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Workrave–listen to the sheep

by Alexander Todorov

Once I was asked what the funny little icon in the notification area of my screen was. I replied, “This is a sheep that is telling me when to stop typing and have a break.” The sheep is the mascot of Workrave, a program that assists in the recovery and prevention of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). It does so by reminding you to take little breaks every few minutes and a longer one every hour.

Workrave was created by Rob Caelers and Raymond Penners. The program is released under the GNU/GPL license and works on Linux and Windows. Visit the Workrave site for screenshots.

In today’s world, everything is computers. Many of us go to work and sit down in front of the computer. After eight hours we go home and continue to be in front of the computer. Blogging, chatting, surfing the web. People still do not realize how many negative consequences are related to computer usage. Workrave is a small program that tries to help with some of those.

First thing to do is to install the bits. Workrave is included in Fedora, so you just need the simple:

yum install workrave

I installed it on my RHEL 5 system without any problems. If you’re a system administrator maintaining the desktop machines in your office, it’s a good idea to install this program on them.

Here is the list of features. It’s not a long one, but that’s all you want from such piece of software.

  • Micro-pause: a short break (30 sec.) every few (10) minutes
  • Rest break: a longer break (5 min.) with exercises, usually every hour
  • Daily limit: when the daily limit you set is reached, a warning tells you to stop use the computer
  • Exercises: a list of exercises presented in graphical and text form
  • Statistics: calendar with mouse and keyboard usage stats and breaks taken/skipped/postponed
  • Applet: applet for the GNOME desktop
  • Distributed network mode: allows the user to work on multiple computers, such as a laptop and a workstation
  • Translations: translated into many languages

As a user of Workrave, I found only one drawback–the lack of ability to add/change exercises easily. It would be better to have exercises packaged separately and allow users to install their own packages. You can still do this by adding custom images and editing the /usr/share/workrave/exercises/exercises.xml file, but it’s not straightforward.

I recommend that you start with the default settings. You will want to tweak them later based on personal need. If you are recovering from an RSI, you will probably want micro-pauses every two or three minutes and a larger break every half an hour. Consult with your doctor about how this program can help your recovery. For normal usage (i.e., you are not recovering from any condition), settings really depend on how much you use the computer. As a software engineer, I use my computer approximately ten hours or more per day. My settings are for a 30 second micro-break every ten minutes and a five-minute rest break every hour.

During the micro-break, you’ll probably tend to sit down and wait for it to finish, but there’s a better way to use the rest break. Instead of just sitting at your desk, memorize some of the exercises and do them while standing. Or have a five minute walk around the office. Go wash your face or get yourself something to drink.

Workrave is a very simple program that does almost nothing, and that is exactly what helps you. Stop working for a while and have a break. If you still don’t think it’s helpful, ask a colleague with back pain or the one whose wrists hurt. Prevention is better than a cure.

2 responses to “Workrave–listen to the sheep”

  1. pligg.com says:

    Workrave–listen to the sheep

    Once I was asked what the funny little icon in the notification area of my screen was. I replied, “This is a sheep that is telling me when to stop typing and have a break.” The sheep is the mascot of Workrave, a program that assists in the …

  2. Folke says:

    I my opinion (Workrave 1.8.5)
    /usr/share/workrave/exercises/exercises.xml
    is quite easy to understand and to extend.
    Everybody who has ever handled a xml-file will easily understand how to extend it.

    Even with only a few xml knowledge you can copy an existing exercise, change the texts and the names of the image files.

    I think the hardest work is to generate/draw pictures for new exercises.