A number of recent scientific studies have suggested that spending too much time sitting down—for example, while working at your computer—is bad for you. While some of my colleagues have resorted to extreme measures to avoid too much sitting time, I’m the kind of guy who prefers a minimally invasive - and minimally expensive - option. Thus, I turned to Excited Pixel’s $5 BreakTime (Mac App Store link).
The idea behind BreakTime isn’t exactly rocket science. While railing against sitting, some of the aforementioned studies also claim that taking short breaks every once in a while may offset some of the downsides of sitting. So at regular intervals, BreakTime dims your screen and pops up a window to remind you to take a break, get up, and walk around.
During your break, a timer indicates how much time is left until you can go back to work. When the time is up, click Done, and the main timer starts counting down the time until your next break. Repeat, ad infinitum.
But there are a few things that prevent BreakTime from becoming just another annoyance that you can ignore. For one thing, its streamlined interface is both attractive and non-intrusive (when it doesn't need to be, of course): You can disable the program's Dock icon, its menu-bar icon, or both. Personally, I’m a fan of the menu-bar icon, which shows a graphical stopwatch that gives you a rough idea of how far you are from your next break.
Of course, you can adjust how long your breaks are, and how long you go between them - I’ve been using a two-minute break every 25 minutes for several months now. But BreakTime’s also smart. Activate its Magic reschedule feature under Preferences -> Advanced, and the program will notice when you’re away from your computer, and put off your break until you start working again. (Though this feature can be fooled - I sometimes sit at my desk and use my iPad, which BreakTime interprets as a break, since I'm not using my Mac.)
Should you want to reschedule your break manually, you can just click on BreakTime's menu and drag the break slider to your desired time. And if you’re in the middle of a thought when the break dialog box pops up, you can click the In A Minute button (or, if you need a longer respite, the In 5 Minutes or In 15 Minutes options). You can also switch off BreakTime entirely by flipping the slider that appears when you click the program's menu, or in the app’s preferences.
If you fear that you may be delaying your breaks just a bit too much, thus undoing all their intended good, you can also enable BreakTime’s Enforce Break feature, which prevents you from clicking the Done button before your timer is up, and doesn’t let you switch away from the app. You can also choose to disable the In A Minute button to really keep yourself to your schedule.
In all, BreakTime is a simple app, and one that works perfectly for me. I can’t make any claims as to its long term benefits on your health, but I do appreciate being reminded not to sit and stare at my computer all day. I ran into only one problem using the application: On one of my Macs, it started eating up a lot of memory. Usually it consumes just a few megabytes of RAM, but on this particular machine it occasionally jumped to more than 100MB. I reported the issue to Excited Pixel; the company says they've found the problem and an imminent update will fix it..