tuck your legsunder your butt, which cancause both neck and backpain," says Longyear. TheFellowes standard footrest($24; has twoheight adjustments, plus atextured, no-slip surface.
  5. A hands-free headset
    "Cradling the phone inyour neck is one of theworst posture mistakes youcan make," Longyearwarns. "It compresses thenerves that run from thebase of your skull to yourhands. It also causes painand headaches by increasingmuscle tension." A handsfreeheadset will not onlysave your neck, it will alsolet you type, file, walkaround, and multitask whileyou sit through a conferencecall. The new PlantronicsCalisto Pro Series ($280;, below,comes with a handset andwireless Bluetooth headsetyou can use with a landlineor cell phone.
    1. A heavy-duty paper shredder
      Getting rid of piles ofpaper (some of it sensitivematerial that can leaveyou vulnerable to identitytheft if you were to justtoss it into the recyclingbin) automatically instillsa sense of calm, saysorganizing expert DonnaSmallin, author of TheOne-Minute Cleaner. "I gothrough my papers to bedestroyed while I'm onhold," she adds. Many smallmodels are hefty enoughto slice and dice documents,CDs, and credit cards.The ShredderShark (from$57; slashes upto 12 stapled pages at once.
    2. Natural elements
      Bringing bits of natureinside helps create a morerestful space, says PhyllisHarbinger, an interiordesigner and feng shuiconsultant in CortlandtManor, New York. Usingreal potted plants andfresh flowers(instead of fakeones) is an easyplace to start."Green represents renewal,which is important in yourwork life," says Harbinger."You always want to makeyour business more fruitfuland satisfying." A smallbonsai or aloe plant likeones from OfficePlayground come withseeds, planters, and careinstructions ($20; Otherobjects from nature-say, aquartz rock or seashellused as a paperweight or apiece of driftwood for adoorstop-help keep workin perspective, even if onlyin a subliminal way.
    3. A calming fountain
      The sound of flowing waterhas long been associatedwith meditation andrelaxation. "It's white noise,which helps block outdistractions like street trafficor the TV in the apartmentnext door," says Craven.The Tranquil Fallstabletop fountain,below left, is handmadewith copper,slate, and river stones($229;
    4. The right lighting
      "Your computer screenshould be the brightestspot in the room," saysLongyear. "If your overheadlight outshines yourmonitor, your eyes have towork too hard to read thescreen." To save yoursight, turn off or dim theoverhead bulb and add tasklighting. Place either afloor or desk lamp at theside of your monitor andangle it so it illuminatesjust your desk, not yourcomputer screen. "Thatwill help reduce glare,"explains Longyear. Sunnexfloor and table lamps ($250and $210; with 20-wattdaylight-simulating halogenbulbs and flexible necks forprecise adjustments. If youdon't want to invest in anew lamp, replace yourregular bulb with afull-spectrum version thatcombats eyestrain ($10to $16;, to avoid glare fromsunlight, don't put yourdesk in front of or oppositea window.
    5. One planner/calendar
      According to a survey byWhomi, a New York City -based maker of timemanagementaccessories,79 percent of women relyon at least two differentmethods for trackingschedules, while 65 percentreport using three ormore. To stay organizedwithout having to coordinatemultiple calendars,keep a single agenda forhome and work. For paperfans, we suggest the8-Days-a-Week plannerfrom Bob's Your Uncle($16;,below. It has room for allyour Monday-through-Sunday appointments, plusan extra column for somedayto-dos like "LearnItalian." If you prefer youragenda in digital form, optfor a smart phone you canuse for e-mail and appointments,in addition tomaking calls. The iPhonefrom Apple ($399;, above, is still the oneto beat, but no matterwhich model you choose,it won't do you much goodif you don't learn how touse it properly. Smallinrecommends teachingyourself one new featureevery day to avoidbecoming electronicallyintimidated.
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