How Writers Can Minimize Eye Strain at the Computer

by John Soares on August 19, 2013

Eye strain from staring at a computer screen is a common problem for many writers, freelancers, college students, and anyone who needs to use the computer a lot.

Too much time staring at your computer screen can cause eye strain.

Too much time staring at your computer screen can cause eye strain. (Courtesy Mike Licht)

Your eyes connect you to the computer screen when you type, an important connection to be sure. However, if you’re not careful, staring at the computer screen with poor technique can lead to eye strain and decreased energy — both mean you get less writing done and make less money. And you use your eyes for other, less important things, like watching where you’re going and gazing at sunsets.

What to do? Glad you asked.

The Monitor

If you are a freelance writer or a member of any one of a multitude of professions, you likely spend several hours per day looking at the computer screen. If you don’t position it correctly and take proper precautions, you can cause significant eye strain. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Place the monitor directly in front of you so you don’t need to turn your head to view it.
2. Adjust your monitor so that the top is directly in front of your eyes and at a distance of 18-24 inches.

Your Eyes: The Specifics

To maintain the health of your eyes:

1. Look away from the screen every few minutes; examine objects at different distances, including far away.
2. Optimize screen brightness and contrast.
3. Minimize screen glare.

If you use a laptop, like I do whenever I’m writing away from home, keep the top of the screen at eye level, or as high as practical.

Wear Glasses?

I do when I’m outside the house. And until recently I never wore prescription reading glasses at all. I actually got a pair a couple of years ago, but I thought I really didn’t need them.

Well, a year ago I tried them for computer work. What a difference: eye strain way down, ability to concentrate way up, ability to work better way up.

My partner Stephanie picked the style: horizontal narrow. At first I didn’t like them because I had less glass to look through. Now I appreciate how easy it is to look above the rim at the bird feeder 5 feet in front of me out my office window, and at the deer and jackrabbits and pine and juniper farther in the distance.

Lesson: if you don’t have perfect vision, visit a qualified professional to have your eyes checked out. If that pro recommends reading glasses, get ‘em. Just be sure you have them set up for the average distance your eyes are from your computer screen.

Here are several links for more information:

How Do You See It?

What do you do minimize eye strain, whether at the computer or when doing other activities? Any tips for eye health and function?

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    { 34 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Lori August 19, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    Twitter: @LoriWidmer

    Having corrected eyesight (since fifth grade), I do stress over eye strain. It’s why I won’t read e-books after working all day on the computer. Sometimes, the eyes need a break.

    I keep the blinds in the study closed. It’s a south-facing room, so there’s a lot of light even with them closed. The absence of screen glare has been a blessing.

    And once in a while, I’ll actually clean my monitor screen. LOL
    Lori recently posted…4 Simple Moves to Impress Your Writing Clients

    Reply

    2 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Lori, I still haven’t bought a Kindle or other e-reader, in large part because it’s just easier for me to read print.

    My office faces east, as do I when I’m at the computer. I also keep the blinds down and closed enough to block direct sunlight.
    John Soares recently posted…Top 10 Ways to Generate Great Freelance Writing Ideas

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    3 Lori August 20, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Twitter: @LoriWidmer

    John, I have one that I rarely use. I just like books better. Plus, if I drop a book, I pick it up. If I drop my Nook, I have a small heart attack and lament the books I just lost. LOL Easier to stay paper. :)
    Lori recently posted…4 Simple Moves to Impress Your Writing Clients

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    4 Linda M Au August 23, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    Twitter: @LindaMAu

    John, a Kindle using e-ink technology (rather than a backlit computer-type screen on the Kindle Fire or other tablets) is actually easier on the eyes than print. I suffer from chronic dry eye and eye strain (I’m a proofreader and even that work has moved to the computer screen), and I’ve had to be very careful about eye strain issues, including reading. I’ve found that, even though print doesn’t have glare, it does have shadow issues (the pages don’t lay flat) and font size issues that contribute to eye strain. On an e-ink Kindle, you can adjust the font and the font size, a godsend for those of us with eye strain issues. Some days I can handle a smaller font size, but on high eye strain days, I can increase the font size and read FAR more easily than reading a print book. I adore my print books, but sometimes I’ll buy a print edition and still buy or borrow the Kindle edition for actual reading! Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! –From someone who’s been there and won’t go back!
    Linda M Au recently posted…Phobias I have known and loved

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    5 John Soares August 26, 2013 at 7:20 AM

    Linda, thanks for the info on the e-ink technology. I may actually purchase a Kindle soon.
    John Soares recently posted…Find Your Freelance Writing Niches with This New Course

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    6 Ron August 29, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    My daughter told me about a download that adjusts the brightness on your screen as the light in the room increases/decreases and I downloaded it and it has done wonders! I have an online business so am in front of the computer 10-12 hrs a day so definitely needed something! I can’t remember the name of it but it is free and I am sure if you do a search you will find it. Thanks for the other tips! We keep our shades drawn as there are windows all around from West to South.

