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Quick tip: avoid RSI and eye strain with Workrave

09 February 2011, Nick Peers

For those of us who spend far too much time in front of the computer, it’s easy to forget about the dangers of gluing yourself to your desk. There’s the dreaded RSI acronym, as your hands and wrists succumb after all those hours of typing and mouse clicking. What about your eyes? We all blink less when staring at the screen, which isn’t good news either. And then there’s the lack of exercise as you sit hunched over the keyboard ignoring the strains your body are going under.

The solution already exists: take regular mini breaks from your computer, try stretching and walking about and tear your eyes away from the screen long enough for them to regain such much needed moisture. But while the theory is good, putting it into practice is more difficult – how will you remind yourself to take those all-important breaks? The answer for Linux and Windows users lies with Workrave.

Workrave is a tiny open-source tool with one purpose in life: to enforce regular breaks on you. It divides breaks into two types: micro-breaks and rest intervals. Micro-breaks occur by default every three minutes – a small window pops up telling you to take a short break of 30 seconds. Rest intervals are configured for 45 minutes, and last 10 minutes by default. Get up, follow the exercise regimen suggested by the program and return refreshed and in good health.

These figures are arbitrary, which is why the program can be tweaked (right-click the main window to do so) to suit your personal needs. Workrave is also clever enough to monitor your keyboard and mouse movements, so won’t keep popping up every three minutes if you’re not at your desk.

The program can even be configured to impose a daily limit on your computing – this is four hours by default, but can be switched off those of us who don’t have the luxury of walking away after a set period. And if you work on multiple computers on the same network, Workrave can be used to monitor your activities across them all.

Workrave requires a PC running Linux or Windows XP/Vista/7 and is open source.

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