How to take a healthy break when using Mac

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take a break
Not this kind of break.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

When you’re working on playing at your Mac, it’s too easy to just push through the current task, which — at the time — seems like the most important thing in the world. “It’ll only take five more minutes,” you tell yourself, as your carpal tunnels tighten, your back stiffens, and your upper arms atrophy.

What you need is a break. Just two minutes taken every half hour should do you. The problem is remembering. Luckily, there’s an app for that.

Why breaks are important

After a grand experiment where I used only my iPad to work for a good part of a year, I ended up with some pretty sore wrists. It turns out that keyboards on tea trays on laps aren’t so great, ergonomically speaking.

For a long time afterward, I’d get pain in the wrists and arms when typing for just a short time. Then I discovered Awareness, and that fixed everything.

Awareness app reminds you to take breaks

Awareness still works fine, despite being seven years old.
Awareness still works fine, despite being 7 years old.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Awareness is a super-simple app that reminds you to take a break. The default is five minutes every half hour, but you can customize both the break length, and the interval between breaks.

A restful bell sounds at the appointed time, and then the timer resets to zero if you don’t touch the Mac for the allotted break duration. If you ignore the bell, after another half-hour you get a more forceful alarm, and so on.

Nobody to blame but yourself

Stretchly looks like a nice alternative to Awareness.
Stretchly looks like a nice alternative to Awareness.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

The only thing you have to do is to actually take that break. If you can’t take that responsibility, then you probably deserve all the RSI you end up with. You can blame yourself when you end up forced to use Siri to dictate even the simplest shopping list because you’re unable to use a keyboard.

Awareness isn’t the only option. There are alternatives. I like the look of Stretchly (apart from its inspirational messages, anyway, which can be switched off). It is more customizable than Awareness, and it also appears to be under regular development. Awareness was last updated in 2011. I guess the developer is taking a break.

Take a break

Whatever you do, find a way to take regular breaks. It might seem like you “don’t have time,” but you do. Just two minutes is enough, if combined with a little movement and light stretching (staying at your desk and picking up your iPhone doesn’t count). It’s totally worth it.