Our attention is firmly focu…oh look, there’s an LOLcat!

No, seriously, we did read all of Paul Hemp’s article on information overload, and noted his repetition of the argument that it can mimic the effects of ADD and addiction. However, it got us thinking about another accessibility implication: the difficult balance of maintaining your train of thought with needing to take regular breaks to avoid injury (many ergonomists recommend at least three 30-second and one 3-minute break per hour, regardless of input method). As much as we preach to our clients about the latter, we know that most of them prioritize the former–e.g., the man who wanted us to set up voice recognition at 5 PM on a Tuesday so that he could have a term paper handed in at 8 AM on Wednesday. Anybody know of an innovative way to work efficiently while preserving both mind and body?

Guardian (UK): Information overload

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7 Responses to Our attention is firmly focu…oh look, there’s an LOLcat!

  1. One thing I found was that hiding the programs I’m not working on helped – here’s the relevant ATMac article:


    For the preservation of body I use one of those timers which reminds you periodically to take a break – mine is set up for frequent 30 second breaks (every 5 mins I think) and hourly 10 minute breaks. This includes a few I reviewed:


    These help most for me!

  2. Thanks, Ricky. When you take the breaks, though, how easy is it for you to get back to your train of thought? Most people I work with just tend to turn off or ignore the timers and keep going.

  3. Jane asked me if it was frustrating to be interrupted for these breaks, and how I deal with that. In short: YES! It frustrates me, drives me up the wall, makes me crazy, and all the rest. In fact every few months I end up disabling the software to give myself a break from taking breaks even!

    But after a little bit I start feeling the twinges of repeditive strain problems (because of my particular disabilities I’m very prone to them) and I know from experience that not being able to work at all is WAY more frustrating than having to stop for 10 seconds for a micro-break. So I grit my teeth and put up with the frustration for another few months …

    I don’t think there is any easy way to take a break without losing your chain of thought somewhat. If the computer had enough inteligence to know when I had just finished a task so it could slip a break in then it would be an improvement, but it just can’t do that at the moment. Maybe I’ll invent it one day?


  4. Jane Berliss-Vincent says:

    Ricky, making the computer detect and respond to natural pauses is a very interesting idea. Wonder if there’s any research out there about the average time necessary to complete a train of thought, and how that might jive with an appropriate break schedule.

  5. I was actually thinking of the computer responding to the user’s actions, rather than any average time… for example if I close an application that’s a pretty good clue that I’m at the end of a process and it’s an appropriate time for a break. If I stop doing things on the computer for more than 10 seconds or so, that’s probably a break happening by itself (this is how my current break-taking software works) and the software should detect and take advantage of it.

    I think what I was thinking was almost like giving the application some intelligence – say the sending of an email is a 30% clue that there’s an appropriate break point about to happen, closing an application is an 80% clue, and so on. When the application gets to a certain predefined percentage (80% for example) it makes you take a break, but still has a “snooze” button so you can put the break off for those cases where the app is wrong with its guesses.

    Wish I had the programming ability to pull it off!!!


  6. I like that, Ricky. An important feature, though, would be the ability to adjust the “intelligence” to an individual’s style or needs–e.g., some people might be doing mostly rote typing and go for a long time without providing break clues.

  7. Good point … also it would be good if the percentage needed before the “intelligence” assumed a break could be adjusted – some people have worse reactions to being interrupted at a bad time!

    Now I just need to learn to program again … I used to be able to do this stuff but the brain damage I got stole my ability to program. I’m slowly learning again, but it’s very very slow and frustrating. You may have to wait 5 or 10 years! 🙂


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