Technology is helping us in unimaginable ways, bringing many positive changes to our work and personal lives. Since the start of the pandemic, however, we’ve come to rely on screens more than ever. Video conferencing and cloud solutions are helping people seamlessly switch to remote working while our customer interactions are also being frictionlessly digitized. At home, technology is playing a much bigger role as we use devices more and more to interact with our loved ones, learn, share, shop, and even participate in exercise and other social activities.
Before the quarantine, most of us likely thought that we have spent almost all of our workday at the computer. But little did we know that we could spend so much more. Between commutes, formal meetings, water cooler chats, coffee breaks, and lunches, we had many opportunities throughout the day where our eyes would have a break from the screen and detach from the digital realm.
Now with those natural respites eliminated, there’s little to no break from the connection to technology. In particular, video calls add an extra layer of fatigue. Having to focus on multiple faces simultaneously while also being conscious that everyone can see you creates an added layer of mental and emotional exhaustion that wouldn’t be experienced as acutely in an in-person setting. The extra time in front of the computer can also cause eye strain and muscle fatigue because you need to hold your body rigid for hours to stay inside a camera’s range.
Spending too long staring at screens can lead to eye issues and headaches (maybe you’ve already noticed). Digital overload can also lead to all kinds of mental and physical issues, including sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, and the fear of missing out.
What is digital fatigue?
Digital fatigue is a recognized state of mental exhaustion and disengagement that occurs when people are required to use numerous digital tools and apps concurrently and in an ongoing way.
Common symptoms of digital fatigue include:
- Feeling worn out by endless virtual meetings & events
- Sore, tired, burning, or itching eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Sore muscles; especially in the neck, shoulders, and back
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by the repetitive nature of the day
- Feeling lethargic
- Irritability, frustration or losing patience
Being aware of the signs of digital fatigue empowers you to be more proactive about looking after yourself. And being digitally mindful will help you better manage your use of technology in a more positive and healthy way. Feel safe and empowered to take a step back when you need to, to refocus on the present moment and reconnect with your purpose.
Mindfulness in the Digital Age
“Mindfulness” is a term thrown around a lot today so let’s start by defining what it actually is. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, mindfulness teacher, and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction states: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
As mindfulness continues to spread in the corporate world, time and time again, research shows practicing mindfulness decreases stress, improves focus, regulates emotions, and enhances empathy and emotional intelligence.
In this digital age, we need to re-discover the wisdom and strength within, that will help us keep in touch with the human moment. Digital mindfulness involves developing the structure in our daily routine and computer, tablet or smartphone use habits to pay attention to what’s important by eliminating digital distractions and interruptions as much as we can.
We update and recharge our devices, but what are we doing for ourselves? Here are some mindfulness tips to get us through the digital day to day:
- Complete daily tasks one at a time. Digital fatigue can leave us unfocused and fragmented – make a to-do list and tackle items one-by-one to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Limit meeting duration. Block out time on your schedule where you’re not available for meetings so that you can temper how much virtual communication you have each day. That could look like setting aside most of a morning or afternoon as a meeting-free time or blocking out a few one-hour chunks of time throughout the day to detach and focus on other work.
- More physical, less digital. In order to balance out the increased screen time both on and off the clock, look for ways that you can take the low-tech route. Anytime you can reasonably choose a physical option over a digital one, take it. Stepping away from the computer not only offers you a digital break but can help you be more creative.
- Take tech-free breaks. Although it may feel more efficient to eat lunch at your computer, your brain will thank you for taking a break from the screen. Stepping away from technology not only gives your brain a break but also gives you the added bonus of perspective. This split from the digital world refreshes your brain and helps to create some separation from the end of your workday and the beginning of your personal time.
- Support coworkers and encourage your team to take screen breaks. Individuals may forget to take breaks, or feel guilty stepping away during busy workdays, so making this an expectation, or even a team activity can help normalize taking those much-needed moments off.
- Turn off the camera. Not every interaction has to be a video call – when possible, take your meeting standing up, pacing, or even while out on a walk.
- Get outside. Fresh air is rejuvenating – if you can, walking is great exercise, and it gives your eyes and brain a chance to recharge (you can even take a work call while you circle the block).
- Decrease blue light. Most digital devices offer settings to adjust or turn on blue light filters, which can make screen time less straining to the eyes.
- Write your notes by hand. Going old-school has its benefits, as a good old-fashioned pen and paper will build micro screen breaks into our daily routine.
- Set your work hours and be mindful of day’s end. When the lines between home and work are blurred, it’s all too easy to extend your day or to catch yourself checking or sending emails well into the evening – instead, know when to turn off your computer and walk away.
- Eliminate all non-human notifications. When your notifications are off, you’ll be more present for those that matter most. It’s amazing what falls away. Turning off notifications lets your phone work as a tool for you, rather than letting it control you.
- Take up a new hobby or engage in screen-free after work activities. As mentioned, a few times already… “go for a walk”, work out, read/listen to a book, do a puzzle, cook a meal – any time you spend on your feet and/or away from a screen will be time well spent!
The ability to move to a remote reality is something to be grateful for, as it has so many benefits. After all, it’s how we’ve been able to stay connected, and support each other through these challenging times. But too much of anything can be bad for us, and digital tools are no exception. We need to learn how to prioritize our mental and physical health in this new normal and with our myriad of digital commitments. Just as importantly, we need to take care of each other.
You can always find ways to limit use of your devices – and making notes and planning by hand is often more effective anyway. There’s still a whole world out there away from our smartphones, tablets, and computers.