Ergonomic working for freelancers

Where are you working right now? At the kitchen table or in the café on the corner? Or perhaps with your feet up on the sofa? Sure, these settings have their charm, but there may well be risks attached, and consequences. Let’s take a look a closer look.

desktop PC with mouse, calculator and neatly arranged book piles

What is ergonomics and how’s it applied?

Because that’s what most of this is about: ergonomics – adapting the working environment as best possible to the needs of the people doing the work. The term usually conjures up visions of a healthy posture and and everything that’s conducive to it. But ergonomics, or the “science of work”, also considers factors such as the spatial environment (room climate, light, ventilation and so forth) and the efficiency of work processes (efficient = less effort = ergonomic).

The aim is always twofold: to make the task as efficient as possible, and to protect the health of the person performing that task. That’s because something that detracts from our well-being can soon lead to suboptimal performance and, ultimately, health complications.

Working at the computer: what to look out for

Table, chair, computer, screen, keyboard, mouse: most people have come across the basic ergonomic rules for workstations. A YouTube video, El portátil en case, sums it all up nice and clearly. It’s primarily aimed at laptop users, as they’re particularly at risk of postural problems. Here are a few more tips for improving ergonomics at the computer:

  • Make more use of key commands: they’re more ergonomic and quicker than pointing/clicking with the mouse. Commands we at Apostroph often use are: Alt+Tab (switching between programs), Alt+Left/Right Arrow (forward/back one page in the browser) and Ctrl+F4 (close current window).
  • A mouse, an external keyboard and a laptop stand are highly recommended, and it’s worth investing in an external monitor if you have a small laptop.
  • Anyone working a lot with a mouse risks getting a “mouse arm” or developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Two ergonomic improvements we can recommend from our own experience include: a keyboard that’s not too wide, i.e. without a numeric keypad, so that your mouse arm remains closer to your body; and a vertical mouse that can be operated with a more natural hand/arm position.

Now judge for yourself how ergonomic working in a café, on the sofa or even in bed is. If your laptop’s actually on your lap for extended periods – maybe atop a comfy blanket – the device may not get sufficient cooling. Overheating may cause it to seize or shut down suddenly, or could even damage it beyond repair. So working on a laptop in bed might not be the best idea, for ergonomic as well as technical reasons.

What about working when out and about? After all: have laptop, will travel! Long story short: when it comes to working on public transport or in a car, you usually have to make compromises ergonomically speaking. Suva’s put together some useful advice in this respect: “Ergonomic working on the laptop while travelling”.

What else to look out for

Working with a computer also involves other things you need to be aware of: being connected to the Internet means running the risk of being hacked for your personal data, passwords and so on. We discussed this topic in a newsletter last summer, but it’s worth keeping it uppermost in mind. Here are four of the most important security tips:

  • Use strong passwords – a different one for each website. Although you can keep them in a notebook only you have access to, password managers can do far more: they can insert your login credentials on the relevant websites, suggest strong passwords, and save them automatically. Some password managers are even free of charge. Check out for an up-to-date overview of the best ones.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN), if you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot while on the go. Reviews of current VPN providers may be found at
  • Keep your applications and operating systems updated: don’t simply click away operating system updates, but install them promptly. Here’s a useful tip: a free tool, SUMo (“Software Update Monitor”), keeps track of the updates available for the applications you’re running. Here’s a link to the SUMo website.
  • Install virus protection. Antivirus solutions published by the best-known manufacturers are reviewed on a regular basis – visit test institute AV-TEST’s website for the latest results. You might like to know that free antivirus applications also regularly receive top marks.

Working environment: what’s going on around us?

You’ll have noticed that our concept with the package insert has just come a cropper and is now lying in the gutter. Never mind: we’re looking forwards, not back … 😉

Something else that influences the quality of our workplace is the environment it’s in. It starts with the (dis)order around you: geniuses like Albert Einstein are by definition masters of chaos, but for us mere mortals, there’s much to be said for orderliness. That said, each to his or her own.

Apart from the orderly and systematic filing of documents, other aspects need to be considered: is the ambient lighting appropriate throughout the day, or are there reflections or mirror images on the screen? What about the screen itself? Ultraviolet rays present in the blue light spectrum can cause headaches and even damage the eyes in the long term. Wearing reading glasses coated with a UV light filter can help mitigate this.

At night, do you have enough ambient lighting so there’s not too much of a difference between the screen and the room? Are you keeping disturbance and distractions to a minimum? (And why are we working at night anyway?) Is background music a good idea when working, or not? Answer: it depends. But if there has to be music, it’s best if it’s calm and relaxing. (What do you go for – classical, MOR, ambient? Or maybe death metal? We’d love to hear from you!)

Workflow: maximum bang for minimum buck

Minimalists always want to know how to achieve something with less effort. At the same time, it’s a question of ergonomics: how many clicks do I need to reach a certain goal, for instance? Is there a simpler way of getting there? Is optimising a certain process worth the time and effort? Depending on how often the process crops up during the working day, a lot can be gained from boosting efficiency:

  • Are the applications you frequently need within easy reach on your desktop or in the taskbar or dock? Or are the latter clogged up with apps you rarely or never use? If so, maybe it’s time for a spring clean.
  • Which folders do you always need for your work? Have you placed links on your desktop? If so, double-clicking them will get you to where you want to go.
  • Do you mute or disable your social media, messaging and newsfeed apps while you work? (Now there’s huge efficiency potential!)

Don’t become an “optimisation junkie”, though, by constantly tracking down the best tricks and tools and losing sight of the actual goal – efficiency gains and thus improved ergonomics. As is so often the case, you need to find a happy medium.

However, taking regular breaks also plays a role when it comes to improving work-related ergonomics. The body’s not designed to be sitting down for hours on end. Doing so weakens the metabolism and possibly even shortens life. We can do something about that by stretching and walking around a bit every half-an-hour. Taking two five-minute breaks an hour also helps the brain recover from strenuous, concentrated work. This schedule lies at the heart of the Pomodoro technique: Windows 11’s Clock app now even has a related function called “Focus”:

image Pomodoro technique

These “focus intervals” help you take regular 5-minute breaks, unless there’s something urgent to be done or quickly finished off – or there’s no way you can take a break as there’s so much to do. In that respect, we at Apostroph fully admit to having room for improvement!

Have you found this information and advice useful – do you have any other ideas you’d like to share with us? If so, feel free to email us at we’d love to hear your thoughts!


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