Do you feel exhausted as you close your laptop for the day but still find yourself checking email messages on your phone an hour later? Perhaps you’re watching hours of Netflix in the evening while aimlessly scrolling through your Twitter feed. Or, worse of all, you wake up in the night and check your Slack channel just in case your client has replied to that message you sent earlier.
If your business depends on you being plugged in, but you desperately need to unplug, then this is the digital burnout guide you need to read.
What is Digital Burnout?
Chances are, you're already familiar with the idea of “burnout” in the working world. But to put it simply, traditional burnout is the feeling of being overworked, super stressed, and majorly fatigued in your job. Digital burnout is similar to this but is the result of too much time spent using digital platforms as part of your work.
Essentially, if you’re feeling mentally and physically exhausted during and outside of your online work, digital burnout could be to blame.
Did your parents ever tell you not to sit too close to the TV because it might hurt your eyes or give you a headache? The same eye strain can be caused by using your computer, tablet, or mobile phone too much, as well as watching TV and using digital devices after work.
A spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology explains that “Most of us blink less when looking at screens, causing eye strain and dry eyes.”
The truth is that we all need to take a break from screens, particularly as we’ve become so dependent on them during the pandemic. In fact, 82% of US workers reveal that they've experienced digital burnout as a direct impact of the COVID-19 era.
Who is at Risk of Digital Burnout?
Anyone who spends most of their working day online is at risk of experiencing digital burnout at some point. This could include:
- Freelancers – For example, writers, programmers, or graphic designers who spend their work time using digital tools for tasks such as catching up with clients via email, Slack messaging, or video calls.
- Social media managers – The stress of keeping up with the fast-paced world of Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram makes it hard to switch off and risk missing something. Even Ryan Reynolds acknowledges how challenging this type of work is.
- Online entrepreneurs – For example, affiliate or eCommerce business owners. It’s easy to find another extra online task you want to squeeze into your working day.
- Remote employees – Over using video conferencing tools between digital tasks can affect your health.
- Hybrid and office workers – If you’re using screens outside of your work day, for example on your commute, then you can easily become fatigued.
Never assume that you’re immune to digital burnout. If you use digital devices for work and play, then you should stay alert and look out for common signs that you’re pushing yourself too far.
Common Symptoms of Digital Burnout
So if you’re worried digital burnout is an issue for you, what are the signs you should watch out for?
Being Disengaged From Your Partner and Family
When you hop from your laptop to your tablet to your phone and then back again and are constantly scrolling in the presence of your family, it can cause problems in your relationships. In a Deloitte survey, 82% of young workers claim that digital burnout creates problems with romantic relationships and with family members.
Feeling Constantly Fatigued and Lethargic
“One factor of digital burnout that we’ve experienced in our program is what we call ‘Zoom fatigue.' This fatigue arises after spending hour after hour sitting in the same space looking at the same screen.”
Negative Impact on Productivity
Digital burnout can affect cognitive function, so if you’re tired and overworked you might find that it’s taking you twice as long to complete a task. Worse still, you might start making mistakes for your clients!
Mental Health Symptoms
Depression and anxiety are both linked with digital burnout, but surprisingly a University of Virginia study also reveals a link between mobile phone notifications and ADHD-like symptoms.
The study followed students over a two-week period, during which they were found to exhibit “more symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity” when receiving smartphone notifications in comparison to when phones were left on silent.
Physical Health Symptoms
The impact of digital burnout can build slowly, but some physical signs to look out for include higher blood pressure, exhaustion, and a weakened immune system. If you’re using your devices prior to bed, you might also experience sleep disorders.
What are the Best Ways to Combat Digital Burnout?
If you recognize any of the above, then it’s time to address your digital burnout and develop a plan to unplug yourself but leave your business very much plugged in.
1. Set Up Video Conferencing Boundaries
Let’s start by saying that video conferencing tools are not the enemy even for someone with digital burnout. They’re an important aspect of remote working and have allowed businesses to stay connected throughout the pandemic. On a personal level, they have been instrumental in bridging social gaps and overcoming loneliness in remote work too.
The issue is with how these videoconferencing tools are used, the work culture that you’re using them in, and the boundaries in place.
Zoom fatigue is a real issue due to the intensity of maintaining eye contact and seeing yourself on camera for prolonged periods. It’s like someone holding a mirror up to you throughout the working day.
