Healthy computer use

When I first had problems with “overuse” it was still designated as repetitive stress injury (RSI).  Now it has become occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) or a number of other acronyms that I am ignoring.  Working with the computer in the past has contributed to OOS; however, even the “recreational” use can contribute to the problem–it is a cumulative problem.  I have a limited amount of keyboarding and mouse use that I can tolerate before symptoms appear.

Just like I’ve found some tools to compensate for weakened grip (e.g. Vice-Grip pliers), there are software tools that can reduce keying and mousing:  text expansion software, macro programs to automate repetitive tasks, and voice recognition software.  Why, when tools like that are available, have I only used them for work?  Some of those tools are applicable to other computer tasks at any time.

My options for producing this document are to use the keyboard or perhaps use voice recognition software.  Using voice recognition software sounds like a really great idea.  No keyboard or mouse, just talk (most of us do that really well).  That has both pros and cons just like anything else.  I have to have a quiet place to work–not a problem;  I usually work in quiet places.  Voice recognition or continuous speech recognition software requires training for the user’s voice and manner of speaking;  again, no problem.  I am the only user of this computer.

However, there is a problem with doing all computer work with voice recognition software.  First, there is the possibility of another overuse problem:  speech is a physiologic process involving muscles and tissues that can be overused just like the wrists and hands.  Secondly, it is really NOT the most efficient; optimum efficiency comes with a mixture of voice recognition and keyboard use.  There is some reduction in keyboard use but there are times when dictation/voice recognition software just does not “fit”.  Some things are just more easily written than spoken since we often write in a much different way than we speak.  Sometimes we want to be formal (voice recognition does that well), sometimes just “chatty”. (It’s much easier for me to just key in “chatty” than it is to explain to voice recognition software that I want that  word enclosed in quotation marks, but with proper training, my voice recognition program does a beautiful job on nucleus reticularis pontis oralis.)

In some work, you may need to accomplish repetitive tasks many times a day: copy from a PDF document and paste into SKY (or other indexing software), then return to the PDF document.  That does not sound like much if you think of it only in terms of doing it once.  But if you are doing that many times a workday, then there is a lot of repetition that can be eliminated (mouse and keyboard) by using macros.

In my computer use away from my work, I may not do the same repetitive tasks but I can use the same tools to do other repetitive things.  If I can make work easier, then I have more computer time left for the fun things–write blog posts, etc.  I obviously need to evaluate all the ways that I can make both work and recreational computer use more efficient (and avoid wearing those damn wrist braces as much as possible).

A macro can enter date and time on emails, for example, instead of keying it in. Many programs have the capability for using macros, or you can add a macro program that works in multiple applications. SKY Index Pro can use macros–I’d imagine that Cindex and Macrex can as well. It is important to look at how you use your computer.

Another software tool that I have used is a text expander–used first simply as a means to be more productive–produce more text with fewer keystrokes and much faster than I could key.  A program like this can be useful in writing: when you encounter words like esophagogastroduodenoscopy.  (I CAN spell that word, but there are lots of possibilities for “fumble-fingered” typographical errors.) If I can produce that same word (26 letters) with only a few keystrokes (perhaps 4 keystrokes), then I have both saved time, saved keystrokes (wear and tear on the hands), and reduced the likelihood of typographical errors. Even if I had reduced my keystrokes only by half to produce that word, it is saving time and keystrokes.

Not all my vocabulary is words of that length, but there are possibilities for shorter words (kohlrabi) and phrases too. Your indexing software probably has a feature similar to text expansion. In SKY Index Pro there are two ways to reduce keystrokes built in–autocomplete and a feature to expand short forms that you enter (e.g. fdaj expands to Food and Drug Administration (FDA)).

For those of us who earn our living using a computer, prevention is much easier than surgery or recovery. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) does occur in young individuals, but unfortunately, we are all aging, and the severity and likelihood of CTS does increase with the passing years. We should all be aware of the signs and symptoms of CTS and aim for prevention so that we have long and productive careers in indexing.

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