Between constant pings from coworkers and notifications from social media apps, our always-on culture has taken a toll on both mental wellness and workplace productivity. A study conducted at Harvard Business School found workplace stress is a significant contributor to national health costs—an estimated of $125 to $190 billion a year in.
Recently, the World Health Organization designated “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon, but researchers are still scratching their heads over how to solve it. After all, managing burnout is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Technology has undoubtedly played a significant part in shaping our 24/7 work culture, but tackling stress requires more than just unplugging and disconnecting from the digital world. Here are some practices that can help.
1. Set boundaries that make sense with your lifestyle and priorities
Some wellness influencers have adopted digital cleanses or quiet hours to disconnect from devices completely. I’d argue that it’s not practical to turn back the clock and go back to the old days. I’ve found that going cold turkey and promising yourself to be unplugged during a set timeframe only causes more stress and anxiety—because you’re stressing out about what you’re missing. If you want to check your phone or inbox, go ahead and get it out of the way. After that, you can be realistic about what’s on your plate, and prioritize other deliverables for a different time.
Of course, I’m not advocating for being glued to your phone at all moments of the day. I am, however, suggesting that you intentionally carve out the moments that are important to you in a way that allows flexibility and suits your lifestyle. For example, I love going to see live music. While there’s no shortage of people recording the artist and posting nonstop on their social channels, I typically take one photo to memorialize the event and then put my phone down to enjoy the performance.
I also encourage individuals to establish guidelines within their workplace and set expectations with teams on when to be online and available. I get that some companies might have an unwritten rule around availability and responsiveness. However, you might be putting that expectation on yourself when you don’t need to.
2. Disable notifications
Anxiety and burnout come from being at the mercy of our devices instead of being in control of them. In the U.S., smartphone users receive an average of 45.9 push notifications per day. That’s nearly 50 interruptions when we’re at work or with family. This leads to technology fatigue, a sense of urgency, and stress you frankly don’t need. It’s critical to remember that someone or something will always want your attention. But the truth is, you’re likely not missing anything that can’t wait.
Most of the notifications we receive are just noise, but by default, they interrupt us regardless of their priority level. If you’re worried about missing notifications from important people in your life, you can always turn on notifications for those select groups or individuals via settings and disable the rest.
Opting out of notifications also breaks an “always-on” precedent and allows us to be more proactive and less reactive. I can check my phone when it’s good for me, rather than when someone else sets my schedule. This also helped me come to terms with just how (not) important I am.
In today’s “like”-focused social media-focused world, it’s easy for us to have a false sense of importance. We think that when we’re not available, a disaster will occur, and we won’t be there to fix it. In my experience, that’s usually not true. Your colleagues and coworkers are more than capable of handling work emergencies. It is crucial, however, to let them know when you plan to be offline. That way, they’ll know when to jump in.
3. Stick to using a single device
Looking around my office, I see desks with large monitors, small monitors, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. It’s impossible to stay on top of every device 24/7. Try committing to a single device, and don’t use anything else during the workday.
I personally find myself just using my desk computer throughout the day, since I like a large monitor, and I typically leave my phone charging at my desk. I generally don’t bring it to meetings, so I won’t get distracted from the conversation. On the flip side, it’s also easy to work solely from your mobile device with work-management tools like Dropbox, Asana, and Slack. The point here is to choose one device as your main workhorse each day, rather than switching between them throughout the day.
We may never achieve the perfect zen state that results from being completely off the grid. We can, however, fight burnout by taking control of how we use technology, rather than letting it dictate to us. When you set limits that work with your lifestyle and priorities, you might even start to see technology as a source of joy, rather than a source of stress.
Joshua Zerkel is a certified professional organizer and head of global community at Asana.