Using Workrave for Activity Breaks

We all know that taking activity breaks is a healthy habit, but like many healthy habits, they can be hard to adopt.

Over the past few months, I have been using Workrave with really good results.

Here is a link if you want to try it for yourself (on Linux you can install it manually or from the repos), and here are my default preferences for your reference:

  • Micro-break: 1 min for every work-min.
  • Rest-break: 10 mins for every work-hour.

note: this might seem excessive for activity breaks, but remember that this is work-time (work-mins, work-hours …etc) and not elapsed time, read on if you are curious as to what this means.

The remaining part of this post covers some common questions and features of Workrave.

Natural Breaks vs. Prompted Breaks

In principle Workrave measures the time you are actively working on your computer (by monitoring user input) and after a given amount of work-time, it prompts you to take a break for X rest-time (this is a prompted break), after the break it restarts the work-time counter.

If on the other hand, you voluntarily take a break (e.g. by going to the bathroom) for the same X rest-time. Workrave also treats this as a break and restarts the work-time counter.

This raises another question:

How does Workrave know when a user is actively using the computer?

In its simplest form, Workrave keeps track of keyboard and mouse user input. By default if you press a key, it starts the work-time counter, but if it does not see any user input within the next 5 seconds it pauses the counter and additionally if you are inactive for X rest-time, it restarts the counter (it assumes you just took a natural break).

This is the reason why work-time is not jut the time elapsed, it can be quite a bit more (e.g. 10 work-mins can end up being 20 actual minutes).

Noise Filtering Features

In addition, to better determine when you are actively using the computer (as opposed to say playing a video or scrolling through your picture library …etc), Workrave ships with some internal extra noise-filtering features you can tune, mainly:

Activity time

How far apart do two input events need to be to be considered a valid activity i.e. to start the work-time counter.

  • default activity-time setting: 1 second.

i.e. Workrave needs to see two or more input events in a one second window in order to start the work-time counter.

Noise time

If two “events” (mouse movement or keystrokes) occur and the time between those two events is more than noise time, the activity is ignored.

  • default noise-time setting: 9 seconds.

e.g. starting in an idle state if you press a key and then 10 seconds later you press another key, Workrave still considers you as being idle i.e. it does not start the work-time counter.

Idle time

Idle time: after this time workrave considers the user idle and stops/pauses the work-time counter.

  • default idle-time setting: 5 seconds.

See the question above for an example: How does Workrave know when a user is actively using the computer?

Changing Workrave Internal Preferences: Modifying Noise Filtering Settings

For example, because I want every keystroke or mouse movement to be considered an activity: I want to disable the activity-time and noise-time.

Here is an example of how you would do it through the terminal (Workrave 1.10.1 on Linux Mint 17).

  • Activity-time, change to 0:

    gsettings set org.workrave.monitor activity 0

  • Noise-time, change to 0:

    gsettings set org.workrave.monitor noise 0

  • Idle-time, keep at default 5 seconds (for illustration-purposes only):

    gsettings set org.workrave.monitor idle 5000

Then, check and make sure our settings were changed. Type in the terminal:

gsettings list-recursively org.workrave.monitor

And you should get your Workrave settings back:

org.workrave.monitor activity 0
org.workrave.monitor idle 5000
org.workrave.monitor noise 0 

And that’s it for today, thank you for watching!

Any notes/comments are welcome.

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