Need a break? Change your keyboard layout

Regular breaks during the workday are known to be beneficial to workers’ productivity and health, but do you need to be locked out of your computer to make you step away for a few minutes?

Could you use a break from work right about now? Chances are you’re nodding your head vigorously in agreement or you’re nodding your head because you’re about to fall asleep. Either way, you need a break and, as Tony Schwartz wrote in the New York Times last week, more breaks from work would actually help you be more productive, happier and healthier.

relax-600x450_0.jpgImage credit: REUTERS/Michael Buholzer
Take a break and relax

Schwartz cites a number of studies finding a multitude of benefits to taking more breaks from work. These can be more vacations, shorter work days or weeks or simply more (and regular) breaks during the day. It can all add up to better performance on the job and a happier life. Schwartz comes to the conclusion that working uninterrupted for 90 minute intervals, followed by a break to relax and renew your energy, is optimal.

We’ve all heard these sorts of things before, and it seems like a no-brainer. Sure, who wouldn’t be happier and more productive with 10 hours of sleep per night, 4-6 weeks of vacation per year and a 25 hour work week? Sign me up!

But, unfortunately, most of us can’t control things like the number of vacation days we have, the hours we have to be in the office or the length of our work week. However, what most of us can control, particularly those of us who sit at computers all day, is when and how many breaks we take during the work day. Even if it’s just to look away from the computer, maybe get up and take a stroll around the office to catch up on some gossip, we can usually manage that and doing so at regular intervals may be more beneficial than you would think.

However, even that can still be easier said than done. It’s easy to get too caught up in that bug you’re trying to fix or that report your trying to write or just slogging through your endless emails. Remembering, or forcing yourself, to take regular breaks can actually be hard.

There are simple tools you can use to remind yourself at regular intervals to take five. Most of these are really just timers that you can configure to give you a heads up that it’s time to look away from the computer screen. Some application will even take it a step farther and darken or block your screen or some such thing to force you to look away. Still, these types of applications can be easily ignored or overridden when you’re deep in a pile of work droppings.

There’s one developer, though, who’s taken regular, enforced breaks even further. Simon Jackson wrote last month about a tool he came up with that will regularly lock him out of his Mac for a set period of time in a way that makes it much more of pain to ignore and override. You can read his post for the details (and instructions for how to implement his approach yourself) but let’s just say it involves changing the keyboard layout. Interesting (and clever) stuff.

As for me, I’m a big fan of regular breaks during the work day. But I have a different strategy for making sure I take them: they’re all based around eating. Whether it’s my mid-morning granola bar, my late morning piece of fruit, lunch time, my early afternoon noshing, mid-afternoon pretzel break or late afternoon fridge-rummaging, I get my breaks in, for sure. And if I don’t, my stomach will protest loudly.

How about you? Do you make sure to take regular breaks during the work day? Do you have a special system or tool to make sure you do? Please share in the comments.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a snack.

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