Stay healthy while working at your PC

Stay healthy while working at your PC

Avoid the twin demons of RSI and eye strain with the help of a free program

According to the Chatered Society of Physiotherapy, 448,000 British workers have serious problems with Repetitive Strain Injury. Meanwhile, studies show that between 50 to 90 per cent of computer workers suffer from screen-related eye strain, leading to dry or watery eyes, sensitivity to light, or headaches.

So, where do you start if you want to do something about it? The problem is that many office jobs involve spending most of the day stuck in front of a computer screen. Luckily, there’s a handy little program that can monitor exactly how long you spend in front of your monitor. A site for sore eyes, Workrave is there to remind you to take a break and cut the risk of PC-related health issues. Let’s run through the process.

1. Get started

Go to and click the free download button, followed by the MS Windows installer link. Save the installation file to your hard drive and when it has downloaded, double-click the installer file and follow the instructions to set it up. Tick the ‘Start Workrave when Windows starts’ box when prompted, so it’s up and running as soon as you turn on your PC.

2. Tracking the timers

A little window containing three timers will appear on your desktop. The top one – with the tiny hand – is the micro-break timer. This is a three-minute countdown designed to encourage you to take a breather. As long as you’re typing or moving the mouse, the clock will click down to zero. If there’s no activity on your PC for more than six seconds, the countdown will pause until you start working again.

3. Take a micro-break

As the countdown reaches zero, a screen flashes up warning you to prepare for a micro-break. This warning displays for 30 seconds or until you stop working – whatever happens first. If you carry on working you’ll be rewarded by a short, sharp burst of sound. Take your fingers off the keyboard and the micro-break window itself kicks in, forcing you to pause for 30 seconds. If you can’t break off, you can always postpone the break for 150 seconds or click ‘Skip’ to start the process again.

4. Time for tea 

The middle timer, next to the picture of the cup of tea, indicates how long you have until you will be prompted to take an extended rest break. When you’ve been working for 45 minutes, or you click on the tea icon itself, a 10-minute break starts. But don’t think this is just an excuse to check your email: Workrave blocks access to all other programs. If you can’t tear yourself away from your desk, you could run through the series of suggested exercises.

5. Daily limits 

The bottom timer is your Daily Computer Limit. By default this is set to four hours, and as soon as you launch your computer it starts ticking down. That’s four hours of activity – it pauses every time you take a break. When your time is up, Workrave prompts you to switch off your computer and do something less boring instead. Just hit ‘Shut Down’.

Workaholics can put off the inevitable for another 20 minutes by clicking ‘Postpone’ or you can even skip it completely.

6. Change timings and settings 

Of course, the default timings might not be convenient for you – and your boss might have something to say if stop work for the day after just four hours. But don’t worry; customising Workrave is simple. Press the ^ button on your taskbar , right-click the Workrave icon (the sheep) and select ‘Preferences’. Now you can set the time between breaks, the length of the break itself and how long you want to be able to postpone the interruption. You can also disable Workrave’s ability to block access to other programs by going to ‘User Interface’ and changing the ‘Block Mode’.