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.