Lifehacking: Switching to a rolling laptop bag

I’ve been paying attention to the preventive advice I picked up during my last session with a registered massage therapist, and I thought I’d post an update on how things are going with this life-hacking.

  • I switched to flat shoes. When the massage therapist mentioned that high-heeled shoes could be the reason why some of my muscles were tense, I said I’d switch to flat shoes. This was apparently not the way most women react. They’re more likely to say, “Sure, when they make flat shoes that aren’t ugly.” Well, I found two pairs of shoes that look presentable enough for the office. =)

    It turns out that you really do need to walk a mile in your own shoes before they’re broken-in enough to be comfortable. Both of my new pairs of flat shoes are now comfy enough for extended walks. The fancy insoles I picked up to add arch support threw me off balance and induced enough pain to make me hobble, so I got rid of the insoles. Now I just use plain liners to keep the shoes relatively clean.

  • I switched to crossing my legs at the ankles, not at the knees. Sometime after grade school, I picked up the habit of crossing my legs at the knees. I suppose it was because practically everyone else I saw did it. Probably not good for my back muscles and circulation in the long run. Stopping this behavior took a little conscious thought for a couple of days, and then it felt natural not to do it any more. Now I just cross at the ankles if I want to, all proper-like.
  • I switched to a rolling laptop case instead of a backpack. Yes, it’s a bit of a challenge getting a bulky rolling laptop case through the wickets or up and down stairs, but my shoulders think it’s a good trade-off.

There’s only one thing I’m having a hard time doing: leaning back. The massage therapist said that some of my back and neck muscles are tenser than they need to be because I lean forward instead of using the chair back. I’m not used to the idea of leaning back against the chair. It feels casual, and it sometimes means that I’m not in quite the right position to type.


  • Jason

    I used to hate lugging around a >5lb laptop in a shoulder bag or a laptop. I’m very happy with my 3.2lb Lenovo X61 tho. Much less stress on the shoulder.

    As for chairs, have you looked at chairs like the Aeron or the Steelcase Leap? I have a Leap and it somewhat encourages a reclined position. It takes the weight off the base of your spine and distributes it more even. Kind of makes sense, even tho we’ve all be taught to sit very straight for good posture.

    If you don’t have a really good chair, most retailers are willing to let you try one for 2-4 weeks with no questions on return. Often you don’t even have to pay for it upfront.

  • Arthur

    Hi Sacha

    If you are having back trouble you might like to try a kneeler chair


    these are great for posture reinforcement etc


    • Neil

      You know, I have one of those. Absolutely HORRIBLE for my posture, because I can’t seem to be comfortable in its prescribed position. I end up sort of sitting sideways with one leg under me and one on the lower knee rest… or propping both feet on the knee rest… etc, etc. ANYthing except sitting with my knees on it, because that’s incredibly uncomfortable.

  • Brad

    Hey Sacha

    Re: hunching forward I have the exact same issue and my chiropractor called me on it. Two ideas:

    1. Stretches – set up a timer on you computer (or mobile if you’re away from the desk a lot) to remind yourself every 30 minutes to do a brief set of upper back stretches. Stretching the muscles in the upper back helps combat the shoulder roll that comes from the typical leaning forward computer stance. Here’s a few – the third one in this video is the one my chiro recommended to me.

    2. Ball/Pillow – consider sitting on one of those giant yoga balls, even for 1/2 hour intervals with a normal chair. Great core workout and it’s impossible to balance while still hunched forward. Alternatively, you can sit on a, air-pillow – not quite as good as a ball, but not as odd looking either ;) Here’s the one I’ve been using – – and I’ve adapted pretty quickly to sitting at least 1/2 the day on it.

    Good luck!


    • Last November, I came across a tool called Workrave, which makes it easy to schedule micro-breaks and rests throughout your day. I really like it. =) I’ve set it to interrupt me every three minutes and make me rest for 10 seconds (which is enough for a quick stretch and a check to make sure that I’m not procrastinating), and to make me rest for three minutes every hour. Good stuff.

      I’ve heard that exercise balls make terrific computer seats, but I don’t have a dedicated office. =( I might get one for home, though!

      Thanks for the tips!

  • Instead of getting a rolling laptop case, you can get one of those really small and lightweight UMPC (ultra-mobile laptop PCs) like the MSI Wind (2GB ram 160GB sata disk) or the Asus Eee PC 1000H. Each one is about 1.0 kg. My daughter Karen uses her Wind all the time, and takes it along anywhere she goes. It is so light and small enough that it fits in her lady’s bag, yet the keyboard is about 92% of full-size, and the screen is 10 inches diagonally. Unless you really want a huge laptop with Core2 Quad, 4GB ram, and 500GB disk, and you want to lug around 2.5 kg of a monster.


