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Typing Break and WorkRave: Keep RSI at Bay June 4, 2007

Posted by Carthik in applications, gnome, ubuntu.
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I woke up on Thursday with a left arm more painful than a 100 episodes of Wheel of Fortune. I had almost pulled an all-nighter the night before to finish reviewing/correcting a paper. I went to the doctor, fearing the worst. My left wrist was aching, and no change of position or angle would suppress the hurt.

The doctor said I had tenosynovitis – which is a member of the much talked-about Repetitive Strain Injuries. He advised me against using the laptop on my lap – this keep my hands all hunched up together. He also advised a couple of days of rest. So needless to say, I haven’t typed much over the weekend, though I wanted to write a short guide on implementing a Getting Things Done workflow in Linux. I had set things up for GTD the past week, and the search for tools that work on Linux was frustrating, to say the least. I finally had to narrow it down to an online tool that seems very capable of the task. I have been itching to write the article and yet have resisted.

Monday brought me back to work, and I thought I should look at options to reduce the risk of recurrence of the pain. For two reasons – the pain was real bad, and the doctor said that repeated occurrences of RSI would lead to the much-dreaded Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and perhaps permanent numbness of the digits in my hands.

GNOME is very advanced when it comes to providing methods to save your hands.

There is the Typing Break in GNOME’s keyboard preferences dialog (System -> Preferences -> Keyboard). Here’s a snapshot:

It is easy enough to ask you computer to lock up every once in an hour or so for 5 minutes to enforce a break.

But for those of us who are not satisfied with a fly swatter to swat flies, there is workrave, with the little sheep for a mascot.

You can install workrave using:
$sudo apt-get install workrave

Once installed, you can add it to your panel as an applet by right-clicking on a panel and adding the applet:
.

Once on the panel, you get to right click on the panel applet and set preferences:
workrave preferences

There’s a whole lot to choose from – you can choose to have micro-breaks of less than minute every 10 minutes, say. You can also enforce a longer break every hour or so. A break of 5 minutes every hour seems normal. You can also choose whether to be able to postpone the break when you get the warning of an impending break or not. A break can be either just a disabled keyboard, or a locked screen too, just so you don’t use your mouse to sneak a peek at you mail, or visitor stats :)

Workrave also has a neat feature where you can exercise your fingers, wrist, neck and arms during the break – there is an on-screen display of how to do the exercise and a virtual character does it with you. Marcel has written about workrave in detail and even has some more screenshots – including one of the dudette who does the exercises with you.

In addition to the forced typing breaks, I am thinking this would be a good time to switch to the Dvorak keyboard layout. The initial learning phase where typing gets really slow is what’s holding me back. Maybe that is one thing to filed under “someday/maybe” in my GTD system. :)

Comments»

1. Elaine - June 4, 2007

One thing that helped me a great deal was to start using the mouse with my non-dominant hand. I have a wireless mouse and keyboard so this was easy to do. It took me a week to get very comfortable doing so, and now I can switch back and forth without any trouble. I also run workrave, and try not to get annoyed when it tells me to leave my computer for ten minutes.

2. David - June 4, 2007

The one change that has completely eliminated my hand and finger discomfort — completely — is switching to the Dvorak keyboard. When I started the switch, I did it mostly out of curiosity and as a brain exercise. However, now that I have completed the switch and can type well in Dvorak, I am absolutely astonished that I can type all day without any discomfort at all.

After having gone through the switch, I enthusiastically recommend this as an option for people with similar pain. It makes a huge difference.

Now, there are two problems with switching to Dvorak:

1) While switching from QWERTY to Dvorak, you will probably go through a period of one week or more, YMMV, where it is difficult to talk at all, and you must carefully think about the keys you are pressing. Basically, you are retraining your brain and your fingers’ muscle memory to learn a new trick. This part is admittedly painful, but it does pass.

2) Typing on someone else’s QWERTY keyboard will cause you to regress to a hunt-and-pecker typist. I know of some people who can type well on either QWERTY or Dvorak, but I am not among them. I am now definitely a Dvorak typist.

