Check out the courses we offer
Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » What is the 20-20-20 Rule?

What is the 20-20-20 Rule?

Last updated on 20th December 2023

You know how your energy and concentration levels ebb and flow when you work on a digital screen for hours. You start off energetic and easily enter the workflow, but after a while, you tire and your head becomes achy. This is why you need to know what the 20-20-20 rule is.

If you’re like most people you will take a break at this point and go for a walk, but that can be time-consuming; it’s also the least effective way to handle your digital fatigue – a more methodical approach is recommended.

In this article, you will learn all about the 20-20-20 rule and how it can be used to increase your productivity and reduce your weariness when working for long hours in front of a digital display. Read on for some useful 20-20-20 productivity information.

Following The 20-20-20 Rule

What is the 20-20-20 rule?

Today, we spend much of our time looking at digital screens; in fact, screen time has increased from 2 to 4 hours per day for almost half of participants of a YouGov survey carried out during the pandemic. There is little evidence that the blue screens cause any long-term damage to the eyes, but in the short term they can cause “eye strain”.

It’s easy to forget that these digital screens affect our attention and productivity; they can also affect our wellbeing too. The 20-20-20 rule is a way to prevent eye strain by taking frequent breaks from screens. In short, it means taking your eyes off the screen every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

This method accomplishes several things. Firstly, it takes your eyes off the digital screen which contributes to dryness – digital screens reduce the blink rate of the eye by around two-thirds – secondly, it improves focus and reduces strain on the ocular muscles by refocusing the eye. As it happens, the optimal time for an eye break in 20 seconds.

The benefits of the 20-20-20 rule

When you stare at a computer for long periods, eye strain can be an issue. Your eyes might start to itch or become sore and tired, you might also experience headaches and find it difficult to concentrate. Eye strain can also lead to tiredness which affects productivity.

The 20-20-20 rule is a method for reducing symptoms of eye strain allowing you to work longer and avoid harmful consequences. According to the American Optometric Association, you should look away from your digital screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to support eye wellness; the 20-20-20 rule is very simple to use.

But even if you’re aware of the 20-20-20 rule it can be hard to remember when you’re in the flow. To alleviate this issue it’s an idea to set a timer to remind you to look away every 20 minutes. Although it might seem like a disturbance that will interrupt your focus and reduce productivity, the opposite tends to happen.

Who invented the 20-20-20 rule?

The 20-20-20 rule was developed in the field of Vision Ergonomics and was popularised by the American optometrist Dr. Jeffery Anshel. Vision ergonomics is a field of study that considers the impact of environmental factors on visual wellbeing. Things such as room lighting, proximity to the visual interest, font size, and equipment are all considerations in Vision Ergonomics.

Dr. Jeffery Anshel popularised the 20-20-20 rule concept in his 1998 book titled Visual Ergonomics in the Workplace, a book that quickly became a comprehensive and popular textbook on the subject of everyday eye health. Since then Dr. Jeff Anshel has followed up with new editions containing the latest research.

In some ways, the invention of the 20-20-20 rule was an inevitable consequence of optical science and the steady progress of digital technologies. Dr. Jeffery Anshel not only brought the method into popular awareness, but he also continued to develop and fine-tune his work to make the 20-20-20 rule one of the first things doctors and optometrists recommend for eye fatigue.

How does the 20-20-20 rule work?

When you focus on visual stimuli for a long period the muscles in the eyes become strained leading to tiredness and screen fatigue. When you stare at a computer screen – a stimulus at close proximity – the eyes also dry out and become uncomfortable and red. Without regular breaks, your eyes will become sore and your productivity level decreases.

The 20-20-20 rule is the perfect method to keep your eyes fresh while working at the computer for long periods. It works by taking your eyes away from the screen and refocusing them on a distant object helping them to adjust and stay alert. It also reminds your eyes to blink more often which tend to stall when staring at a screen.

Working at a computer for long periods on projects switches your brain into a flow state that prevents your eyes from blinking and causes them to dry up. Add to this the muscle strain on your eyes and you have a recipe for fatigue and diminishing productivity. The solution is to set a timer every 20 minutes and choose an object out of the window to focus on.

What are the symptoms of eye strain?

According to a YouGov poll, 1 in 3 people in the UK have noticed a deterioration in their ocular health due to the increased use of digital screens, so it’s important to be aware of eye strain symptoms. Noticing the signs of eye strain and taking appropriate action can lead to better productivity and less ocular fatigue when working. So what are the signs we should look out for?

In the section below you will find a full list of symptoms you have probably experienced to some degree already. The trick is to become more aware of the individual signs of eye strain so you can catch them and take action. Alternatively, you can set a timer on your phone and use the 20-20-20 rule.

What is eye strain?

When you look at a computer screen your eyes focus and your concentration aligns with whatever you are doing; this means you blink less often, leading to dry eyes. With your eyes open the muscles also start to strain and get tired. Eye strain isn’t a serious condition but it can lead to fatigue and productivity issues.

Eye strain is caused by activities such as reading, driving, working in brightly lit areas, stress, or working around a fan or AC unit; but the most common cause of the condition is from using a digital screen over an extended period of time. Today, digital screens are the cause of the majority of eye strain outside of driving and reading.

If you are looking at a digital screen and you feel your eyes becoming dry or you notice the first signs of a headache, it could be a symptom of eye strain. If you choose to ignore this symptom and carry on watching the screen or working, it will lead to strained eye muscles, redness and a prolonged headache.

