TimeOut: this simple Mac app may save your eyes

As someone who works from home and writes a lot, I spend a crazy amount of time in front of the screen. The rising amount of screen time should be no surprise to any of us, but excess screen time can really mess with our vision and energy.

One of negative impacts I’ve personally experienced is digital eye strain (“DES”).

Basically, when I stare at a screen uninterrupted, for too long, my eyes feel fatigued and my brain is fried.

When I got LASIK, my doctor recommended that I practice the 20-20-20 method: every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.

I wanted an automated way to do this and found a Mac (desktop) app called Time Out.

I’ve been using this app on my Mac for over 6 years, and my eyeballs have thanked me for them.

The simple beauty of the Time Out app

Every 20 minutes, this screensaver shows up on my screen.

The beauty of this is that it takes over my entire screen, and forces me to do something else. Unlike Screen Time (which sets limit on specific apps or general hours), this better fits my needs to take regular breaks.

Want to get started? First, grab your free copy of Time Out. ((I’m not an affiliate, just a fan)
They do have annoying banners asking you to support them, so I paid to get rid of them.

The app is relatively intuitive to set up, but can get pretty annoying without some configuration.

Once you open Time Out, the first thing you should do is go to “General” options and select Automatically start Time Out when you log in to the computer. That way, you’ll make sure you get your breaks.

Next: set up and name your breaks.

There should be a default break already that you can edit, or hit the “+” sign in the top left corner to create one. You’ll see that I created two breaks called “20” and “Wind down:

My default configuration that lasts continuously:

  • Set the break for 20 seconds or longer. (I use 30 just to move around a bit more)
  • Set the break to trigger every 20 minutes (or less)
  • Use the default “From: last due” which just means the break triggers every 20 minutes.
  • Just so it’s a no brainer, leave the “Available” dropdown on “Every Day.”

Notice that I’ve unchecked all the rest of the settings below. These aren’t helpful and make things a bit more complex.

Next, set the appearance for the break

You can select from cheesy screensavers under the “Theme” dropdown, but I like to set Custom text so I can write my own messages, like the earlier screenshot example.

You’ll also notice that I’ve unchecked all the complicated options below. The “Show button to postpone” or “skip break” were too tempting when I had them turned on.

It’s also possible to set “App exclusions,” meaning that when there are certain applications open (like Zoom), the program will skip the break automatically.

What if I’m in a lot of meetings?

Some might find this feature necessary if they’re doing a lot of teleconferences. I set Zoom to to “Skip When Frontmost” meaning that when my Zoom window is active (not just in the background), then the break will skip.

I’m actually on Google Meets a lot, which doesn’t have a dedicated app to add in the Exclusions settings.

How did I deal?

I simply let my break run, sometimes mid meeting. If I happen to be speaking or presenting, I tell my coworkers my screensaver is on (they’ve seen it when I’m screensharing), and it only lasts 20-30 seconds. I’m kinda fanatic about this, because when I quit the app, I often forget to relaunch it….and wonder why my eyes are so fatigued by the end of the day. No bueno.

If you have better self control than I do, then you can play with turning on the “Show button to postpone” or “Skip break” settings.

Another workaround is to set specifically-timed breaks that skip over your recurring meeting times.

Eyes on the prize

Vision is just about the most important sense we have, so this little mighty app goes a long way in making sure I give my eyes a rest.

I’ve yet to explore other environmental adjustments like blue light filter glasses and better lighting. (Got suggestions that made a difference for you? Drop a comment).

If you’re lazy like me and want a simple, “set it and forget it” option, I hope this free app and the settings above help you out.

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