Those are the two big problems, but I can tell you that I’m very happy that I switched.

3. Markus Bertheau - June 4, 2007

Aside from the advice to switch to dvorak, which I fully support, I can also recommend an ergonomic keyboard. The most advanced and by an amateur’s opinion most ergonomic keyboard is the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 I’m using it myself for quite a while now. Unfortunately the multimedia keys don’t work under linux yet, but there’s work underway. It’s an awesome keyboard really. I love Microsoft for their hardware.

4. Wim Le Page - June 4, 2007

The java GTD tool thinkingrock might also be a good match for implementing GTD in ubuntu

5. Andrew Beacock - June 5, 2007

I too switched hands for my mouse, left hand when at work, right hand when at home.

It’s helped no end in reducing shooting pain in my fingers! :)

I hope you find a solution soon.

6. Justyn - June 5, 2007

Really looking forward to that article on GTD when you’re recovered enough to write it. I’m currently implementing GTD mainly using Remember The Milk.

7. Taladan - June 5, 2007

Hey, if you’ve got a good chunk of change and you really want something that’ll help reduce RSI, try out the datahand:

http://www.datahand.com/

I’m trying to save up to get one, but I know a couple of people that use them and say that it reduces movement in typing almost completely and improves their wpm speed…might be something worth looking into.

8. Richard Hussong - June 5, 2007

If typing is the main source of your problem (as it was for me), you might try the Kinesis contoured keyboard from kinesis-ergo.com. I’ve been using one almost exclusively for over eight years, and it has helped immensely. By the way, before I found the Kinesis, I tried the Microsoft Natural keyboard, and found it noticeably worse (for me) than an ordinary keyboard. Remember that there is a lot of individual variation in RSI stressors, and that one size definitely does not fit all.

9. Donnie - June 5, 2007

Some GTD apps for Ubuntu that I’ve used and like:
The sublime (web-based multi-user) – “Tracks”
http://www.cooldown.com.ar/2006/12/16/install-tracks-on-ubuntu-or-debian/
http://www.rousette.org.uk/projects/tracks
The ridiculous (scripted text files) – “Todo.txt”
http://code.google.com/p/todotxt/
http://www.todotxt.com/

10. ethana2 - June 7, 2007

Dvorak? Use colemak. We all know qwerty sucks, but Dvorak was desinged to be easy to learn from nothing. Colemak is better than dvorak, simply put, and it’s easy to learn for qwerty users. You won’t find people nowadays who’ve never used a keyboard before.

qwfpgjluy;
arstdhneio
zxcvbkm,.
http://www.colemak.com

I’ll stop typing about it; just visit their site.
Typed in colemak.

11. » Blog Archive » Carthik Sharma: Typing Break and WorkRave: Keep RSI at Bay - June 7, 2007

[...] GNOME is very advanced when it comes to providing methods to save your hands. (more…) [...]

12. Wezp Directory - June 9, 2007

Really looking forward to that article on GTD when you’re recovered enough to write it.

13. Chris Moxley - June 12, 2007

Learning Dvorak has definitely reduced my wrist strain a great deal. If it helps push the decision, a year later, I’m typing 10 wpm faster in Dvorak than I was in Qwerty after touchtyping for >10 years in it. The first two weeks suck, and I did drop it the first time I tried to switch, only to try again a few months later. I recommend going to dvzine.org, printing out the keyboard standup, and pinning it to the wall next to your monitor. It’s been one of the best computer habits I’ve picked up in a long time.

14. Nigel - June 13, 2007

Have you looked at GTDTiddlywiki? It’s an adaptation of Jeremy Rushton’s Tiddlywiki (a wiki embedded as Javascript into a single html page) that implements GTD. Runs in any (sensible) browser …

http://shared.snapgrid.com/index.html

15. Joel - June 16, 2007

“Thinking Rock is a free software application for collecting and processing your thoughts following the GTD methodology… Multi-platform: use it at home and at work, written in Java thus run on Linux, Macintosh, or Windows… It’s free…” (http://www.thinkingrock.com.au)

16. Whitney - June 26, 2007

Learning Dvorak can be an initial strain on your fingers. Afterward, it’s so much better. Take it from someone who’s been there. I suggest you let your fingers get over this little hump, and then learn Dvorak.

