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On a search for the best desk chair July 20, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tools, Work-related injuries.

The Simple Dollar featured an article entitled “How to Buy a Mattress” today and prefaces it by saying “the only two things you shouldn’t skimp on are your mattress and your shoes.” I agree, but would also expand on that to include a good desk chair. As freelancers we sit at our desks for 8-10 hours (sometimes more) a day. A good desk chair makes the difference between a sore back and feeling good at the end of the day (and the hours in between).

I have been preaching the importance of a good desk chair for years. When I lived with my parents right after moving back to the U.S. from Germany I had to sit on their wooden desk chair with a worn-out cushion. My back killed me. I hated sitting in it to work, but I had no other choice. I went out and bought a cheap desk chair from Office Max, and the arm broke off the metal arm joist within a month.

One of my students at Kent State proudly reported that she bought a desk chair with a built-in massage and was thrilled. You don’t have to go that overboard, but you should definitely put some consideration into the kind of desk chair you want.

I have been through just about every incantation of a desk chair out there. I had an exercise ball, which forces proper spine alignment and is constantly making you change positions to balance yourself. It also ensures you don’t have constant shoulder and neck pain since you aren’t hunched over a desk. My exercise ball had knobs/teats on the bottom so it wouldn’t roll away when you walked away. I loved it, but I had to leave it behind when I moved to the U.S. I also bought a kneeling desk chair, which killed my knees. I hated it. A lot of my fellow German translators in Germany swear by a desk chair called The Swopper, which (like the exercise ball) encourages “active sitting” and is “designed to help strengthen your back and abs, help relieve lower back pain, promote mental acuity and assist with good posture.” If I had the room I would get a treadmill desk like Corinne’s. Maybe once I buy a house and am not living in a rental…

Anyway, my chair of choice is the Aeron chair. I bought my Herman Miller Aeron chair (used – thanks Susanne III!) several years ago. The Aeron chair features a “sleek skeleton of metal and mesh. All interlocking parts and ergonomic contours.” (Source) It comes in 3 different sizes for various body types and allows you to adjust the height, the tilt, seat, etc. I love my Aeron chair, but it died about a year and a half ago. Well, the tilt hydraulic died, but the chair itself was still usable. I sadly relegated it to the living room computer and bought another desk chair from the used furniture store downtown (after sitting in just about every chair they had). The seat on my Aeron chair cracked last week. I bit the bullet and contacted customer service, figuring I had a pricey repair ahead of me but knowing it would be cheaper than buying another desk chair. The customer service rep took my info and called me back to report that the repair will be covered by warranty (despite the fact that I bought it used) and the tech will be coming out some time this week to my house to repair it. Woohoo!

Other freelancers prefer standing up when they work and use something like The Stand Up Desk. Standing up while working alleviates back pain. I also think it saves space since you work up and not out (meaning spreading out stuff across the desk). I’m tempted to use this concept in my living room when I redo it soon just to save floor space (since I rarely sit at the living room computer).

So what about you, gentle readers? What desk chair or method do you swear by? Is there something revolutionary out there that I may have missed?


Dealing with job burnout February 9, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Work-related injuries.

One of the best translators I know called me yesterday to ask if I could help her with a big job she was working on. I have been doing the OCRing and layout work for her on this 90+-page job and had been lined up to proofread her work. She has been sick for the last week and has asked for and received an extension, but is unsure if she can meet the new deadline without help. As we were talking she confided in me that she is so burnt out that she is seriously thinking about taking down her shingle and doing something else. This would be a HUGE LOSS to the industry, but you have to do what you have to do. I assured her perhaps she just needs a well-deserved vacation and some sunshine (which we are seriously lacking in Cleveland in February), but I wonder if she might be right and is well and truly burned out. I know another German to English translator who completely fell off the face of the Earth in the last year or so for the very same reason. She literally worked 18 to 20 hours a day, only pausing to sleep. No one can function like that long-term, so I wasn’t at all surprised that she disappeared. Since our job is so often in our head, it is so easy to burn out.

