How I Work: AntiRSI

One of the problems I have historically had is either keeping focus on something too long or not enough. When I acquired a standing desk, I knew I would not want to either stand or sit all day long, as there is plenty of research now that says too much of either is bad for you, rather than one or the other being necessarily better.

I had spent a lot of time looking for a good timer to help me break up my day. After a lot of searching and trying out various options, I found AntiRSI (link opens in Mac App Store).

What it does is very simple, and gets the job done. It’s designed to prevent repetitive stress injuries, so it schedules both very small (“micro”) and long (“work”) breaks based on intervals you create. When a break happens, an overlay pops up on your screen and tells you to get with the not-working:

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 09.05.55

Because I don’t have any true RSI issues, I don’t run it with the micro breaks, just the work breaks. It’s nice because it does a few things I really needed it to:

  • Detects when you naturally stop typing/mousing and go do something else. This will either freeze the countdown internally or will actually count as a break if you are away for enough time.
  • The overlay steals focus and forces me to pay attention (if I want it to).
  • I can postpone the break if I’m really in a flow and want to just push it back 15 minutes, which both is helpful and forces me to be more responsible with my time. It’s no one’s fault but mine if I work too long in a row.
  • You can drop it in as a menu bar item, which is an unobtrusive look at how much time you have until your next break:

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 14.37.58.png

I use it mostly as a long-form pomodoro timer. I will work on a single task for the whole space of a work session. When the time is up, I’ll use that as a cue to at least stand up and walk around for the eight minute break I have configured. I’ll see what my wife is up to, refresh my water, check on something with the house, or check in on the kids to get some hugs. Then, it’s back to the desk for another 50 minutes of work.

If you have any questions, drop them in the comments. In case you give it a spin and want to know what my settings are, here’s my Preferences pane.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 14.32.19.png

Keeping Things Moving

As an Automattician, I spend the vast majority of my time working from home. This has its advantages and disadvantages, like anything else, but I didn’t think of my physical activity (or lack thereof) in quite the right way until I saw this tweet from my colleague Beau:

http://twitter.com/#!/beaulebens/status/113780084149719040

For reasons that I plan to write about soon, I have been taking a long-overdue look at my habits throughout the day in an effort to improve them and their effects on my overall health. It’s no secret that it’s not a great thing for you to be sitting down all day long.

I know this because the best shape I’ve been in for the last 10 years or so was when I was working retail at Circuit City. Being on your feet for 10 hours at a stretch and walking a store floor will do that to you. Once I shifted to a desk job, I quickly ballooned to over 300 pounds until I hit a high of around 325 in the last couple of years.

(I have since dropped a good amount of weight but that will need to wait for that other post I was talking about.)

What I have been using for about the last year or so to keep myself from getting leg cramps is a little utility called AntiRSI. It sits in your dock (and with the newest version, can sit in your menu bar instead) and has a configurable set of controls for taking breaks.

The options are pretty straightforward:

I don’t use it for the micro breaks as I don’t have any issues with strain (yet) and they were interrupting my flow a bit. Instead, I use it to force myself to take an eight-minute break every 50 minutes (so about every hour). When the 50 minutes of work are up, this appears and won’t go away unless I dismiss it, which I try very hard not to do:

When that appears, I do exactly what it says. The important part is that I stand up when prompted for a work break and walk around a bit. I check on how the kids are doing in school, take a biobreak, refill my water, or any one of a number of things, but (a) don’t work and (2) stay standing and moving as much as possible. Sometimes I will set an eight minute timer on my iPhone and take a walk outside. I walk past the desk every so often to see if the break is up, and when it is I sit back down and get to it.

Now I read tonight that I might not be getting up enough. And it’s possible that using a standing desk (which I have considered) is getting up too much. This is of course only one source of information on this, and you can always find a study or paper that agrees with you, but:

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes.  Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

You can read the original text here.

So maybe I will give 30 minute intervals with smaller breaks a shot and see how it goes for a while. I’m thinking 5 minutes’ break every 30 minutes or so.

Do you have a method that works for you? Something you do to stay active throughout the day? I would love to hear about it.