The reason learning Dvorak is going to put that extra strain is because you’re going to have your normal workload, and you’re going to need to get it done in a timely manner, currently requiring Qwerty. And on top of that, you’re going to be doing Dvorak exercises (package dvorak7min), so you will probably be typing more.

When you have hurt fingers or wrist, you shouldn’t be typing more, even if half of the typing isn’t as bad as the other half. Typing period is worse than no typing at all.

So give your hands all the breather they are able while the can. Use a mouse a lot. Skype and Ekiga! If people aren’t on it, just leave an away message in your normal IMs with your Skype/Ekiga name. :) Copy and paste (with a MOUSE, not pinky-index). And go outside and read a book.

17. Root - July 6, 2007

I suffer with this. But here is the wierd thing. It is not in my right hand (mouse hand). Its in my left and is caused by me leaning on my left arm / elbow.

18. ursala - July 16, 2007

I am waiting for GTD as well

thanks for this one

19. Will - September 21, 2007

So…still looking forward to the GTD post…! :)

20. Gary - October 17, 2007

I use the mouse a lot (especially scrolling) and do occasionally get a pain across the top of the hand, sometimes use my left hand instead which gives it a bit of a rest and does help somewhat.

When at home I try and use my graphics tablet instead of a mouse and found this really helps (as I’ve founf with my wireless mouse it’s very easy to forget for an instance and go back to using my right hand without noticing until it’s painful again).

21. Adam DiCarlo - October 25, 2007

I suffer from RSI too. Here are the three most useful things I have discovered in the last year:

1. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is frequently mislabeled as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Check out the book “It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!”

2. Goldtouch split keyboards (I have the KFKE87YB) are excellent — so much better than the MS Natural clones (and narrower, allowing the mouse to be closer)

3. Problems in the fingers/hands/arms can be caused by problems “upstream” — such as the shoulders and neck. Massage from a *good* LMT who has treated RSI before can help.

Good luck!

P.S. Found your site searching for Colemak resources. Heh!

22. What is Qwerty? - November 9, 2007

Although I’ve gone back to qwerty, I did try dvorak for a while. I got my English typing speed very high, but programming is impossible. The access to brackets and puncuation such as ; is impossible in dvorak.

23. David Walker - December 4, 2007

Try GTDTiddlywiki. It’s an adaptation of Jeremy Rushton’s Tiddlywiki (a wiki embedded as Javascript into a single html page) that implements GTD and its really good.

24. jobsearch - December 4, 2007

This is a really useful blog and I have bookmarked it. Could do with a bit more colour though – just a thought!

25. Ubuntu Index » Blog Archive » Typing Break and WorkRave: Keep RSI at Bay - December 7, 2007

[...] GNOME is very advanced when it comes to providing methods to save your hands. (more…) [...]

26. Ubuntu Index - All things Ubuntu » Blog Archive » Typing Break and WorkRave: Keep RSI at Bay - December 10, 2007

[...] is very advanced when it comes to providing methods to save your hands. (more…) Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and [...]

27. Ubuntu Index - All things Ubuntu » Blog Archive » Typing Break and WorkRave: Keep RSI at Bay - December 10, 2007

[...] digits in my hands. GNOME is very advanced when it comes to providing methods to save your hands. (more…) Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and [...]

28. Jobs Uk - December 11, 2007

I would agree with most of the points. Some of these issues can be eliminated all together if you use pronexis or similar.

The advancement now with voice recognition software and other associated products can cut down on these issues and potential RSI exposure from being exposed to constant keyboard exposure practically eliminated.