The symptoms of eye strain

It isn’t always easy to know when you have eye strain or how bad your eye strain is, but knowing the signs and symptoms can help you take steps to protect them.

Common symptoms of eye strain include:

  • Dry eyes.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Double vision.
  • Headaches.
  • Sore neck.
  • Sore shoulders.
  • Sore back.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Low concentration.
  • Eye fatigue.
  • Eye redness.

How to know if you have eye strain

It can be difficult to know when you have eye strain, especially if you’re in the middle of a project and fully concentrated. This Is one of the contributing factors to eye strain because if you don’t break regularly, you risk overstraining your eyes which leads to muscle fatigue and possibly needing glasses.

The 20-20-20 rule is an excellent rule to use because it reminds you to take eye breaks every 20 minutes. If you don’t follow this rule you will start to feel tiredness in your eyes, you might rub them and start to blink more often. If you look at your eyes in the mirror they will look red and dry.

Eye strain can also manifest as a headache, mental fog, or burnout. If you feel like your concentration is lapsing on a job or project it could be down to the length of time you spend looking at the screen rather than the number of hours you work. In this case, taking a headache tablet is less effective than regular screen breaks.

The consequences of eye strain

Eye strain is not a serious condition and is one that can be remedied quickly with rest and avoiding screens for a few hours, but that doesn’t mean eye strain consequences are negligible; it can cause discomfort and loss in productivity. It can lead to glasses in extreme cases.

The main consequences of eye strain are discomfort, productivity levels and work-related stress, but all are important features when attempting to complete work and projects. If you forget to use the 20-20-20 rule you might find your work suffers even though you are working longer hours or feel as if you are working harder.

Luckily eye strain can be quickly eliminated using the 20-20-20 rule. A regular break from the digital screen gives your eyes a chance to adjust to a different feature in the distance, reminding them that they are being actively used. Like other muscles in the body, when exercised your ocular muscles will become stronger and more alert.

Suffering From Eye Strain

Other ways to prevent eye strain

The purpose of the 20-20-20 rule

There are many myths about using digital screens including the one about “macular degeneration”. This myth suggests that using a digital screen regularly over many years eventually leads to blindness. At present, there is no compelling evidence for this; still, most medical professionals agree prolonged screen time can harm your eyes.

If you experience dry eyes and headaches when working at your computer screen, or if you find your vision is impaired, you might worry that you’re spending too much time in an unhealthy situation. The good news is there are plenty of easy steps you can take to resolve optical fatigue and eliminate the discomfort you associate with computer work.

The 20-20-20 rule is one of the most effective means of resting your eyes and your brain at regular intervals and improving your health and work performance. The 20-20-20 rule was developed for this purpose from an area of cognitive science dedicated to the improvement of wellbeing through environmental awareness.

Other ways to prevent eye strain

The 20-20-20 rule is an excellent method of preventing eye strain, headaches and associated with using a digital screen for hours. But while it is an effective and popular means of avoiding eye strain, it isn’t the only method. There are certain conditions you can set up that will enhance your wellbeing at work.

Before you set to work for the day, adjust the lighting in your office. It’s well known that artificial light can contribute to headaches, and you get enough of that from your digital screen. Soft warm lighting is recommended or natural light if possible. Another method is to use over-the-counter tears to wet your eyes.

As well as the 20-20-20 rule, you can support your eye health during working hours by getting up from your desk and moving around. Get away from the screen and go for a walk, or perform some informal yoga poses on the floor. This doesn’t have to take up a lot of time but it will significantly improve your attention and energy levels.


The 20 20 20 rule was developed from the field of Vision Ergonomics and popularised by Dr. Jeffery Anshel in a series of books and television appearances. The method is simple but effective. It asks you to look away from your digital screen every 20 minutes, at an object that is 20 feet away, for a period of 20 seconds.

These days many people work on digital screens for long hours and don’t know what the 20 20 20 rule is; which leads to dry eyes, headaches, and ocular fatigue that causes discomfort and affects productivity. To resolve these issues people might consult a medical professional, but one of the first things they will prescribe is the 20-20-20 method.

[ucaddon_uc_solid_side_carousel_content title=”Office Health and Safety Awareness” bg_color=”#094b77″ image=”145211″ btn_text=”Take a look at this course” link=”” uc_init_settings=”” uc_fonts_data=”JTdCJTIyYnRuX3RleHQlMjIlM0ElN0IlMjJjdXN0b20lMjIlM0ElMjJ0ZXh0LXRyYW5zZm9ybSUzQSUyMG5vbmUlM0IlMjIlN0QlN0Q=”]JTNDaDQlMjBzdHlsZSUzRCUyMmNvbG9yJTNBJTIzZmZmZmZmJTIyJTNCJTNFSnVzdCUyMCVDMiVBMzIwJTNDJTJGaDQlM0VTdHVkeSUyMG9ubGluZSUyMGFuZCUyMGdhaW4lMjBhJTIwZnVsbCUyMENQRCUyMGNlcnRpZmljYXRlJTIwcG9zdGVkJTIwb3V0JTIwdG8lMjB5b3UlMjB0aGUlMjB2ZXJ5JTIwbmV4dCUyMHdvcmtpbmclMjBkYXku[/ucaddon_uc_solid_side_carousel_content]

About the author

James Bollen

James Bollen

James is a professional author and blogger. He writes articles, blog posts, short fiction, and poetry. Outside of work, he loves attending classes for learning and inspiration, meditating, and hiking in the Scottish hills.

Similar posts