Vivek Haldar

Do you have an RSI prevention plan?

If you jaywalk a busy street, you might get away with it a few times. But if you do it every day, day in and day out, sooner or later you will get hit. The same way, if your job involves sitting in front of the computer and using it all day, it’s only a matter of time before you develop some sort of RSI or related injury. It’s not even a question of if, just when. And it’s extremely likely that if you do have such a job, you spend a good fraction of your nonworking hours on a computer as well.

I can’t tell you how often I hear programmers joking about busting their wrists, and how often I see them rolling and stretching their wrists and fingers to relieve the pain–and then get right back to typing furiously. Usually, they are engrossed enough in their jobs that they only pay attention to the pain when it becomes severe.

This is a really bad idea.

So how about this–pretend that you have severe RSI right now. What would you do to work around it? How would you change your habits? How would you use your computer differently? Figure that out. And then, even though you do not have RSI now, pretend like you do, and make those changes. Experiment. Find a configuration that works for you. In effect, do these things voluntarily, before you are forced to.

Now here’s the thing–this will almost certainly result in a slight drop in productivity in the short term. Most touch typists are fast enough that moving to voice recognition software might actually slow them down. But you really need to take the long term view on this. Do you want to be that furious clickety click typist for just the next few years and then fall off a cliff?

Some prominent bloggers have perpetrated the myth that typing is the bottleneck activity in programming. I could not disagree more. If all you are doing is pounding out code, and never stepping away from the computer to think or design, then you’re doing something wrong. For me at least, my thinking is much slower than my typing, so it wouldn’t matter if I could type faster. I suspect that is true of most professional programmers. The converse–the programmer who is a slow typist–would be a red flag.

Protect your hands and wrists and fingers, so that you can enjoy using them for a long time.