Ergonomic Tip #2: Take regular breaks

After the first painfully obvious part of this column "Don't bang the keys!" comes the second, no-less obvious tip.

Taking no rest breaks may make you look like you're overworked and underpaid, but it will also make you tenser, more tired, prone to error and ultimately less productive.

The static posture in which we sit and type all day in front of our computers, the long hours of staring at a screen a few inches away from our eyes, the tens of thousands of keystrokes and the endless miles of mouse travel that we accumulate each day is sure to leave some trace at the end of each work day.

Just getting up for a few minutes allows our muscles to relax out of their cramped-up position, allows our eyes the luxury of looking at something else for a while and it gives a welcome break to our hands and wrists.

The notorious "They" recommend to take a five to ten minute break every twenty to thirty minutes of screen-based work.

I know what you're going to say though: I hate being interrupted when I'm in the middle of something. I lose focus and concentration when I get up. etc.

We all know the feeling of being "in the zone". We are in the middle of doing something complicated and after hours of unproductive screen gazing, we suddenly know exactly what needs to be done and how. And we are doing it. And we are enjoying doing it. And we are not going to stop until it's done.

This phenomenon is known to psychologists as "flow". When we experience "flow", we are working towards a clear goal, with optimal concentration, total efficiency and we may even experience a temporary "loss of self awareness". Should you stop because it might give you a headache in the evening? Probably not.

Most of our "work time", however, is spent in a much less ecstatic state of total productivity and this is particularly true for "knowledge workers". We spend a lot of time doing before thinking, and then going back and re-doing what we've already done after having properly thought about it. There is even a word for it: iteration.

Getting up and doing something else for a few minutes will help us clear our mind and let our subconscious get on with the job of sorting out what we should probably have done in the first place. How often have you finally figured out a complicated problem in the car on the way home, or in the shower in the morning, or when talking about the weekend's sport results with John from Engineering at the water cooler?

You can't force insight by sitting around feeling busy. You can work more that way, but you'll probably end up achieving less and the quality of your work will probably poorer for it. The point is that taking breaks doesn't make you less productive, it makes you healthier, less prone to error and ultimately happier at work and after it.

Rest break timers, such as our MacBreakZ or ergonomix products will remind you (sometimes perhaps too forcefully) to take a rest break. This can be annoying when you're in full flow and you will be tempted to just turn the damn thing off. Don't. Just ignore the dialog and take the break when you're ready.

When you're not in an ecstatic flow state, however, try to get up and take a walk. You'll feel better for it and trust me, you won't get less done.