    Reply

    7 Foodie India August 19, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    Twitter: @IndiaFoodTour

    Wearing glasses for people who are not used to them is a big hassle and sometimes expensive. Some people used to put some kind of filtering screen on their old CRT monitors. With LCD monitors, those screens have become obsolete but the eye strain has decreased only marginally.

    Reply

    8 Tom Bentley August 19, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    Twitter: @bentguy1

    Thanks John. I’m using progressive trifocals, but I have a tricky prescription (quite myopic with bad astigmatism) and the mid-range focus is a pretty narrow band on the lenses.

    Of course that’s the band I need for computer work, where I am at least 9 hours a day. Much as I dislike switching glasses, I think I’m going to have to get a dedicated pair just for the computer, because the progressives just aren’t giving me clarity. They are find for reading and distance, but not for the screen.
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Slashed by the Editor’s Pen

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    9 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Tom, I think you’ll be very glad you got a dedicated pair of glasses for the computer. I use the same pair for reading, but I hold print material relatively far from my face (makes it easier to speed read).
    John Soares recently posted…Find Your Freelance Writing Niches with This New Course

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    10 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Tom, I’m considering getting either progressives or bifocals. Not for computer work, but because I occasionally have to speak in public and I have to either choose between seeing my audience with my distance glasses and not being able to read my notes, or seeing my notes with my reading glasses but not being able to see my audience.
    John Soares recently posted…Hey Writer, Do You Make the Best Use of Your Brain?

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    11 Tom Bentley August 19, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    Twitter: @bentguy1

    The progressives work great for me for the close/distance perspectives. If you don’t go for the middle-ground area (the trifocal), then there’s more room for those two focuses, which can work well.
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Slashed by the Editor’s Pen

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    12 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    I work on a laptop. My reading glasses are just right for that.

    But perhaps the optimum distance of the close perspective doesn’t extend out to the distance of your screen.
    John Soares recently posted…My Nightmare Freelance Writing Client

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    13 Cathy Miller August 19, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    One of the best tips I received in my corporate days was from an ergonomic specialist. I had terrible eye strain. In those days (don’t ask me why), the norm involved putting the monitor on a riser to elevate it.

    That had me tipping my head to look up, which prevents your eyes from creating tears to lubricate your eyes. Such a simple fix eliminated my chronic dry, red eyes.
    Cathy Miller recently posted…Business Writing Purists and Textists Are Back

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    14 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    Cathy, I read recently that we tend to open our eyes wider when we look at computer screens as compared with print materials, and that this dries our eyes out faster. Ever since I’ve worked on keeping my eyelids closer together when at the computer, and it has been helping my eyes feel more moist.
    John Soares recently posted…Why Multitasking Makes You a Less Productive Writer

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    15 e August 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    Twitter: @EmilySandstrom

    No one mentioned eye drops. Keeping your glasses clean. Sit so your eyes are both lined up, not on a diagonal, which also helps with neck strain. Tilt your monitor to suit yourself. Mine is pointed slightly down, which also minimizes glare.

    Reply

    16 Emily August 19, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    Twitter: @EmilySandstrom

    Oh, and make the text bigger, in case you have not thought of that.

    Reply

    17 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Very good tips Emily. I really don’t like putting eye drops in my eyes, but it’s likely a phobia I can overcome.

    I clean all three of my glasses daily or every other day. (Distance glasses, reading glasses, sunglasses)
    John Soares recently posted…Find Your Freelance Writing Niches with This New Course

    Reply

    18 Eric August 19, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    Twitter: @kalbretti

    You forgot a tip… Do NOT wake up in the middle of the night and turn on your computer or mobile device and look at the screen! It’s like staring straight into the sun! LOL!

    Thanks for the tips John.

    -Eric Out-
    Eric recently posted…THIS IS IT! You can STOP Searching

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    19 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 5:02 PM

    Agreed!

