Reduce repetitive motion

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A proper workspace setup is important, but it can only help so much. To further lessen your risk of RSI, try cutting back on the amount of typing and mousing you do. Mac OS X, along with many popular applications, features built-in tools that can abbreviate tasks. Or you can invest in some third-party add-ons to help you. But remember: A shortcut should not be more harmful than the action it replaces. For example, stretching your fingers to press three keys at the same time may put more stress on your fingers and tendons than using the mouse.

Automate common tasks

Replacing repetitive multistep procedures with automated sequences can be a huge benefit, and many applications come with such features built in. For instance, Adobe Photoshop’s actions let you trigger certain tasks, such as resizing, rotating, and saving an image, with a single mouse click. Photoshop comes with several actions (File: Automate: Batch), and hundreds more are available for free from Adobe’s Studio Exchange ).

Don’t use Photoshop? Automator, a utility that ships with Mac OS X 10.4, lets you program complex operations called workflows by dragging actions into a flowchart-like window. For instance, you can create workflows to mail selected items in the Finder or resize a group of images. To find out more about how to set up workflows, see Make Automator Work for You.

But while Automator’s workflows are limited to stringing together predefined steps (such as retrieving the contents of a folder), Startly Technologies’ $80 QuicKeys X3 (   ) offers more flexibility: it can automate just about any action, including typing, mouse clicks, and system operations. To use QuicKeys, you have to break up the job into a series of distinct steps (click on a button, wait until a window disappears, and so on), but the effort pays off if you tend to repeat the same sequences often.

Try shortcuts

One simple way to reduce typing is to use built-in shortcuts for common commands. To find the shortcuts available for an application, use the Help menu and do a search for shortcuts . Many applications, including Microsoft Word, also let you customize your own keyboard shortcuts. And if you’re using Mac OS X 10.3 or later, you can set keyboard shortcuts for any menu command in most applications (see Save Time with Shortcuts ).

You can also reduce typing by using text expanders, which let you enter blocks of text with a few keystrokes. This capability is built into Microsoft Word via the AutoText feature (see “Word Fixer”). For instance, here’s how to make Word fill in your address: Type the address exactly as you want it to appear and highlight it. Go to Tools: AutoCorrect, and select the AutoText tab. Type

in the Enter AutoText Entries Here field, and click on the Add button. Now whenever you type addr, Word will display a pop-up showing the entire address; press return to enter it.

Even if you don’t use Word, you can add this capability to other applications. Third-party text expanders like Riccardo Ettore’s $27 TypeIt4Me and SmileOnMyMac’s $30 TextExpander (   ) let you set up and use abbreviations for oft-used phrases in any application.

Use your voice

Another way to reduce the amount of typing you do is through speech-recognition software. MacSpeech’s $149 iListen comes with a USB headset and microphone, and it transcribes your voice on-the-fly in any OS X application (see “Listen Up”). iListen is worth considering if you’re comfortable dictating long passages without interrupting yourself to correct mistakes. Although iListen works out of the box, you’ll get more-accurate results if you take the several hours required to train the program. A high-quality mike and a quiet environment also help.

If you don’t want to go as far as having your computer transcribe your documents, you can still voice-control your Mac, using OS X’s built-in speech recognition. For example, you can command your Mac to hide the current application, switch to another program, or create a new folder—all without touching the mouse. Use the Speech preference pane to specify which voice command sets to activate (see “Watch Your Speech”). For an example of how to set up speech recognition in Tiger, see Control Exposé via Voice.

Take frequent breaks

Generally, you should stop what you’re doing a few times an hour, relax, take a few deep breaths, and close your eyes or look off into the distance. Better yet, get up and walk around to stretch.

If you can’t remember to put your work aside on your own, programs such as’s $25 MacBreakZ ) or Niche Software’s $74 Workpace pop up reminders and show you exercises that you can perform at your desk. You can adjust the length of the pauses and the interval between breaks; you can even make the reminder window take over your screen, so you’re forced to stop working.

Although it doesn’t include exercise tips, a free program called AntiRSI also helps you take periodic breaks (see “Make or Break”). All three applications recommend longer breathers, as well as microbreaks that last less than a minute.

[ Dr. Franklin N. Tessler is a radiologist in Birmingham, Alabama. He writes about ergonomics regularly for Macworld.]

Word Fixer: Using Microsoft Word’s AutoText feature, you can create abbreviations for longer passages of text.Watch Your Speech: In the Speech preference pane, you can instruct your Mac to listen for commands continuously or only when you press a modifier key.Listen Up: The Feedback window in iListen shows you what the application is hearing.Make or Break: AntiRSI’s Preferences pane lets you tweak settings for major work breaks and short pauses.
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