The following tips will help to improve your experience of videoconferencing:
- Use the hide self-view button.
- Turn off your camera periodically so you can get up and stretch your legs or move around to take a screen break even if the meeting is ongoing.
- Reduce the size of your Zoom window to provide more of a barrier between yourself and the grid of faces on the call.
- Try to only attend video conference calls that are vital to the progress of your work and that don’t distract you from it.
2. Control Your Calendar
Do you find it difficult to say no when you’re asked to hop on a call? Gain back some control of your calendar by using a service like Calendly.
You can create simple rules and availability preferences so your clients and colleagues can only book calls at a time that suits you. So, if you want to keep Mondays and Fridays free from meetings, this is super easy to achieve when you block these days out of your call calendar.
3. Use Email Templates
If you spend a lot of time emailing clients or dealing with incoming queries, then you can become more productive by using a series of templates.
First, do an audit of your typical email correspondence over the course of a few days or a week. Notice the types of messages you’re sending and responding to. If many of them include similar content, then set up templates to speed up this digital task.
You can easily save templates in Outlook, Gmail, and other apps. The best email templates are those that you can quickly tweak to fit the needs of the recipient, without it being obvious that you’re using bulk content.
4. Become More Digitally Organized
Do you find yourself going down rabbit holes when you have your screen open? If you hop from document to document without any clear direction, then you need some focus and discipline. This will speed up your digital tasks so you spend less time online.
Try using organizational tools like:
- Toggl – to supercharge your digital time management
- Asana – to keep track of your tasks
- LastPass – to reduce the time spent searching for log-in details
- Mindmeister – a highly visual way to plan a project including flow charts, mind maps, and more
- MeetEdgar – to simplify your social media management and bulk schedule your posts in one hit.
For more organizational tools, check out the resource library.
5. Switch to Asynchronous Communication
Asynchronous communication is a remote working strategy that can work well with digital business owners and their clients. Instead of sitting on calls just to feel present for your clients, you can suggest working out of sync instead.
You will still communicate regularly with your client, but instead of chatting in real-time, you can use methods like email, Loom videos, audio notes, and Google Doc comments to collaborate on a project together asynchronously. Your clients will love the extra detail and consideration you include into your responses without being put on the spot.
This is a highly effective strategy, especially when people aren’t located in the same time zone. It gives you the freedom to close your screen and clock off for the day without the worry that you’ll miss something “in real-time.”
6. Outsource Some of Your Digital Tasks
Being an online business owner can often feel like you’re spinning plates. If being an accountant, IT support technician, marketing manager, and salesperson are all contributing to your burnout and zapping your creativity, then it’s time to outsource your digital tasks.
You might hire a virtual assistant to help with jobs like:
- Social media management
- Writing newsletters
- Scheduling content
- Ordering supplies
But really the list of digital tasks you can outsource is endless. Work out the areas of your business that are forcing you to spend too much time online and then take action.
7. Draw Clear Lines Between Home and Work
As much as it’s great to spend your day working in your pajamas, we all know that it can be difficult to draw clear lines between your business and home life when it’s all housed under the same roof.
To help you with this:
- Delete work-related apps from your phone (Slack, social media, email etc)
- If you’re not able to do the above then at least mute notifications
- Be strict about putting your devices away – for example, not using your phone at the dinner table or not checking social media after 6pm.
- Try to work in a designated area of your home and then shut the door on work at the end of the day
- Take weekends off if you’re able and dedicate your non-digital time to your family and friends.
Throw Cold Water on Your Burnout
By now, hopefully, you’ve seen that online business owners are at serious risk of developing digital burnout. But that it’s also easy to take positive steps to protect yourself and your business.
Take an honest look at whether you’re experiencing common symptoms of digital burnout, including mental and physical side-effects, as well as problems in your close relationships.
Once you’ve identified if there’s a problem, you can take positive action to set boundaries, increase your productivity online, and spend less time working digitally. With a little work, you’ll be back on the right track in no time at all.
About the Author
Rebecca Noori is a freelance writer covering topics related to careers, entrepreneurship, HR, recruitment, productivity, finance, and leadership. Her writing career began back at uni when she worked for TimeOut. More recently, she has spent the past 7 years creating long-form blog content and white papers for a range of B2B clients. She is also a contributing author at Mama and Money, FreelancerFAQs, and Clever Girl Finance.