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Daily Mac App: BreakTime


Many of us spend hours seated before our computers, and that's not a good thing. A study conducted by the American Cancer Society linked extended periods of sitting with an increased risk of death. That's a nasty side-effect, my friends. BreakTime (regularly US$4.99, currently on sale for $2.99) by excited pixel prompts you to get up and move at regular intervals. Plus, it's unobtrusive and easy to use. Here's my look at BreakTime.

This simple utility lives in your Dock or Finder menu bar (you choose) and ticks away your designated work period. When the session ends, it begins counting down your custom break period and then immediately begins the next work session. Here's how to set it up.

Set it up

The preference pane is quite simple (above). First, use the sliders to determine the length of work and break sessions. Work sessions can range from 60 seconds to 2 hours while breaks can run from 5 seconds to ten minutes. You can tweak these settings a bit. For example, enter "93" seconds into the work field or "18" minutes for a break. Just don't go nuts (my request for a 360 minute break was accepted).

The Enforce Break feature is nice. It prevents you from switching out of BreakTime while a break session is active. No quick peeks at Twitter or Facebook. This is a break time, so back away from the Mac and go look out a window. Remember outside?

There are four advanced features: show Dock icon, show menu item, play sounds and magic reschedule. Most of those are self-explanatory, but let me explain magic reschedule. If a work session expires and BreakTime does not detect any activity, it re-schedules the break time. In other words, it assumes you're already away from your desk doing something else. Pretty nice, though not flawless: you could be zoning out with your iPhone, iPad or who knows what.


I've disabled the Dock icon (a restart is required) so that only the teeny, tiny menu bar icon remains. As soon as it launches, the work session countdown begins. You can click the menu bar icon at any time to see how much time is remaining, turn the timer on or off and access the app's preferences (see below).

Once your work session is down to 10 seconds remaining, the countdown window appears. As it ends, your display's brightness dims and BreakTime's break window appears, counting down the break time (see below). If you've elected to enforce breaks, the "Done" button on the right will be disabled. If not, it's ready to receive your break-denying click.

If you happen to be right in the middle of something that absolutely, positively cannot be abandoned (like the the last golden egg in Angry Birds), click the In A Minute button to delay the break period by one, five or 15 minutes. Note that the In A Minute button remains available even if you've elected to enforce breaks.

BreakTime and Pomodoro

Some of you know that I'm a huge fan of the Pomodoro Technique. In a nutshell, it teaches you to alternate work/break periods all day long. For example, you'll work for 25 minutes and then break for five. Repeat the process, taking a longer break (15 minutes) every five "pomodoros" (which is Italian for tomato). Pomodoro practitioners can easily use BreakTime as a Mac-based timer.

Years ago, computers were primarily work machines. Today they're increasingly used for leisure activities, commandeering even more of our time. If I monitor my own behavior, I notice that I sit at my desk from 7:00 AM to about 3:00 PM daily, then take a four- or five-hour break and return around 8:00 PM for several more hours of sitting. This sedentary lifestyle isn't doing me any favors.

Not only does work require me to park it, force of habit influences my behavior, too. "I"ll just check email," I think, or "Let's take a quick look at Twitter."

I fully expect to live a slothful existence aboard the Axiom within a few years.

Fortunately, BreakTime is here to intervene. It's a steal at 4.99 and a "no-brainer" as the kids say at three bucks. Do yourself a favor and let BreakTime nag you into motion.

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