29. Scott Rodgers - December 14, 2007

Luckily, I switched to Dvorak before it started to hurt. I actually switched because I heard you could type faster, but that didn’t really happen. However, I noticed how much less tired my hands and arms got, and I stuck with it.

30. VGJ - December 27, 2007

I have tendonitis as well, from computer use 8+ hrs. everyday and playing a drum kit for 3 hrs. every night.

I switched to a vertical mouse, as well, and I’m using my left-hand instead. I figured it took 9 yrs. for my right hand to go bad…I mine as well give it a break for a few yrs.

I’m a programmer, I’m not sure I could use a non-qwerty keyboard effectively, however.

31. Jobs UK - January 1, 2008

I would agree with most of the points. Some of these issues can be eliminated all together if you use pronexis or similar.

The advancement now with voice recognition software and other associated products can cut down on these issues and potential RSI exposure from being exposed to constant keyboard exposure practically eliminated

32. Edward the Bonobo - January 10, 2008

I’m a professional ergonomist (and amateur Ubuntu user).

Fancy keyboard layouts and shapes are often touted as panaceas for ‘Upper Limb Disorders’ (the prefered term; RSI is innacurate). I’m deeply sceptical about them, for various reasons.

For pragmatic reasons, we have to accept that we’re stuck with QWERTY (or QWERTZ or AZERY etc – remember that Ubuntu is multilingual ;-) ). Going back and forth between them and another layout is a bad idea.

In any case, the putative advantages of, eg, Dvorak, apply more to the specific skill of touch typing. They increase speed by limiting finger movements (since they are based around letter frequency). However…firstly, most users are not proper touch typists (I’ve been using a keyboard for over 25 years and still haven’t got around to Mavis Beacon). Secondly, excessive finger movement is not the problem with ULDs.

The biggest conributors to ULDs are:
a) insuficient workbreaks
b) poor posture
c) work stress which often leads to a) and c)

So, yes, remember to take proper breaks. Something like Workrave may well be useful. So might being a member of a Trade Union – or at least making sure you have good work relationships and control over your scehedule and pace of work.

Use your rest brakes sensibly. Stand up. Stretch. Do (gentle!) exercise such as rolling your shoulders, neck, wrists and trunk. Stroll around.

Most important: THINK POSTURE Make sure your chair, worksurface, keyboard and screen are positioned sensibly. You should be able to sit up straight, forearms parallel to the floor or slightly lowered, wrists supported and straight. Is your chair properly adjusted? Do you need a footrest? A wrist rest? (Or are you slouched on the couch pecking away at a laptop?).

Finally…I bet that most readers at this very minute are sitting with their shoulders hunched and tensed. I know I am. Take a deep breath, slowly release and drop those shoulders. Relax…Go on, do it…ahhhh! That’s better, isn’t it? Get into the habit of doing this and it will save you a lot of trouble.

33. Typing Break and WorkRave: Keep RSI at Bay | Ubuntu Linux Help - January 23, 2008

[...] GNOME is very advanced when it comes to providing methods to save your hands. (more…) [...]

34. Typing Break and WorkRave: Keep RSI at Bay | Ubuntu Linux Help - January 26, 2008

[...] is very advanced when it comes to providing methods to save your hands. (more…) addthis_url = [...]

35. Kerja mandiri - February 16, 2008

great idea for easy life..I hope it’s applied soon

36. driving jobs - April 7, 2008

Keep RSI at bay by checking your posture at the computer.

37. construction jobs search - April 12, 2008

It is extremely important when operating any repetitive act to keep changing the way you sit. If not in the long term you will really pay (unless of course you can sue someone for your injury in which case they will really pay!).

38. Sai - May 20, 2008

Very nice writeup. Marcel’s was very well put too.
I suffer from RSI and should say, was irresponsible enough to not think of prevention when it started.
All the blame goes to my badly placed keyboard and mouse at home (blame GTA Vice City and San Andreas).
The comments below were an eye opener to me.

