The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Winter working: warm because I'm worth it!

As the days are getting shorter here in the UK and folks are starting to switch on the central heating, freelancers start reaching for that extra cardi. The dilemma when you work from home is how to keep warm at your desk through the winter months without running up astronomical fuel bills. It seems excessive to heat the whole house all day, but especially when you're sitting still, you quickly start to get damn chilly. I know from last winter's Facebook discussions that some freelancers will go to extraordinary lengths to keep warm while they work; from heated slippers to woolly hats! But while it's easy to joke, looking after yourself and your health when you're self-employed is worth taking seriously.

I often bring up ergonomic issues in blog posts, on Facebook or just when I meet up with fellow freelancers, but healthy working isn't just about a good chair and the right workstation setup. If you're going to sit at your computer for hours on end every day, you've got to be comfortable. Poor posture can lead to not just RSI-type problems, but pain in your neck, shoulders and back too, all of which can easily escalate from a bit of stiffness into a chronic pain issue that prevents you from working. Good posture at your desk is about keeping your spine aligned (that's not ramrod straight, but in its natural gentle S curve) and then letting your arms hang loosely from your shoulders, keeping as relaxed as possible. It’s tension and awkward postures that generally lead to problems. So naturally, if you're cold, you're going to be tense and probably hunched – not to mention grumpy and unproductive!

Extra layers may seem like an economical solution to keeping warm, but bundling yourself up in a big chunky jumper might just store up more problems. Whilst I'm known to sport thick woolly socks through the winter months, I generally go for a single (real wool) jumper. Awkward bulky layers can leave you hunched up and your movements restricted, detracting from that ideal relaxed posture. It's far better just to properly heat the room you're working in, leaving you comfortable and free to work healthily.

The kind of heater you go for probably depends on your set-up, but personally, I think it's worth investing in a decent heater that gives out a general heat more like a proper radiator, rather than a piddly fan heater that only warms your ankles. I have a convector heater with a thermostat that I leave on through most of the day during the winter. One of the top tips I picked up in last winter's Facebook chat was that it's far easier (and probably more efficient) to maintain a temperature than it is to let yourself get cold then try to heat up again. So rather than trying to hold out as long as I can, I now just switch my heater on first thing in the morning and try to keep my workspace comfortable rather than toasty through the whole day. It may add a bit to the winter fuel bill, but hey, "I'm worth it"!

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