According to Helpguide.org:

“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.”

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Everyone feels burned out every once in a while. If you reread yesterday’s post, I think I was suffering from burnout over the last two weeks based on the symptoms listed in the Helpguide.org article (it is definitely worth a read). This is why we take vacations. However, when it leads to chronic illness and starts affecting your relationships with others you should think about combating it and perhaps even getting professional help. One of the best ways to combat burnout is to take a break and don’t let yourself get stressed. Helpguide.org’s suggestions include starting the day with a relaxing ritual, adopting healthy eating, exercise and sleep habits, setting boundaries (aka saying no when necessary), taking a break from technology every day, nourishing your creative side and managing stress. I know I have harped on work/life balance here a lot, but it is so crucial in our job to ensure you don’t burn out.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Job burnout can result from various factors, including:

  • Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of necessary resources to do your work.
  • Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. These and related situations can contribute to job stress.
  • Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your employer does business or handles grievances, the mismatch may eventually take a toll.
  • Poor job fit. If your job doesn’t fit your interests and skills, it may become increasingly stressful over time.
  • Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.

Even the most perfect translator who is passionate about their job and loves the fact that every day brings a new opportunity to learn gets burned out. We don’t have office politics to pull us down, but sitting at home alone staring at the computer with no one to talk to gets old too. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t occasionally experience job burnout. One good test to see if you are suffering from burnout can be found here at Mindtools.com.

I can’t imagine the industry without this person in it. I urged her to take a vacation and if that didn’t help to seriously think about seeing a therapist. If you think you may be experiencing job burnout, don’t ignore your symptoms. Consult your doctor or a mental health provider to identify or rule out any underlying health conditions.

Back in the saddle again September 23, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings, Work-related injuries.

I’m back, baby! I can’t believe it’s been one month to the day since my last post. My only excuse is that I was completely overwhelmed with work and life – so much so that I decided to go on vacation and then actually went on vacation – with a Trados-free computer! I spent 9 glorious days on Seabrook Island, South Carolina and am pretty refreshed. I have been digging my way out of the backlog of e-mails, blog posts and listserv e-mails for the last day or so (not to mention sending in my quarterly payments to the federal and state government a week late – hope they don’t mind too much) and finally feel like I have control of things again.

Work consumed my life for the last several months. I had two very large jobs for a client in Germany two months in a row and a 12,000 word job for my favorite client. My arm really hurt (and to some extent still hurts), so I took some desperately-needed time off. In my case, I occasionally get a case of tendonitis in my arm from being overworked. My massage at the beginning of the month was one hour of torture on my upper body. My massage therapist didn’t even get to my legs or lower body. She spent the entire hour on my arms, hands, shoulders and neck. She said it’s the worst I’ve ever been. Every single muscle was tight, and it extended to other muscles that you wouldn’t expect (like the muscles over my collarbone – which made me cry out in pain at the slightest pressure). I was a writhing mass of pain. The muscles in my forearms were particularly sore, and the pain eventually moved into the elbow. I can’t straighten my arm without pain, and it’s actually gotten better with 9 days away from the computer!

As fate would have it, Ted Wozniak mentioned a homeopathic remedy for wrist pain and carpal tunnel during a discussion of disability insurance on the ATA German Language Division listserv the other day.

I’ve been using apis for years and I swear it not only takes the pain away but prevents carpal tunnel and arthritis. Apis is concentrated bee venom and is an old homeopathic remedy for arthritis. The best part is that you only take it when you have pain. When the pain goes away, you stop taking it. And the periods between pain have gotten increasingly longer each time – from 2 or 3 times a year 6 ot 7 years ago to maybe once a year now. I’m still using the same $5 bottle of apis I bought 3 years ago.
I buy mine at www.homeopathyworks.com and use Apis Mellifica 30C in the 4 dram bottle. (I see the price has gone up to $7.19 for that.)

I have ordered a bottle and will report on the results in a little while. I have also resolved to take it a little easier and am also looking forward to life calming down a bit.

But it’s good to be back.