    A key behavior for being productive is getting plenty of sleep, and that means everything off at night.
    John Soares recently posted…Hey Writer, Do You Make the Best Use of Your Brain?

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    20 Anne Wayman August 19, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    Like Tom, I wear progressives… if I didn’t I’d have trifocals… I find them great for any computer, desktop, laptop or iPad because my brain has figured out how best to use them.

    Unlike Lori, I want tons of natural light – but no glare right on the screen… which means some monitor moving from time to time… artificial light of any time is far from my favorite… which is one reason I don’t work after dark.

    I think getting away from the computer is even better than looking away… or looking at something green and natural… like the Quan Yin garden I now can see with a simple head turn…

    Reply

    21 John Soares August 19, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    The Quan Yin garden sounds nice Anne!

    I favor getting up from the computer every hour and walking or doing yoga or a brief chore for several minutes. It’s good for the body and good for the eyes.
    John Soares recently posted…Find Your Freelance Writing Niches with This New Course

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    22 Gene Burnett August 20, 2013 at 12:48 AM

    For many reasons, including giving my eyes a break, I get up from my computer often and do a basic T’ai-Chi standing exercise or small in-house task, even just walk around the room once. I do this many times in an hour and I find it doesn’t hurt my productivity at all. There are always those little breaks where you just finish a thought, or solve some language problem…I just stand up when I get to one of those. Just takes a few seconds and keeps me in touch with motion mode rather than sedentary mode.

    Reply

    23 John Soares August 20, 2013 at 7:09 AM

    Gene, I also take many motion breaks, which are also good eye breaks. I make it a point to look off into the distance.
    John Soares recently posted…Why Multitasking Makes You a Less Productive Writer

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    24 Michael Levanduski August 23, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    Twitter: @michaell911

    Excellent post. I’ve never had issues with my eyes in the past, but I work 8-14 hours per day in front of a computer (I work in IT, plus I am a freelance writer) so this is a great precautionary post for me!

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Michael
    Michael Levanduski recently posted…Types of Content Writing Jobs

    Reply

    25 John Soares August 26, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    Take care of your eyes Michael! That’s a lot of time in front of the computer.

    I didn’t have eye problems until my early 30s. Prior to that I had better than 20-20 vision.
    John Soares recently posted…Top 10 Ways to Generate Great Freelance Writing Ideas

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    26 Karan Oberoi August 25, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    Hi John,
    I was having correct eyesight but the time when I had started blogging I my eyes pains a lot I hope after reading this wonderfull article I can get rid of this, Thanks A Lot John for sharing this.

    Regards
    Karan Oberoi

    Reply

    27 Ravi Singh August 25, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    Really great tips for all writers or for all persons which spend lot of time on laptop or computers, it will really help.

    Reply

    28 Sharon Hurley Hall August 26, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Twitter: @shurleyhall

    Good tips, John. I’ve worn glasses seemingly forever. I find e-ink easier to read than paper or a regular screen, so I love my Kindle (especially the ability to notch that print up a size).

    Reply

    29 John Soares August 26, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    Linda Au (comment above) agrees with you Sharon. I’ll take your (plural) advice when I buy a Kindle soon.
    John Soares recently posted…My Nightmare Freelance Writing Client

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    30 Tony LaPolla August 29, 2013 at 12:43 AM

    Though I am not really a content writer but I often experience eye strain because of prolonged internet use. Thanks for your tips though.

    Reply

    31 Stephen K. Shefrin Photography September 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM

    Twitter: @stephenshefrin

    I, unfortunately, spend way too much time on the computer. thanks for the tips.

    Reply

    32 Tisha September 2, 2013 at 7:23 PM

    I am student and seem all day i sit with my computer. It’s not easy and my eyes often strain.I will try to do your “The Specifics” you recommended. Hope it will help my eyes better. Thank John.

    Reply

    33 Ajay November 23, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    Twitter: @Ajayudayagiri

    Awesome tips!
    I’m a part time blogger besides a student. I always use protective glasses to protect my eyes against radiation from the desktop.
    Ajay recently posted…Create Infographics In Minutes Using Pre-Designed Vectors And Layers

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    34 Danny February 22, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    Twitter: @dannycutts

    I spend 18 hours a day in front of my screen and I also wear glasses…

    I tend to try and break up long stints by going for walks every hour… well every 50 minutes :-)

    Thats how I get through the day :D

    Reply

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