How to complete repetitive tasks at work

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is an umbrella term referring to a group of conditions resulting from an overuse of a tool such as a keyboard, pen, mouse, musical instrument etc. What is less well known is that factors such as posture and stress may also contribute to the problem. In this section, we have provided a number of tips to help reduce the risk of RSI at work.

Be aware of the symptoms

Some of the more common symptoms of RSI can include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the affected areas
  • Pins and needles in the affected area
  • Swelling and temperature changes in the area
  • A temporary loss of strength and dexterity of the affected limb

If you recognise some of these symptoms, it is important to let your employer know so they can get an ergonomist to assess you and develop a plan to alleviate the problem.

Try voice recognition software

Some people who have a tendency to develop RSI have tried using voice recognition software. As the name suggests, voice recognition software is designed to detect what you have said and automatically produce the text on the screen. In this way, this type of software can reduce the need for manual typing. For many years, voice recognition software was not good enough to pick up speech accurately. More recently, however, there has been a significant development in the technology making speech recognition much more accurate and easier to use. Please note that for the software to work accurately it needs to be able to pick up your speech and so you will need to invest some time in setting up the initial configuration.

Take regular breaks

There is still debate over exactly how long you should work before having a break. Some researchers suggest that you should take a break every 20-30 minutes for approximately 5 minutes.

Make sure you use your keyboard correctly

When typing on your keyboard try to make sure you keep your fingers in alignment with your wrists and forearms. Try to avoid resting your arms on the edge of the desk. If you are struggling to keep your fingers in good alignment during typing on your standard keyboard, you may wish to consider using an ergonomic keyboard such as a split keyboard. As the name suggests, split keyboards are divided into two or more separate parts. Each part can then be independently positioned to encourage a more natural hand, wrist and forearm position. Some people also position a wrist rest between the bottom edge of the keyboard and the edge of the desk. As the name suggests, you can use these supports to rest your arms during breaks in your typing.

Make sure you use your mouse correctly

Similarly to typing, using a mouse repetitively has been associated with RSI in some individuals. This is becoming increasingly common as more and more activities on the computer become mouse based. To reduce the risk of RSI when using the mouse, try not to overstretch during mouse use. You may also want to consider using keyboard shortcuts to do more of the tasks that would commonly be done on a mouse. Some of the common shortcuts that you can use on windows include:

  • CTRL+C: Copy
  • CTRL+X: Cut
  • CTRL+V: Paste
  • CTRL+Z: Undo
  • CTRL+B: Bold
  • CTRL+U: Underline
  • CTRL+I: Italic
  • SHIFT+right click: Displays a shortcut menu containing alternative commands
  • SHIFT+double click: Runs the alternate default command (the second item on the menu)
  • ALT+double click: Displays properties
  • SHIFT+DELETE: Deletes an item immediately without placing it in the Recycle Bin

For more possible shortcuts please visit http://support.microsoft.com/kb/126449. Another option is to switch your mouse to an ergonomic mouse. An ergonomic mouse is a computer mouse that has been shaped in such a way that it can support your hand more fully. By improving the fit of the mouse to the shape of the hand, ergonomic mice aim to reduce repetitive rotation and twisting of the wrist during mouse use. Alternatively, you may want to consider using a trackball instead of a mouse. A trackball allows you to move the cursor with your fingers without having to move the rest of your arm.

Lift smart

Whenever completing repetitive lifting, try to make sure you spread the load over multiple joints and reduce the weight that you have to move as much as possible.

Work smart

Try to avoid repetitive movements when your limbs are in a stretched position.