Create a Comfortable Working Environment

Set up Your Computer Monitor

If you are one of the fortunate many who can work at home or in some other favourable environment of your choice (at the cottage, on the beach by the ocean, while travelling), it is important to modify your settings to make your work as comfortable as possible.

The first thing to consider is your monitor. If you plan to spend five or more hours a day staring at a computer monitor, you should set it up to go easy on your eyes. Your fingers, eyes and brain are your livelihood, and you would want to avoid any lasting damage, which is possible. The first thing I like to do is to adjust the colours of the monitor so that the background is a dark olive green and the text is a not so bright yellow.


By default everyone seems to have or choose a white background with black text, because that’s how they are used to looking at printed documents. But it is very impractical, difficult and expensive to print light text on coloured paper, which is why it is as the way it is. So there is no reason why you should have the same on your monitor. I find that the white background glares radiation at me and makes my eyes sore, even leading to a headache, after many hours of working in front of the computer. So go to Start > Control Panel > Display, and play around with the settings until you find something you are comfortable with. And as with anything you accomplish on the computer, make sure you save your settings (called Themes in XP) once finished, in case Windows decides to go berserk, as it occasionally like to, and you find you have to set up everything all over again, and not even find the settings you accomplished before and have grown fondly accustomed to. There will be an advanced tab where you can fine tune the exact colours, creating your own colour pallet. I like to change almost everything, from the size of the icons, the text in boxes, the size of menu bars, and all sorts of things. If you plan to spend countless hours in front of the computer, why not invest a few now to set up your environment so that all those countless hours in the future will be as comfortable as possible? For main text which you stare at while translating, I like to make that fairly large, like size 14 font. In Word you can go to your template file and change the settings so that all new files you create will automatically be formatted in a certain way (page margins, size and type of font etc). The last thing you want to do is squint your eyes staring at a small font, with your neck straining forward while your head is buried in a blaring white screen. If so you will run into back and eye problems, and get a headache. So make sure you set everything up for the greatest comfort, and feel free to improve on this over time.

I also like to make different settings for when I take my laptop to work outside, choosing a light grey background with black text. Just save your settings with different names, so that it is easy to switch back and forth.

And once everything is set up, don’t forget to play around with the monitor’s brightness and contrast settings. At night I like to turn these down. Always keep it at a minimum, so that you can work for longer hours without causing your eyes to hurt or to get a headache.

If you have one of those old, heavy, large and clunky monitors, I’d suggest buying a filter for it. Not super expensive but the amount of time you lose by not being able to stare at the screen anymore could eventually make up for the investment. Ideally, an flat screen LCD panel is good, instead of those old light tube kind, blaring radiation at you. I find an lcd screen much much more friendly to your eyes than those old monitors, even with a filter. You don’t need a big screen, because you can make your text large. But a big screen can come in handy if you are ever translating from the monitor, such as when a customer sends you a .pdf file, as opposed to translating from a printed out document. Heck, you can even get fancy and attach two screens to your computer: one for viewing the original document and the other to translate into.

If translating from a printed document, it is a good idea to have it hanging next to your computer monitor, so that you do not have to strain your neck by looking down on a table next to your hand, for example. You can usually get such a cheap plastic holder which attaches to your computer monitor.

If translating from an electronic document, you can divide up your computer monitor.

And don’t forget to have a nice desktop picture about your dog, favourite loved one, or some beautiful nature scene. Unless this will slow down your computer too much, in which case you should go through our computer tips to make your computer as fast as possible.

And speaking of beautiful nature scenes, I always like to position my desk next to the window so that I can occasionally gaze out into an open field or green forest, day dreaming. It is good to let your mind rest once in a while, and I find that staring at nature’s green somehow rests my eyes and make it possible to stare at the computer for a longer period of time. And it is supposed to be good for your eyes as well to occasionally focus into the distance. If you keep the lenses of your eyes constantly focused at a medium short distance, you can logically assume that by bending your lenses for this shorter range constantly, they will eventually stay like that and you will become short sited. So make your font big, try to keep your monitor a comfortable distance away, and look out into the distance occasionally, to stretch your lenses to a farther distance. In fact, this is another reason why lcd panels are much better, because the screen on which the text is is very flat. On the older monitors, it seemed hard to focus on exactly where the text was, and after staring at the screen for a longer period of time, I’d look up into the distance and everything was blurry, and I found it difficult to focus for a while. Your eyes are one of your most precious bodily organs and allows you to appreciate the beauty around you, so take care of them!

