Do you get so caught up in email and spreadsheets or writing reports or code that three hours of the day have passed without you noticing? Sure, maybe you got a lot done but isn’t your butt asleep? Do you have a pounding headache? Are your shoulders aching and your eyes dry and gritty?
Taking micro-breaks from your screen throughout the day is crucial for your vision and overall health, but oftentimes workers are too engrossed in a project or feel too overburdened to get up and walk away from the computer for a moment. Research tells us that sitting is the new smoking—do it regularly and your chances of an early death are increased. But how many of us actually get up every hour to stretch or rest our eyes?
The ironic thing is that taking breaks throughout the day can actually increase your productivity. Recharging—whether through a quick desk stretching session, a stroll down the hall to talk with a co-worker, or a brisk outdoor walk—can reboot your creativity and give you a bit of extra energy to power through the next work cycle.
And yes, in this day and age there are apps that can remind you to take a break. Here are a few:
- FitBolt is a free browser plug-in and health and wellness platform. Every 30 minutes, a discreet screen reminder pops up with suggested stretches, complete with How-To pictures and quick, sweat-free exercises to do at your desk. The premium (paid) version includes tips on health, diet, and posture.
- Workrave is a free application aimed at warding off repetitive strain injury. Set how often you want your breaks and the application reminds you to take both longer breaks and micro-breaks to look away from the screen. The countdown feature shows you when your next break will come. Like FitBolt, it also provides guidance on gentle exercises and stretching. It works on both Windows and GNU/Linux platforms.
- Mac users can download Time Out Free—it reminds you to take both micro breaks every few minutes and longer breaks every hour by fading out the screen. The cool feature here is that it can run scripts that will allow you to do things like pause iTunes and play a meditative piece of music for the duration of your breaks. PYV (Protect Your Vision) app is a free web-based program that reminds you to take a vision break every 20 minutes, or a longer break every hour. Computer Vision Syndrome is one of the most widely reported work injuries in America. Optometrists recommend that for every 20 minutes of computer time you focus in the distance for 20 seconds. During breaks, PYV offers “eye gymnastics” exercises to help you ward off eyestrain.
- The free Windows-based Big Stretch Reminder is endearing because each reminder to take a big stretch comes with an inspiring quote. You can program the time between reminders for breaks and set how long you want the breaks to last, but Big Stretch does not give you guidance on what stretches to perform. However, you can always download a stretching chart, like the WorkSmart Stretching Plan to refer to.
- For the computer worker who needs some real tough love, the for-pay program PC Lockup Pro allows you to use its “self-control feature” to lock yourself out of the computer for a set period of time—not even a password will get you back in.
- A less draconian solution is Eyeleo, a free application that grays out your screen during breaks. You can set a “strict mode,” that won’t allow you to skip your breaks. Best of all? Your eye exercise coach is a very cute leopard.