How To Combat Digital Overload
We all love the conveniences of modern technology. But there are days when we have had quite enough of it, thank you very much. When we feel like we cannot for another single second stare at that little camera to mimic eye contact on a Zoom or Teams call. When all those notifications and reminders and texts and emails can seem to sap our energy and focus. Especially during the summer months when fresh air and sunshine beckon tantalizingly just outside our window, digital overload can become a real challenge.
10 tips to combat digital overload:
- Reduce video conference fatigue. If Zoom or Teams meetings take up most of your day, take a closer look at them. Are there any video conference meetings where you are primarily a participant? If so, perhaps you can turn your camera off and talk a walk outside while you listen and provide input. Or, if you are the leader of the video conference meeting and there’s nothing you need to present or share on screen, perhaps some of those sessions can be conducted with cameras off to give you and your participants the freedom to move around, grab a cup of coffee, pet the dog, etc. For longer Zoom and Teams meetings, be sure to build in a break or two for all participants.
- Re-evaluate. Take a close look at your meeting schedule. Are there any recurring video conference meetings that can be shortened, perhaps from 1 hour to 30 minutes? Can any weekly meetings be changed to bi-weekly meetings? Can any of your meetings be changed from video conference to phone calls or in-person? Video conference meetings can be particularly draining, so if you can reduce your overall time spent staring at that little camera in video conference meetings, it can go a long way to helping to combat digital overload.
- Make the most of your calendar. Block off time on your calendar, when possible, to allow some parts of your day or week to be free from video conference meetings. Set up 15-minute buffers before and after meetings to give yourself a chance to stretch, decompress, move your body, or rest your eyes for a few minutes.
- Minimize interruptions. Many of us have a lot of digital interruptions happening all at once. While we’re working on a project, we often interrupt our own progress to reply to an email that just arrived, or respond to a chat, or answer a text. The good news about today’s technology is that it comes with features to minimize interruptions when we need time to focus or to take a break. We can silence our phones, mark ourselves busy on our calendars, turn off notifications, or set ourselves away in Slack. If needed, set an automatic reply on with an alternative method of reaching you should a truly urgent issue arise.
- Take a break. This one seems obvious but few of us actually do it. If we do have some free time between meetings or projects, we often spend it reading emails or checking in on Teams. Try to take an actual, honest to goodness break from work when you can during your day. If you need to, set aside time in your calendar to allow for this. And while you’re on your break, remove yourself from your screens. Drink some water. Have an apple. Move, stretch, walk around. Take some deep, cleansing breaths. Allow your brain to recharge.
- Take lunch. Another one that seems obvious. While most of us do eat lunch during the workday, we often eat while in front of our computers or while reading emails on our phones. It’s important to step away from the screens for part of the day, and a lunch break is a great opportunity to do this. Take your lunch outside when you can and perhaps include a short walk or meditation break after eating. When possible, have lunch with a friend, family member or colleague from time to time and indulge yourself in non-work related conversation. Try to take an hour when you can, or at least a half hour each day, to disconnect from work and digital devices.
- Take your time. We are often so conditioned to opening an email, reading a text message, or responding to a chat the very moment they arrive, we tend to forget we don’t always have to do that. Most of the time, these digital interruptions don’t require our immediate attention. Instead of feeling you need to respond immediately, wait until you are finished with what you’re working on. It can often be more efficient to tackle all emails in one block of time rather than reading them the moment they arrive in our inbox. Taking our time to respond when it works best within our day can help to minimize some of the stress that frequent digital interruptions can cause.
- Take your vacation time. It’s staggering how many Americans don’t take the vacation time they’re entitled to. A break from work, even if only a long weekend, can help reduce the stress that can accompany digital overload and burnout. While you’re taking your personal time off, please try your best to disconnect from work. It can be tempting to just spend a few minutes each day checking emails while on vacation, but those few minutes can easily turn into more, and your mind doesn’t fully benefit from the break when you continue to engage with work matters. You’ve earned that time off from work. Enjoy it!
- Respect personal time. Studies show that in the digital age, it’s increasingly difficult for people to distance themselves from the workplace during their off hours. Concern over the erosion of work/life boundaries caused France to enact a law that says a large business cannot email an employee after typical work hours. Perhaps a new law is not needed here, but a rule of thumb to avoid after hours communications, unless there is truly an emergency, might be a welcome step.
- Pay it forward. Encourage your team to take these same steps. Give them permission and encouragement to reduce video conference meetings, set aside time to work without interruption, allow for breaks, take lunch, use their vacation time, and so on. You may find you and your team become more effective, as well as more content, when all of you work together to minimize digital overload.
- Harvard Business Review: How to Combat Zoom Fatigue
- Forbes: Three Cures for Virtual Meeting Fatigue
- Harvard Business Review: Research: Cameras On or Off?
- Worklife: 5 Ways to Overcome Digital Overload and Communication Fatigue