Set up your Translation WorkStation


So now that you have set up your computer monitor and your line of vision, lets look around your immediate settings. The next obviously important thing to think about is your seat and your ergonomic working position. There is much to be found on this subject on the internet, such as here. You might consider getting a split keyboard so that your wrists are more straight when typing. Your fingers are complex tools, having tendons which slide underneath rings and lubricated, and a lot of typing can lead to tendonitis. So you want your hands to be in a natural and comfortable position while typing. You might consider getting some foam or cushion to place under your palms. Work on this as well.

And make sure that your back and neck is in an ergonomic position. One person mentioned to me that when they went to the hospital to the section where people have back problems, it was mostly filled with people around the age of 45. Not old people like one might expect. This is because we have entered the information age and everyone is stagnant in front of the computer. For millions of years we have been running around hunting, or hanging from a tree, or farming our land, or off to war, constantly moving and exercising all our muscles. But sitting stagnant in front of a computer all the time will make your back weak, your spine will start to sag, pinch your spinal nerves, lead to migraines, and lead to all sorts of problems in a few years. So be very careful about this, select a perfect ergonomic position, and exercise occasionally to keep your spinal muscles strong. Personally, one of my favourite positions is lying in bed with my laptop on my lap or stomach. Get creative and comfortable, but study this matter and save your back. The problems build up over time, unnoticeably, can lead to many problem, and take a long time to reverse. On a side note, ancient Chinese medicine talks a lot about chi, the energy of your body (your spinal nerves are a highway of electrical impulses between your brain and every nerve in your body) which flows through your spinal column. According to their medicine, disrupting this highway and flow of energy can lead to problems with various organs, and problems you would never think could relate to your posture while working. So definitely heed this matter with due gravity.

Set up Your Translation Surroundings

translation surroundings

Once you have positioned yourself properly, now look around you at your immediate settings. I like to have pleasant pictures on the walls, classical music drifting in the background, lots of plants all around me, and one of my favourite… an aquarium!

Some people call it electro smog, but between the fan of a desktop computer, your handy mobile phone with the bluetooth running, printer clicking in the background, all your various electrical appliances and the radiation blaring at you from the screen you are staring at, our bodies are bombarded by all sorts of electrical waves of different frequencies. For this I find it is good to get away for the weekend, into nature, and away from all this. I was surprised to notice the difference once I cam back into the city. You need to rest your body from all this constant radiation, but to me it seemed that a large aquarium would suck up a lot of the radiation in the office. Between the classical music, plants and the aquarium next to me, there seemed to be a marked difference from when the office was empty and humming away to the sound of appliances alone. And besides, staring at fish in their placid little universe is a nice break from the drone of hours of reading boring legal contract.

I find a nice big aquarium sucks up a lot of electrosmog and makes for a pleasant, peaceful working environment. And heck, why not cheer up your workstation even more? I got a two litre plastic bottle, cut a horizontal slash near the bottom, pushed that inwards above the cut, cut a short section of the inner cardboard cylinder of the fax paper roll, cut a wedge into it and mounted that onto the bottom part of my cut into the plastic bottle.

What on earth for, you might ask? Well, with the cardboard roll mounted onto the plastic cut, it keeps the plastic above the cut bent inwards, and the other end of the roll jutting out horizontally from the plastic bottle offers a nice little stand for a tweety bird. Yes, fill up your bottle with some cheap sun flower seeds with shell, hang your bottle on a string next to your window, and give the birdies time to discover it. I once lived in a house next to a large forest, and within about four months I must have had 200 birdies tweeting away in my garden, one visiting every five seconds, swooping in to land on my little bird feeder and sending it spinning around and around. It would give us some cheery chirps before flying away, giving room for the next birdy. Between that and the aquarium, truly made the translations a much more cheery and joyful experience. Some documents can get truly boring, trust me.

For those with a laptop, you may like to take advantage of its mobility to occasionally change your environment, translating at your cottage, your friend’s cottage, the local park, or a beach. Tips for translating outside you will find here.

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