E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Staying Healthy – 11 Ergonomic Tips for Avoiding RSI

Gran Canaria - On the Way to Artenara with Mount Teide in the HorizonOne of the biggest challenges we, knowledge (Web) workers, keep facing over the course of time, as we get more and more heavily involved with knowledge work being carried out through both traditional and emergent collaboration and knowledge sharing tools out there on the Social Web, is the fact that, now more than ever, we need to stay healthy, specially, as we tend to spend plenty of our time in front of a (computer) screen typing away for a good number of hours in our work day. We no longer have a choice at this point, more than anything else, because if we don’t do it for ourselves, no-one else would! It’s our responsibility, to a great extent, that we strive to remain healthy in this 2.0 world as much as we possibly can. Just think of it, what would happen if all of a sudden you end up suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury, a.k.a. RSI, for instance, at the worst timing ever during your current project(s)? Could you afford falling sick for a good number of months while trying to recover? Probably not, right?

Well, this is one of those times where we all need to be very grateful to Charles Hamilton for putting together an amazing set of hints and tips, gathered by Wimsey Cherrington, over at GigaOm‘s WebWorkerDaily11 Ergonomic Tips for Avoiding RSI” that will act as excellent reminders for what we can do actively to help avoid falling into the trap of RSI. The article itself references as well a couple of rather interesting and very helpful entries on this very same topic: “How to Keep Your Wrists Healthy” and “DIY Home and Mobile Office Ergonomics“. Both of them highly recommended reads as well, mainly because of the whole bunch of pragmatic ideas shared across that you can put into practice right away.

It’s been nearly two years since my last blog entry on this important and rather relevant topic of RSI, and since this is also a blog that talks a bit about productivity and, most importantly, how to stay productive, I thought I would spend a few minutes referencing Charles’ article sharing a couple of other tips that have worked with me wonderfully over the course of the last few months. So, to get started let’s go ahead and list those 11 tips that he collected from Wimsey:

  1. Take frequent breaks: Indeed! I already do this with a couple of tips… First, my all time favourite preferred productivity tool to help me stay away from RSI by giving me plenty of reminders throughout the day to take frequent breaks. On the Mac, of course, I am talking about MacBreakZ, which I already blogged about it over two years ago as well. And just recently, another technique that has helped me tremendously with taking frequent breaks, regardless of what I am doing, is The Pomodoro Technique, where I have got it set up to give me a 5 minute break every 25 minutes of a particular task I may be doing. So far combining both of these tips has proved to be rather successful altogether, so if you are looking for a couple of options to help you take more frequent breaks you could have a look into those. They have worked wonders with me so far!
  2. Relax: No brainer, I know, but how many of us do that during the course of the week? Read further on the tip to see what I mean…
  3. Exercise: Charles shares a link to these wonderful exercises worth while having a look at, but I have also read just recently how activities like walking your dog, or, better said, asking your dog to take you for a long walk, can be very effective as well in your overall fitness program(s). Yes, indeed, I can vouch that one works, too!
  4. Keep your feet comfortable: i didn’t realise about the importance of this one, but it surely does make sense. We need to be aware as to where our feet are while sitting in front of the computer for so long!
  5. Position yourself for comfort: Nothing more to add to that one, I am afraid.
  6. Lose the back pocket: I never had to worry about this one, but good to know, just in case!
  7. Find the right keyboard and mouse: I have never used an external mouse, but ever since I was introduced to the TouchPad from MacBook Pros, and now with MacBook Air, I haven’t been back ever since and the native keyboard on the MBAir is working really well with me so far.
  8. Use a stand for your laptop or tablet: Check! For both the MBAir and for the iPad; so much better to work with anyway, specially, since I can fall back into natural postures versus having to curve my body unnecessarily.
  9. Check your eyeglass prescription: our eyes are critical for our work, so the better we look after them, the better we will be eventually.
  10. Look for ergonomic hotel space: As a road warrior, one of the things I have built a good habit of is to take breaks even more frequently in this scenario of working remotely, more than anything else because those ergonomics are really lacking and taking breaks and going for long walks helps make up for that lack of a better workspace. Thank goodness it’s just temporary. Important to go back to the usual routines when coming back!
  11. Get regular tune-ups: This is going along the lines of what I have been saying to myself as well for a while; as soon as it starts “hurting” a bit, even the slightest discomfort, time to stop and check with the specialists. They know better than you do.

As you may have seen above, lots of great tips shared across by both Wimsey and Charles. Read further their article as you are bound to find plenty more golden nuggets. For now, I would want to leave you folks with a couple of extra bonus tips on a couple of other Productivity Tools that I make use of quite heavily and which I have found incredibly helpful over the course of months. The first one is called TextExpander, where I have been capable of building up a whole bunch of macros that I run constantly that help me save lots of typing for repetitive sentences, phrases, common URLs, long pieces of the same text that you know you need to copy and paste all over the place, like online forms, etc. etc. According to TextExpander’s statistics so far I have saved over 155k characters! Yes, I know! That’s a lot of typing saved right there with just a couple of key strokes here and there! One of those essential applications every writer should have at their desktops! Oh, and there are versions of it as well for both iPhone and iPad, too! 🙂

And, finally, the last productivity tip for this blog entry that will surely help you decrease, substantially, the amount of time we all spend typing away in front of computers. It’s one that’s taken me quite a bit of time to get used to and master, but once I have managed to make it through it’s a huge time saver when you need to type large amounts of text. Of course, I am talking about MacSpeech Dictate, now rebranded to Dragon Dictate for Mac, which, basically, allows you to use natural speech to “talk to the computer” and have all of those words written down for you in a breeze and amazingly accurate, although, like I said, it took me a while to figure out what accent I would be using within the application itself, which I thought was just too funny, as a non-native English speaker! hehe

Either way, while reading this blog post I am sure you may be wondering that taking care of your health to help avoid RSI with some of the tools I have mentioned above is perhaps a little bit of an expensive treat, and probably I would have to agree with you on that, but then again, think how much more expensive it could well be, if you don’t invest in providing yourself with the tooling, techniques, hints and tips and whatever other tricks to stay healthy and avoid further trouble. I think I am going to stick around with these, don’t you think?

What other tips have you been employing over the course of time to help you avoid RSI? I am always willing to learn more useful tips and further advice on such an important topic! Would love to hear from you all in the comments!

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  1. You are right on the money with this one. As someone who works full time in Web Development, I have personally felt the effects of RSI and understand the importance of many of the things you listed above. We often tend to get into such a sedintary routine that it is absolutely vital to get out there before or after work and get some exercise!

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