Stuff I Use: Workrave (PC) and Timeout (Mac)

I recently had LASIK surgery and as part of the recovery process you’re supposed to limit the amounts of time you spend in activities that tend to make you blink less. Top on that list are using a computer or watching television. Since I work at a desk for a living, I needed something to remind me to take frequent breaks to rest my eyes.

It so happens that there a lot of small timer apps for PCs and Macs that can do this, especially now that it’s generally accepted that sitting all day staring at a screen is not particularly good for your health. Which means there’s a lot of variations on what would seem to be a simple theme. I looked at a bunch and here are my picks for use on Windows PCs and Macs (since I have a PC at work and a Mac at home):

Timeout (Mac)

While there are a bunch of timer apps on the Mac App Store, Timeout was the only free one and offered everything I was looking for so it was an easy choice. Timeout has both a “Normal” break timer plus a “Micro” break timer. Micro breaks are typically of much shorter duration and more frequent. For instance, I have a 30 minute break set with a 5 minute rest time as my normal break and a 10 minute micro break with 30 seconds of rest time. Timeout is very configurable but I have it at mostly the default settings so that it dims the screen in the background during rest periods. You can postpone or skip breaks, if you want, as well as launch programs or scripts if you want to do something like play a song. But no matter what, you should at least close your eyes and ideally get up from your chair during the break. You’ll be glad you did.

Timeout is donation ware and available here.

Workrave (PC)

Functionally, Workrave is very similar to Timeout (which is why I use it) with some differences. The normal/micro break timers are very similar although Workrave hides all the active windows rather than dims them. You can still skip or postpone, of course. There is also an additional timer called “Daily Limit” which allows you to set a maximum amount of time per day you get for screen time. Since this is my work PC, I don’t use this but it might be nice if you find yourself getting lost in your computer.

One other nifty feature is the ability to run Workrave on multiple PCs and have it coordinate between them via the network. So if you have a multi-machine setup Workrave monitors all of them for activity and triggers on the machine your currently working with.

Workrave is opensource and also runs on Linux. You can get it here, with source code available here at Github.

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