My eyeballs are melting: 5 tools for strained, screen-dead eyes

Aug 8, 2014

My eyes are melting.

No, they’re probably not. But it FEELS as if they are. Like many freelancers, I spend hours every day staring at a computer (and much of my off-time staring at a smartphone), and my vision is definitely suffering.

To save my poor, defenseless little eyeballs, I’ve started investigating some different techniques and apps designed to rescue them from my Computer Overlord’s screen glare. Here are a few of the most interesting options I’ve found:

1. Good ol’ vacant staring

Remember in the days before personal computers were ubiquitous? I use to do a lot of aimless staring at walls, and my vision was freaking perfect. I was also ten years old, but whatever.

The figures I’ve found vary, but most experts agree on 20/20/20: for every 20 minutes of computer time, you should look 20 feet into the distance for 20 seconds.

I will say that this technique, so far, seems to actually help with the eye strain. I use those 20 seconds to ruthlessly judge my neighbors’ window décor, but you may prefer to use it to try to drop pigeons out of the sky with the power of your mind. To each his/her own!

2. Moving the computer

According to the folks at the American Optometric Association, the optimal position for your computer screen is 20-28 inches from your eyes.

Ugh. I’m tried this for the first time today, and while I find it easy enough to position my laptop 20 inches away, I keep finding myself leaning closer and closer in, until I’m hunched over it like Golem over his Precioussss. I can see why keeping the screen farther away would help, though; getting too close makes me squint – probably because it’s burning my retinas into withered crisps.

3. Time Out

Time Out is a free reminder tool that automatically attempts to give you a 10-minute break every hour – and a 10 second break every 10 minutes. This break is theoretically the time in which you look at things that do not beep, buzz, or play Pandora. Its logo is a little green man sitting in a meditation position – it is probably supposed to inspire relaxation.

Confession: I have had Time Out on my computer for some time. I don’t like to be told what to do, and thus tend to press “Skip Break” – so really, my incipient blindness is my fault. Time Out is a nice tool, but I seem to need something that gives me a 10,000-volt shock every time I work during “prohibited” times. I recommend it for people who are slightly more self-preserving, and not annoyed by little green men sitting in full lotus.

4. Adjust your brightness

Part of what makes your poor eyes want to roll out of your head is the brightness/glare of your screen as compared to your surrounding environment. Wired suggests taking a look at a white background on your screen – like this one! If it’s a light source in the room, it’s too bright. If it seems dull and grey, it’s too dark. They also suggest adding a glare reduction filter if you work in a very bright office.

I work out of an apartment lit like some kind of gothic love grotto (we’re loathsome hippies), so I dragged over a lamp. It actually helped.

5. F.lux

F.lux is free software that automatically adjusts your screen’s light to match the time of day – ensuring that you’re not hurting your eyes by staring at what is essentially EERIE WHITE ELECTRIC SUNLIGHT at all hours. It also claims to help your sleep patterns.

F.lux is one of my favorite new tools, since I tend to write at 10:30 at night, and the computer screen’s brightness was giving me a decidedly twitchy-nocturnal-animal appearance. I haven’t noticed any shift in my sleep patterns, but my eyes do seem slightly less strained.

These are the 5 eye-saving techniques / tools I’ve been working with so far – any tips from you, fellow freelancers?