Testing ergonomic break software

One of the things I discovered with the shift in computers is that I must have break-timer  software installed on my computer. (Yes, I’m on again about breaks being necessary for safe, healthy computer use.) Perhaps it is a combination of the warm weather (how about hot and muggy) and the time that I’ve worked without the break timer, but even with the fantastic autocomplete of SKY Index, I’ve had some recurring minor symptoms. That means that it’s time to get back to taking proper breaks!

I tend to get engrossed and let time slip away, only realizing too late that I haven’t taken a break in way too long even though I know breaks are important. WorkPace™ has been on my computers since about 1998, but now that I have to buy a new license, I thought I’d see what else was out there.

Judging by the number of free break timers out there we must be more aware of injury that can occur with intensive computer use. Most of the free programs have the sophistication of my kitchen timer. The only advantage of those is that you can’t forget (read decide not to) set it (but for that, I could just depend on the cat). I need something a little more insistent than that.

Having had both carpal tunnel and Guyon canal decompression on both hands, I want to avoid any further surgery! I want break software that will check and record activity so that if symptoms recur I can see if there has been a change in  the pattern of keyboard or mouse use.

Today I skulked about the Internet with Google looking to see what software was available.  There seem to be more programs for safe computer use now than the last time I looked–everything from the simple timer to software that will put you through an exercise routine at your desk, to some that put you through orthopedic tests to determine your risk and diagnosis.

I have installed the new version of WorkPace™ on the laptop-that-thinks-it’s-a desktop, and another (RSIGuard) on the notebook. The WorkPace program appears to have changed relatively little over the years. The second seems comparable to WorkPace in its flexibility, and monitoring–you can make both of them lock your keyboard or mouse if you really need encouragement to comply with breaks.

I installed several other programs to test; some didn’t have the features that I think are particularly important for prevention of cumulative trauma disorders (CTD)–also sometimes known as repetitive stress injury (RSI), or occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), or even some other epithets depending where in the world you are. Several got quickly uninstalled since they lacked much more sophistication than my kitchen timer, despite the descriptions. One that I tried multiple times to download (DeskDoctor) for a trial kept giving me a server reset error, so it’s bookmarked but on hold for now, but I suspect that one is serious overkill even for what I want.

There will be more information on the specific programs coming as I use each of them  while working.

Remember, prevention is better than rehabilitation!

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