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This is truly a good piece of software if you are concerned about the gamut of occupational diseases that abound in all who use the computer. From spondylitis to carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic occupational ailments are the bane of those who sit staring at electronic screens.

Workrave is a handy free software application that can be used to prevent those intentional bad habits. The program alerts the user at certain intervals to take momentary pauses, rest breaks and restricts the user to a daily computer usage limit.

The importance of curing or preventing Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) cannot be over stressed (pun unintended). Whether it is our aching eyes or our aching limbs, this software can help us take those much needed breaks in between the keystrokes.

Workrave goes beyond just being a simple timer logging your time spent on the computer. To start off, Workrave has three timers for three durations of rest. Also, Workrave logs the actual time you spend on the computer. The software does not record the actual pauses you take in the midst of your work. As the little screenshot shows, the three timers are –

The Timers

  • The micro-break timer

The default prompt setting is for every three minutes and the break lasts for 30 seconds. A pop-up prompts the user to simply pause typing and look away from the screen. Just for fun, try clicking on the pop-up and it pops away from you, enforcing you to go for the break.

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  • The rest break timer

This prompt is for a slightly longer period and you maybe can use this time to sneak in a cup of coffee or go and chat with your crush in the next cubicle. But here is a little fun part. Stay in your seat and you could opt to do some exercises with an animated character. ‘Miss Workrave’ would love to take you through some simple exercise routines.

Lil\' Miss Workrave

The onscreen display and the lil’ dudette will help you with some routines for the wrist, neck and eyes. You might end up being labeled the office nut but these exercises will surely help if you are working assiduously on the computer throughout the day (and night).

The daily limit timer

This timer monitors the complete amount of time you spend on the computer. The default time is 4 hours. At the end of this time, the software prompts you with a message. You can ignore this and continue working and in a few moments the prompt comes again. The reminders are just a gentle way to say – “hey, there’s a life beyond this digital box you know!”

Getting into the skin…

Inside the software

The timers and the breaks are completely configurable. This is really handy because the default break times given for the three functions seem relatively short. For the three breaks, the user can set :

  • The time between breaks
  • The break duration
  • The length of the postpone time
  • The number of prompts you want the application to give you.

When the break time is prompted, you can hit the ‘Skip’ or the ‘Postpone’ function (I have a sneaking hunch most of us will do just that!).

The timer can also be set in a ‘suspend’ mode when the computer is inactive.

If you feel that you prefer to hit the gym rather than do the calisthenics in the cubicle, you can also choose to ignore the exercises altogether or just do a pre-determined number of them through the configurable settings.

Another really useful setting is the option to set the software to a ‘block mode’. Using this you have a choice to let the software automatically block any keyboard input when break time hits or to block both the keyboard and blank out the screen. It’s rather like taking a break with a gun on your forehead. Of course, you can just as easily switch it off by using the ‘No Block’ option.

A usage statistic screen comes in handy for the history buffs. The software logs all data related to breaks taken, daily computer usage, prompts given and even the distance traveled by the mouse. Talk about details!

RSI is a reality. Go for the download. At about 6.9MB and free of charge, it’s certainly more worthwhile than a visit to the doctor.

Workrave is open source software and is available for GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows.

Do you have any other pieces of software for helping you to take breaks from the computer or for helping you to manage your time in front of the computer? Let us know in the comments?

  1. Johnny
    April 15, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    I have to say that Workrave is the best free break-reminder software. Most of the commercially available ones are not even as good. WorkPace is what I'm currently using. Its $49 but my company has a license. I wrote a comparison here http://www.fightrsi.com/2009/03/save-yourself-from-computer-pain-take-a-break/ which shows that Workrave is very much comparable.

    • Saikat
      April 16, 2009 at 12:31 am

      Thanks for stopping by and giving us this information. Just goes to show the free and (open source)software movement is a great thing.

  2. 禾草唐楷
    August 15, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    More and more people do not pay attention to their health, is more concerned about the blog traffic and PR, so the post has great value

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