How ever, in addition to the ‘mini keyboard’ (the one without the numerice keypad, so that you can keep a mouse there…), wouldn’t a ‘track ball’ make sense too?

Say for example: the kensington trackball?
http://us.kensington.com/html/2200.html

It might be a 100 dollars, but when people are recommending keyboards worth the same amount, a track ball seems affordable.

39. cemal - May 21, 2008

Posture is very important for any computer use regardless of anything else. RSI is a serious issue and can have lifelong damaging effects so taking a break every 30 minutes of so is a must.

40. msn - June 4, 2008

Really looking forward to that article on GTD when you’re recovered enough to write it.

41. cet - January 18, 2009

saol

42. ethana2 - March 7, 2009

Gosh dangit. Watching qwerty typists switch to Dvorak is like watching Windows users try Slackware and then when you offer them Ubuntu, ‘oh, no– I don’t like that linux stuff’.

Screw that.
Of course dvorak is a pain to program with. It was designed a century ago; it’s nearly as old as qwerty is.

43. Etek Alti - April 4, 2009

still looking forward to the GTD post…! :D

44. Johnny - June 2, 2009

Workrave is very much comparable to Workpace (windows, commercial license), which I would say is the leader in break-reminder software, how ever small that niche is. I have a feature by feature comparison here:
http://www.fightrsi.com/2009/03/save-yourself-from-computer-pain-take-a-break/

45. Jack - June 7, 2009

I settled on Dvorak a while ago and enjoy the feel and rhythm of it. I was going to try Colemak but honestly the community that is building up around it is off putting. Also, the claims of its proponents that Dvorak overworks the right hand and the pinky is not something that I have ever found to be true.

I am sure Colemak is a very ergonomic layout but the advantages it has are based on its similarity to Qwerty and possibly skewed by the remapping of the caps lock to a delete key; Learning comfort is not always a good way to develop higher levels of mastery. I also suspect easier access to the delete key is undesirable in the light of developing accuracy and I have found a much better use for it.

I built my own layout so when I hit the Caps Lock key I get the numbers on the homerow and all coding centric characters in highly accessible positions. This is a heck of a lot better than a numeric keypad and great for laptops. As for shortcuts any OS worth its salt can reassign these.

It is also a good idea to leave the keys with their Qwerty labeling as it makes it easier the type visually when you have to use a standard keyboard and helps you learn how to touch type properly. It’s also a good idea to set up a keyboard shortcut to switch back and forth between layouts to play games that were designed on Qwerty.

Hope the thoughts are useful.

46. nusret - July 31, 2009

thank you very

47. Secretarial Jobs - September 3, 2009

You have to be extremely carefull with RSI, it can cause very serious long term disability. Make sure you are always sitting in a proper posture.

48. Yacht rental in Ibiza - September 24, 2009

I would agree with most of the points. Some of these issues can be eliminated all together if you use pronexis or similar.

49. Yacht rental - November 12, 2009

It is also a good idea to leave the keys with their Qwerty labeling as it makes it easier the type visually when you have to use a standard keyboard and helps you learn how to touch type properly. It’s also a good idea to set up a keyboard shortcut to switch back and forth between layouts to play games that were designed on Qwerty.

Hope the thoughts are useful.It is also a good idea to leave the keys with their Qwerty labeling as it makes it easier the type visually when you have to use a standard keyboard and helps you learn how to touch type properly. It’s also a good idea to set up a keyboard shortcut to switch back and forth between layouts to play games that were designed on Qwerty.

Hope the thoughts are useful.

50. Alquiler de yates - November 12, 2009

The advancement now with voice recognition software and other associated products can cut down on these issues and potential RSI exposure from being exposed to constant keyboard exposure practically eliminated

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55. Alejandro Garcia - November 19, 2009

I also type in Dvorak
It took me two attempts and a couple of months to make the whole switch.

But now that I have, It is amazing the pain in my hands has disappeared.

As other posters have said the first two weeks are the hardest.

56. Alquiler de yates de lujo - November 20, 2009

You have to be extremely carefull with RSI, it can cause very serious long term disability. Make sure you are always sitting in a proper posture.

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Make sure you are always sitting in a proper posture.

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You have to be extremely carefull with RSI, it can cause very serious long term disability.

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Hope the thoughts are useful.It is also a good idea to leave the keys with their Qwerty labeling as it makes it easier the type visually when you have to use a standard keyboard and helps you learn how to touch type properly. It’s also a good idea to set up a keyboard shortcut to switch back and forth between layouts to play games that were designed on Qwerty.

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I would agree with most of the points. Some of these issues can be eliminated all together if you .

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Some of these issues can be eliminated all together if you use pronexis or similar.

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Really looking forward to that article on GTD when you’re recovered enough to write it. I’m currently implementing GTD mainly using Remember

63. Alquiler de yates - November 27, 2009

enough to write it. I’m currently implementing GTD mainly using Remember

64. Yacht rental - December 9, 2009

Learning Dvorak has definitely reduced my wrist strain a great deal. If it helps push the decision, a year later, I’m typing 10

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Learning Dvorak has definitely reduced my wrist strain a great deal. If it helps push the decision

66. alquiler de yates - December 9, 2009

Learning Dvorak has definitely reduced my wrist strain a great deal.

67. Yacht rental - December 18, 2009

Use colemak. We all know qwerty sucks, but Dvorak was desinged to be easy to learn from nothing. Colemak is better than dvorak, simply put, and it’s easy to learn for qwerty users.

68. alquiler de yates - December 18, 2009

Colemak is better than dvorak, simply put, and it’s easy to learn for qwerty users.

Marta - March 18, 2014

I bought the Reisner Scorebook this sprnig and have used it for a few games. It took a while to get used to and I think it is a good system specifically if you are interested in recording as much game data as possible. Unfortunately, it keeps me way to busy during the game to really enjoy watching because I am constantly worried about making sure I get each pitch documented, and that I’m getting the correct codes down for each play. I don’t hate the Reisner method, but I think it’s mostly for the minutiae folks who really want to know everything that happened in as much detail as you can provide. Good for professional scorekeepers, but for the casual fan it’s probably a little too labor intensive. Plus a finished scorecard looks like an absolute mess.

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Colemak is better than dvorak, simply put,

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I am sure Colemak is a very ergonomic layout but the advantages it has are based on its similarity to Qwerty and possibly skewed by the remapping of the caps lock to a delete key;

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Useful and great application. I was using Typing Break of Ubuntu standard applet, but I have a little issue with it: the icon does not appear correctly. Thanks for this information. So long.

84. al - August 29, 2010

I use Kinesis freestyle keyboard, and a tablet/stylus (No mouse-ever). I assume good posture and have ‘programmed’ myself to do so. You can program pen for various pressure sensitivities. You can alter the breadth of the keyboard with its split keyboard function as well as its angle in relationship to the hand fingers arm shoulders. However, once you get to a certain point in RSI, I’m not sure if anything ‘cures’ it except no use whatsover

85. sikiş izle - September 26, 2010

Really looking forward to that article on GTD when you’re recovered enough to write it.

86. antalya ilaçlama - September 27, 2010

One thing that helped me a great deal was to start using the mouse with my non-dominant hand. I have a wireless mouse and keyboard so this was easy to do. It took me a week to get very comfortable doing so, and now I can switch back and forth without any trouble. I also run workrave, and try not to get annoyed when it tells me to leave my computer for ten minutes.

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89. sibel kekilli - December 10, 2010

If typing is the main source of your problem (as it was for me), you might try the Kinesis contoured keyboard from kinesis-ergo.com. I’ve been using one almost exclusively for over eight years, and it has helped immensely. By the way, before I found the Kinesis, I tried the Microsoft Natural keyboard, and found it noticeably worse (for me) than an ordinary keyboard. Remember that there is a lot of individual variation in RSI stressors, and that one size definitely does not fit all.

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