    • Doc Mana! How wonderful to hear from you. (Everyone else: Doc Mana was one of my university teachers, and was a huge influence on my love for Linux. =D )

      I’ve actually got two ultra-mobile laptop PCs sitting in a drawer. I’d use them more often, but my work laptop’s a T60, and it’s a little silly carrying two computers around. =) Maybe after I outgrow this T60…

  • Carl Sia

    Hey Sach,

    It’s interesting how the question of ergonomics comes up in every geek’s life. Back at Chevron we were obsessed with work safety, and a large part of that has behavioral rather than technological solutions:

    – Yes, you should lean back. We have pretty much the same “lean-forward-to-squint-at-monitor” problem, and I find it useful to remind myself to relax once in a while. =) Get a chair that’s comfy; the Dauphin chairs we had were really nice if somewhat huge. Those “gamer” chairs offer a lot of comfort aside from the geeky extras, so choose whatever floats your boat.

    – Keep your spine, neck, and wrists in a neutral position as much as possible. Easier said than done, but at least remembering to reposition your limbs every twenty minutes works wonders. Change the way you:

    > Arrange your workspace. Place your notebook on a stack of books at eye level (I bought a neat cooler that does this nicely and can accommodate a docking station as well). If you have other monitors, place them in line with the notebook’s screen. Use external keyboards and mice, and keep them together (no stretching should be needed when mousing). Choose gear that feels comfy. Have everything you need to work within arm’s reach.

    > Use your equipment. Make sure you don’t have to lean forward, crane your neck, or bend over. Wrists should be neutral when you type and mouse, and everything should be done as you sit straight up.

    > Do your work. Stop working every 15-25 minutes and place your limbs in a neutral position for 10 seconds. These are called “micropauses” and relieve pent-up muscle tension periodically, like a pressure valve. Studies have shown them to be very effective in reducing stress on the muscles and nerves. Stop working and take your meals on time, don’t forget to have some coffee every so often, and have a 15-minute “stretch break” every mid-afternoon. The total amount of time you spend doing this will add up to hardly any time wasted, allowing you to continue working at a normal rate. If you need help doing this, there’s a Windows program called “Workpace” ( that we used to use that can help you out. ;)

    > Choose your toys. The little things add up; that sub-notebook might come with extra baggage like the charger needed to make up for poor battery life, the external optical drive, that paranoid little Kensington lock… I’ve since bought a lightweight Samsonite Sahora 1910 to put my HP nc6230 in, and the 4.5″ maximum thickness keeps me from taking the whole equipment locker for a world tour. It’s a godsend for multi-vehicle commutes in jungle-like humidity. Anyway, as a general rule, you should stick to the basics:

    >> Notebook
    >> AC adapter
    >> Kensington lock
    >> travel mouse
    >> today’s analogue work (books, papers) not exceeding 1″ thickness
    >> miscellaneous stuff (software, storagee devices) not exceeding .75lb

    Total travel weight should not exceed 6.5lbs and should be evenly distributed over your frame.

    There’s lots of ways to save weight; you could for example:

    >> Trade in that T60 for an X300 or X60 (or the Voodoo Envy 133 as a nice self-reward); I know you don’t need workstation performance since there’s no Crysis in your life, but the SCC’s (Small, Cheap Computers; Lenovo Ideapad, HP 2133 Mini-Note) may not have enough grunt to get your work done before Christmas. ;)

    >> Choose the most advanced alternatives (compact devices, Bluetooth headsets & PDA synching, WLAN connectivity only if possible) to save weight.

    >> Choose ergonomic equipment that works for you; for example there was this pistol-grip mouse demoed to us that was amazing for long stretches of use. Changing the way you do things can be upsetting at first but pays dividends in the long run.

    – Stop wearing heels. ’nuff said. You can’t run, you might trip, and nobody will be staring at you after 5pm. ;)

    – Last, if you feel any sort of pain, see your doctor promptly. I underwent the somewhat uncomfortable EMG-NCV test ( last week; getting 100uV shocks (NCV) and lots of needle insertions (EMV) from a Windows NT-based torture device wasn’t fun, but it did warn my neurologist that I may have the beginning stages of RSI. Some lessons are hard-won, I’m afraid. :( I was also warned to stay away from massage therapists as they may worsen the nerve damage. Eep!

    In all, 18 hours a day behind the keyboard isn’t grueling; it can be made tolerable. ;)

    Best regards,