In my decade-long (and mostly losing) battle against RSI, I have avoided micro-breaks – short breaks every 5 minutes or so – because I feared they would ruin my concentration and wouldn’t make much of a difference. Turns out I was wrong. Micro-breaks are the shiznit. I tend to hunch over in some hideous posture and freeze there for the entire 55 minutes between major breaks. The micro-breaks remind me to fix my posture every 5 minutes and rest my eyes. I find it’s not breaking my concentration – it actually helps to stop and let my brain wander for a few seconds and I come back somehow refreshed.

Part of what makes micro-breaks (and breaks) more tolerable is some kind of gradual warning about the break. I used xwrits for years, and the little window suddenly popping up and stealing my keyboard focus irritated me to no end. Usually I’d kill it immediately and keep working. But a gradual fade-in of the break window lets me finish what I’m typing, resign myself to the break, and, somehow, actually look forward to it. I guess it’s the difference between Mom screaming “Stop playing and come inside now!” and calling “Honey, you’ll need to come inside in 5 minutes.”

I’m using Time Out for Mac OS X. I quite like it – you can set not only break interval and length, but fade-in and out time and screen opacity. And it’s freeware.

7 thoughts on “Micro-breaks

  1. tried other keyboard layouts? I credit dvorak as a giant reason why i don’t have really bad rsi… i can tell my fingers are moving less due to the different wear patterns on my keyboards.

    – stewart

  2. Have you considered investing in some good ergo furniture? That helped me when the lab paid for me to get it. My shoulder injury all but went away.

  3. In my experience, it’s actually better for productivity – rather than distracting from the work, short breaks provide an incentive to stop and think at regular intervals…

  4. Workrave

    I recently switched from xwrits, which I used for at least 10 years, to Workrave – http://www.workrave.org/. It’s much nicer, and the warning that the break is coming in X seconds is very helpful.

  5. #ifdef CRONYISM

    You might want to look at getting a Maltron keyboard. They have been designed to reduce and even recover from RSI. In addition to a standard QWERTY layout, they also have their own layout designed by a friend of mine. Think of it as Dvorak done right. She also designed the executive version of the keyboard, although that’s probably less relevant to you right now.

    #endif /* CRONYISM */

  6. I’ve been suffering from RSI for a number of years now, and have pretty much given up on the idea of working with computers in my career. (Needless to say, I’m still looking for that career. Unemployment sucks.)

    I use Workrave on Linux, and find it helps me quite a bit. http://www.workrave.org/

    It’s nice because it has the micro-breaks, normal breaks, a daily limit, a small status window (or toolbar icons) and the network features are rather nice – if you work with multiple systems, switching between them won’t mess with how it determines your keyboard and mouse usage. Cross-platform, too.

    Good luck with the RSI. I’ve had it for only half as long as you have, but I’ve already given up. I’m working on getting a good, free speech recognition system setup on Linux, in my copious free time. (And hoping for employment so my free time won’t be quite so copious…)

    You might find Dasher worthwhile, too. I use it in combination with a Wacom tablet for english-like text entry.

    The problem is, *all* accessibility options fail badly at the needs of programming.

  7. I had quite serious RSI from the early 90’s onwards. At times I thought I wouldn’t be able to work at all and could barely drive a car (too painful to change gear). After years of suffering and endless physiotherapy, I now have it pretty well under control by using ergonomic furniture and going to yoga classes regularly. I also moved to a small town and work from home, which removed city/office stress. Stress is a big contributing factor. Chilling out a much as possible really helps. And try the yoga. Namaste

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