We all spend far too much time in front of our computers these days. Dire warnings of repetitive strain injury (RSI) and ruined eyesight are ignored when many people’s livelihoods depend on being in front of a monitor tapping away for hours at a time. The simplest way to protect your health is to take regular short breaks, but remembering to do so – particularly when on deadline or otherwise distracted – can be almost impossible.
Workrave is designed to help people prevent and recover from RSI by prompting at regular intervals to take one of two types of break: micro-breaks occur for 30 seconds every three minutes, for example, while rest intervals are designed to last around 10 minutes, and are configured for every 45 minutes of activity. There’s even a daily limit, after which you’re expected to shut down the computer – useful if you’re recovering from RSI or don’t want to spend all day trapped at your desk.
All of these figures are arbitrary, and thankfully can be altered or even disabled (the daily limit may not be practical in a work environment, for example) – look for the main window that tells you how long you’ve got until the next break kicks in: right-click it and choose Preferences to configure the program.
When prompted to take a break, a small window will pop up telling you how long the break should last: you can postpone it for a few minutes, or skip it – but obviously you’re not doing your health any good by doing so. Rest intervals come accompanied with a pop-up window showing suggested exercises to help alleviate the effects of being sat at your desk – these can also be viewed at any time by clicking the Rest interval button on the main window.
The program monitors your keyboard and mouse activity, so if you take natural breaks or leave your desk it’s aware you’ve been away from your computer and adjust its timings accordingly. It can also be configured to work over the network with multiple PCs, allowing you to set up a daily routine even if you’re not tied to a single computer during the day.
Potentially an excellent tool for those at risk from RSI or eye strain, but a lack of documentation makes it less accessible than it could be.