Wait! Before you click away because you think that this might be the most boring freelancer software review of the year, give me the rest of this paragraph to convince you otherwise. I'm a freelancer on a tiny budget, I have a secondhand office chair, I have an Apple Mighty Mouse, and I generally spend over 12 hours a day at the computer.. if any of those things apply to you too, then you need to read this. In just 4 days of use, RSIGuard has given me more energy to do all of my work, and relieved a couple of aches and pains to boot.

What is it, and What Does it Do?

RSIGuard (in as few words as possible;) is an application for both Mac and PC that forces you to take periodic 2-3 minute breaks from your computer throughout the day to prevent repetitive strain injury.

The Story Behind It

Consider the following three pictures carefully: The first is of the chair which I sit in for 12-14 hours a day, the second and third are of my hand holding my Apple Mighty Mouse

chair mouse1 mouse2

The Chair - Even Herbie doesn't look particularly impressed by my second hand office reject. The back doesn't lock into position, and it tilts extremely far back. In addition the actual seat is slightly large so the edge digs into the back of my legs.

The Mouse - Apple make brilliant computers and phones, but when it comes to peripheral devices they really put up a poor show. Maybe I have abnormally large hands, but when I hold the Mighty Mouse it disappears beneath my fingers, with visible stress points indicated by the red arrows. I have to hold the mouse at that weird angle to make use of the side buttons, and there's a huge gap between my hand and the mouse meaning I have nothing to rest it on.

Here's what happened:

For the last two weeks I've been having various aches and pains, not major ones, but enough for me to notice them. Occasionally my mouse arm would ache, occasionally my legs would hurt, and pretty much everyday without fail I would get muscle spasms in my left cheek (not painful, but extremely annoying).

I asked my dad what he used to help, as he's had shoulder problems for as long as I can remember. Oh, and he spends an unholy amount of time at a computer too (not a coincidence). He recommended a number of things, and amongst them was a link to RSIGuard.

The Application

RSIGuard is a lot like an antivirus program, it runs in the background completely unnoticed until it wants you to do something... then it jumps up and down on your screen like a Jack Russell Terrier.

Its premise is simple, reduce repetitive strain injuries by taking frequent breaks, standing up, and stretching. You put in computer usage information such as what sort of mouse and keyboard you use, how many hours per day you spend working, and your current level of pain/discomfort. It then calculates your optimum break intervals, in my case 38 minutes.

breaktimer

Every 38 minutes I receive a popup notification telling me that it's time to take a break. I have the option to postpone the break by 2 minutes or 10 minutes if I'm in the middle of working on something, but otherwise it will launch the break screen. The break screen consists of the same pop up window, but it blanks out all your work in the background (see below) - it then plays you three different stretches, which usually involve standing up and sitting down between each one. Once you've completed the stretches you usually have about a minute to spare which it advises you to use to "relax, stretch, get up and walk around". I usually use this time to go and get myself a glass of water, adding to my 8 per day and all that.

breaktime

The Clever Bit

Up until now I've probably made the app sound extremely simple, but it's two most interesting features throw a real twist to the otherwise basic functionality.

The first is that it measures (constantly) how much you are using the mouse, and how much you are typing. It has "triggers" built in, and if you surpass your thresh-hold, it will initiate a break early. So if I have a particularly heavy half hour where I write 1,000 words on a blog post (for example) then it will give me a break early, to compensate for doing a lot of "keyboarding" in less than my 38 minutes time slot.

On the flip side of this, RSIGuard also measures your time spent not doing anything, and adjusts your break schedule accordingly. If I take 5 minute break to go and do some filing, it notices and automatically delays the time of the next break. The best part is that you don't have to tell it you're taking a break, which I found out when I spent my first day using it trying to find a way to tell it I was going for lunch. It recognises when you're inactive - and remains idle until you return.

The second of the two most interesting features, is that it records a lot more than just when you are and aren't using the keyboard and mouse. I had a meeting this morning in Brighton so here are my stat's for a half day's work. (note: it failed to record right-clicks, middle clicks, double clicks, and scroll wheel use - pretty sure it's just a mighty mouse thing)

rsistats

The Result

After using this application for 4 days, my cheek no longer twitches in the evening (which was the most annoying problem out of the lot of them), and my aches and pains have been significantly reduced (my back still hurts a bit, but I'm pretty sure that's just from working such long hours).

The obvious question that I haven't answered is "Isn't it a pain to have it blinking at you 14 times a day?" - to which the answer is "sometimes". Often when I work really hard I welcome a 2 minute break, other times I'm right in the middle of a rather complicated line of PHP and I really don't want to lose focus. So far though, I've found that the postpone function is sufficient to give you enough time to finish what you're in the middle of and take a break.

There are at least 3 more features which I could talk about, but frankly I've already postponed my own break while writing this post at least two times so I'm going to draw it to a close!

Give this app a try, I highly recommend it.

RSIGuard is available to purchase for $25 - $65 (depending on edition) - but you can also get a free 45 day trial right HERE.