Walking and Talking

A few years ago, I had a really bad bout of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) that made almost any typing or pushing quite painful, despite my careful consideration of ergonomics. Slowly, with a decrease in my typing workload, the problem alleviated itself to the point where I wasn’t worried about it anymore.

In the past couple of months, however, I’ve been creating quite a lot of educational content for an online course, and my wrists are seriously beginning to hurt again. The CTS has made a comeback and becomes more noticeable with each passing day.

I’m aware that are both short-term and long-term semi-solutions to CTS, but it’s far better to address the origin of any problem rather than treat its symptoms. So I took a careful look at what I was doing, and how I might address the issues.

Correct ergonomics (the placement of fingers, hands, wrists, back) can only do so much, especially if you already have CTS, but I was doing almost everything right, using various silicon and foam wrist rests, a proper chair, good desk elevation, and correct positioning of my hands. So not much more could be done about that: I was doing things by the book.

Upon careful consideration, I realised that –out of around 16 hours a day of computer work– roughly 80% of this is “hovering” my hands above the keyboard, poised to type, while I thought of the next sentence or paragraph. (When I do type, it’s in bursts ranging from 60 to 80 words per minute.) So why not take away my hands from the keyboard while I think? Well, there is a certain immediacy, even an urgency, of having the hands in such a position; it forces you to write eventually. So what to do?

Sony M-670V Microcassette Voice RecorderWell, I mentioned that I often think better while standing or pacing (which is why I’m thinking of following Ed Bliss’ advice about a standing desk). Then I remembered something: about ten years ago, I used to always keep an inexpensive portable cassette recorder –you know, the little microcassette handhelds with a built-in mic– in my car so that I could dictate project notes while driving. I dug it out and started walking around, speaking my lessons into the mic, using the pause button while I thought of the next phrase or paragraph. Afterwards I sat down, plugged in a set of earbuds and played the recording back, typing the words at high speed. Now, it wasn’t perfect, but it gave me the first draft ripe for editing. Not only does this make matters more efficient and easier on my hands, but the extra brain-power generated by walking around seems to help me come up with and expand ideas that may not occur to me while sitting.

So my current “model of efficiency” for producing written content is:

  1. Create very rough outlines for the lessons on paper, essentially as prompts
  2. Walk around with the cassette recorder and paper, dictating the content, using the pause button for thinking
  3. Transcribe the spoken notes at high speed on my laptop
  4. Edit the material as needed, adding links and images
  5. Publish

I’ve only been doing this for a few days, but already my wrists are thanking me and my material seems to be better thought out and more imaginative. This is not to mention the potential for actually getting some exercise while I get things done. I’ll be pursuing this workstyle for the duration of my contract (not much longer now), and perhaps beyond.