Sunday, July 25, 2010

Taking a Break

Everyone needs to take a break now and then.  I just got back from eight days in Alaska, which was a nice (though expensive) break.  But not every break needs to be a big deal.

I need breaks every day -- several times a day, in fact, and you probably do too.  You may not think of them as breaks, but that's what they are.  When you get up  from working at the computer to refresh your beverage of choice, that's a break.  When you answer the phone, that's a break.  Gazing, perhaps longingly, out the window is a break too.

If you work for a long time at the computer as I do, your shoulders, hands, back, neck, eyes -- just about any part of your body -- can give you problems that can often be solved by taking breaks.  For many of us, the problem is not that we don't know we should take breaks, but that we don't remember to take them when we should. 

How often should you take a break?  Some people like a 5 minute break every hour.  I prefer more and shorter breaks, on the order of 5-10 seconds every 10 minutes or so.  I find it helps to keep my body from freezing-up without breaking my mind's train of thought.

How do you encourage yourself to take breaks when you should?  You could use an egg timer, I suppose, or you may have a timing program already on your computer that could help, but there are software applications out there to help with this specific problem of scheduling breaks.

Workrave is pretty nice, and free, though it lacks much in the way of help.  [I have no connection with Workrave, but I've used it, and found it suitable.]  There are many other applications, both free and paid, that you can find by searching for "workrave alternative", "break reminder", or RSI, among other things.  RSI is short for Repetitive Stress Injury, by the way.

The nice thing about Workrave is that it offers exercises for you to do during the longer breaks that you've scheduled:  shoulder stretches, finger exercises, close/far focusing, etc.  I love that.  It also can coordinate breaks between two or more machines, so if you sometimes timeshare between multiple machines, it knows to call for a break on the machine you're currently using.  Other applications may do these sorts of things too, but I haven't tried them.

The fatal (for me) flaw in Workrave is its activity timer.  Most of these break-reminder applications monitor your activity (I know this sounds insecure, but they don't intercept your keystrokes or anything -- they ask the operating system how long it's been since you've used the keyboard or mouse; that's the same measure that kicks off your screen saver).  The idea is that you don't want to be reminded to take a break while you're out having lunch.  But I have this nasty tendency to pause my typing and mouse use for several seconds or even a minute while I'm thinking.  And staring at the screen.  That's exactly when I need the break to come up, but that's when Workrave assumes I'm already taking one!

So I wrote my own.  I may rewrite it and release it free for public use this Fall.  But I can't let it distract me from my writing, which got a big mental refresh on my break in Alaska.  And that just goes to show that even long breaks can help your writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment