Thursday, February 12, 2009

Using Workrave

I am a user of a Workrave for sometime now. I was once having a quite disturbing eye-strain that made me need to rest from computer activity several days. I decided to avoid to have to gone through it again and it was the time workrave starting to be on my desktop (with RSIBreak as it's counterpart in KDE one).

Workrave is the kind of the application that you need to tweak a lot to be really effective. It tends to break my flow in my early use. I am quite used to it now and the break has become more natural and less distracting. Here's the current setup and convention that I use currently (note : I do mainly programming/software/research work) :

  • per 15 minutes microbreak. This correlate nicely to one simple microtask, so when it hit it usually near the end of the task or start of the new one. This way, the break can also be used for retrospecting on what currently being done or the next thing to do. The trick with microbreak is not to treat it as a break where you put everything down, but as a short pause where you still hold your current memory on your mind but let your eyes, breathing, brain and muscle rest and stretch
  • per 1 hour reast break. One small task is usually within 1-hour boundary and even for 2 hour or more task, 1 hour break and evaluation is a good way to keep it focused. For this kind of break, I walk around, do some stretching or just get outside
  • no daily limit set :)
  • skip break button is active but not to be pressed. I was once doing skipping a lot that it become a habit. This kind of usage is really missing the point of using it at all, so I deactivated skip button after it. However, after sometime, think it's better to have it available for emergencies. I activated it again but with a stricter use this time
  • postpone button is active, set to three-strike rule. I don't think postponing break should be disable if you want to have minimum distraction to your working flow. I rarely postpone on microbreak alarm but quite often on rest-break. The reason is that you need to align task completion and/or setup necessary context-switching to be able to have effective long break which is quite useless if your mind is not cleared yet
  • idle-detection is on. I find that if idle-detection is off the break is really distracting and could hurt productivity and flow. The reminder would popup while I am thinking and doing nothing on screen.
Using break-reminder application is not as simple as I first think but it's quite worth it. The above list has been stable for quite some time now. I find it quite suitable for my work-style and I haven't had eye-strain incidents lately so I guess it's on the right area of balance. You might find it suitable with yours or you might not, but the bottom line is to search the one really suitable for yourself.

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