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The average normal human attention span is 10-12 minutes. That’s basically how long a person can stay really focused to the task at hand. Surely, this figure varies from person to person but it is the general opinion that a person’s productivity will decrease after this time frame.

Have you ever taken a minute to just close your eyes and take a deep breath after an hour of work? Ever stopped to just stretch your legs and walk around? That’s your mind telling you that you have to rest. Ideally, we should take short breaks every 15 minutes and a long one after every hour. But most of the time, it doesn’t happen. We’re usually too drowned with work to bother about resting – that’s how certain diseases occur, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome for example. It can be easily prevented by taking frequent short breaks and stretching.

Besides taking breaks to reduce work-related physical strain, it can also increase your mental acuity if you job demands for creativeness. Stopping for a moment to recollect your thoughts and setting your mind at ease will actually let the ideas flow in much easier.

Enter Dejal Time Out. This application runs a counter in the background. After a preset amount of time, it will bring itself to focus and dims the screen. Break Time! Initially, I got pretty annoyed with it because it kept popping up every 10 minutes telling me to take a 15-second break. But you know what? Once I gave in and took a break every time it told me to, I sort of worked with a more relaxed mindset. For me, the breaks prevented my stress from building up. In the long run, I was more productive because my train of thought flowed better.

Dejal Time Out works like this: there are 10-minute Normal Breaks which occurs once after 50 minutes; and Micro Breaks which lasts for 15 seconds every 10 minutes. You are able to configure all of these numbers to mold a break schedule to fit you and your capabilities.

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When it’s time to rest, Time Out will slowly dim your screen and its meditation logo will be brought to the foreground, along with a timer to show you how long your break will last. If you’re in the middle of something important, you can delay that break by postponing it by 5 or 10 minutes. Again, these times are totally configurable.

Time Out also can also be set to automatically play your iTunes when a break is taking place. Just make sure that the playlist is already set to something soothing because it only sends a Play command to iTunes. It will then pause iTunes when work time resumes.

Try Time Out to see how taking frequent breaks actually improve your attention span and productivity. Not to mention, it will also save you a lot in doctor’s bills.

Dejal Time Out is available for Mac OS X for free! If you’re running OS X 10.2, use Time Out 1.2 instead.

If you’re running Windows, Saikat wrote about Workrave How To Save Your Neck & Back With Workrave How To Save Your Neck & Back With Workrave Read More which is a similar type of application.

How do you cope with long hours of work? Are there any other techniques you use besides taking breaks?

  1. app
    September 21, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Awhile back, someone requested a similar utility for Windows and I created Instant Boss (freeware).

    Originally, it was designed as a procrastination hack based on Merlin Mann's (10+2)*5 concept, but it also is great for RSI prevention, helping people with ADHD stay focused, and it also helps work-a-holics spend more time with their families.

    The version I made is very simple, but a lot more flexible than most similar utilities. (and it has my own brand of humor, built in, to make it a bit more fun to use)

    http://appsapps.info/instantboss.php

    • Jackson
      September 22, 2008 at 3:08 am

      That's really neat!

    • Aibek
      September 25, 2008 at 11:45 am

      Thanks for the app, downloading it now.

  2. Jimmy Rogers
    September 21, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Damn! I was all set to be more productive by taking breaks...but it seems that only Mac users can do that :(

    In all seriousness, this looks like a cool application, though I bet I would just snooze it over and over until it became just another nuisance. Probably because I'm not a Mac user.

    • Simon
      September 21, 2008 at 3:47 pm

      Windows Users: check out ChronoControl Lite; a similar app, though a little less eyecandy.

      • Jackson
        September 22, 2008 at 3:07 am

        What about Workrave? Isn't it any good?

        • app
          September 22, 2008 at 10:13 am

          I have heard people complain that Workrave will cut off access to your computer for the rest of the day if it thinks you have been working too much.

          It also doesn't allow mind breaks, only physical ones, where you can't use the computer for fun on a break. (reading blogs isn't allowed on your breaks, nor is playing a quick game of solitaire, nor IMing a friend to talk about non-work related things)

        • Aibek
          September 25, 2008 at 11:44 am

          ...cut off access to your computer for the rest of the day if it thinks you have been working too much

          LOL, that's hillarious. Imagie his happening on the middle of some important task :-)

        • Jackson
          September 25, 2008 at 2:20 pm

          Personally, the point is to take breaks FROM your computer. So I guess IM-ing or games is also out of the question. It takes a lot of self-control to restrict yourself from your computer for 10 minutes every hour and not do anything on it. But if you manage to pull it of, that's pretty impressive. There's more to life than just computers.

        • app
          September 25, 2008 at 4:44 pm

          For some people and some types of work, it might not be best to walk away from the computer on every break.

          A freelance coder that works from home and lives alone, often the only social interaction they have is on a 10 minute break that they spend in an IRC channel talking to other coders in a similar situation. Without that, they can begin to feel a bit too isolated and wrapped up in their job. There is an emotional cost involved if you restrict them from social interaction on breaks.

          Some people have a problem returning to work if they take a complete physical break, especially chronic procrastinators that have to finish a task they would rather not be doing. Walking away could give them an opportunity to find something to use as an excuse not to finish. I know people that went and started building furnature on a break and didn't return to their work for a week. (yeah, I'll finish that report, right after I give this another coat of varnish)

          Some have a problem focusing on work when their mind is wandering to thoughts of checking their email and other things. So if they can do those things on their break, then it frees up their mind not to think about it when they are supposed to be working. Students are especially prone to this while studying. How focused can you be on studying when you are thinking about MySpace and Facebook instead of biology or chemistry?

          Boring, repetitive work can sap your energy and put you to sleep rather quickly, and no amount of coffee in this world can prevent it. Walking away for a 10 minute break can turn into a 4 hour nap. (it has happened to me too many times!) A quick game of solitaire every 20 minutes can go far towards keeping you awake long enough to finish the job.

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