Take a break from your computer: Apps
When you’re driving down the autoroute in France you often see signs that say « N’oubliez pas la pause ». In driving it is essential to take a break and we generally respect that. On computers and other devices this is also true. We find ourselves spending more and more time in front of our computers which is one of the factors leading to the diseases of modern society (obesity, cancers, cardio-vascular disease and diabetes). We want to remind you (and ourselves) to take a break and get away from the monitor that tires your eyes, the static sitting position that hurts your back, neck, wrists and even buttocks, the phone or tablet that crinks your wrists, thumbs and neck regularly throughout the day. To help we have tested 3 free apps and found 2 more to help us to get that much needed physical and mental time off. Studies suggest that taking frequent short breaks of 5 to 15 minutes every two hours is the best strategy. It is also a good idea to take the breaks well before you are starting to feel fatigued (just like when driving). The apps reminds us to get up, walk around, stretch, rest our eyes thus keeping back, wrist, hand, eye, neck and other problems at bay – we hope!
Eyeleo is unique in that it focuses on making us rest our eyes. Eye strain or asthenopia is a problem for those who sit at a computer. It is caused by decreased blinking while working focused on computer screens. EyeLeo is very easy (the simplest of the apps we tried) to program and reminds to take breaks regularly, by showing simple eye exercises and preventing you from using computer at break times. You can postpone the break, but you have to stop what you are doing and click “give me 3 minutes”. Eyeleo helps you take two kinds of breaks: short breaks (dims the screen and suggests a few quick exercises for your eyes) and long breaks (disables your screen for a programmable period). The eye exercises are presented by an adorable Leopard named Leo which makes this app the cutest of the list. Following EyeLeo’s suggestions should result in less overall fatigue. Created in 2011 and updated in 2016 this app works with Windows XP, Vista, 7 and higher but is only in English.
Workrave works on Windows and Linux. It is a break reminder that does a great job of suggesting micro breaks, long breaks, and even limiting your total daily usage which might be helpful if you are a gamer. Workrave is highly configurable and allows you to specify time between breaks, how long each break is, and even offers a tiny status window that remains on your desktop to allow you to see when your next break is coming up. Break announcements can be either audible or on screen or both. The part I like about this is that when Workrave interrupts you it doesn’t block your computer right away. It gives you time to finish what you are doing and if you keep working it just goes away. It comes back in a few minutes though so you don’t miss your break, but it is less abrupt than Leo whose breaks pop up suddenly. Workrave is a program that assists in the recovery and prevention of Repetitive Strain Injury by offering a selection of exercises you can do during your breaks. I also like their little fluffy running sheep logo, but don’t see the connection with the software! Workrave peut être installé en français aussi… “Une petite pause?” Unfortunately Workrave does not seem to work fluidly with Windows 10 – it did not start with Windows as we installed it and had to be started manually.
PC Work Break
PC Work Break is a multi-type break system that will remind you to take breaks at given intervals or at given times during the day – you can set up the reminders for specific things to do during breaks: stretching breaks, eye exercises, walks, yoga poses – whatever you like to do. What is unique to PC Work Break is that it focuses on specific PC usage models. PC Work Break features: Flexible break settings, professional stretch demos, break compliance statistics (if you are going to be really serious about this), 32 and 64 bit support, and multi-language support. PC World Break supports Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 10. Updated in Sept 2016. Licenses are lifetime and the cost is $40 for 3 computers.
If you use the Chrome browser, you can install an add-on that will enable desktop notifications called Take a Break by Eyecare Plus thus your break reminder will be available on any computer on which you use Chrome. BUT it only interrupts your browsing not other tasks you do on your computer. So I found I wasn’t actually taking breaks using this reminder.
PC Workbreak is a little harder to program than the other two. Leo is the cutest of the break apps we tried but I do prefer the way Workrave more gently suggests the breaks and is less intrusive. I have to wonder if Eyeleo wasn’t inspired by the programmer’s cat – the cute Leo face that puts itself squarely in front of you and expects you to pay attention to it – just like my cat, who is the best break app there is because of the soothing purring, but she is at home not at the office.
We didn’t have time to test this other break programs, but it sound interestings and has some specific features that the others do not.
Big Stretch Reminder
Big Stretch Reminder says it allows you to configure your breaks exactly how you want them. You can configure time between breaks, length of breaks, what breaks are for, select the level of intrusiveness, automatically increase the numbers of breaks, display a countdown indicator, use sounds for reminders, choose between RSI advice or even set up your own message. Big Stretch Reminder is available for Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8, Windows 10 info is not available. Free, donations suggested.
A word to the wise. Installing free apps of any sort can also bring in malware to your computer or create incompatibilities. So be very attentive when you install the programs. Use a reliable source for the download and pay attention to what is checked off during the installation so you don’t get any “free extras”. Of the three installations we tried one of them came in with an ad software that messed up our internet browser.