Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we have been more plugged in than ever before. We participate in back-to-back Zoom meetings all day, binge on depressing news in a seemingly endless loop, all while managing our children’s remote learning. But what’s the mental toll of all of this connectivity, and how can we avoid it?
Avoid chat overload
At the recent Fast Company Innovation Festival, Emma Williams, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of modern workplace transformation shared some statistics about Microsoft Teams users during a panel discussion. Since the pandemic began, the company has seen clear evidence that people are working during what’s typically been considered relaxation time or family time. Williams reported there has been a 200% increase in Teams users using chat on weekends and a 69% increase in chatting between 5 p.m. and midnight.
Repeatedly, I hear from clients that these longer workdays are blurring the lines of work-life boundaries and negatively impacting relationships, productivity and quality of life. My advice? Log out of applications and turn off or pause notifications when your workday is done. If you’re working on something timely and worried you’ll miss something, you can always let key partners know that you’re reachable via phone in case of an emergency.
Swap Zoom for walks
Just recently, I spoke with a client whose spouse is a very active executive. At the beginning of the pandemic, he spent all day, from early morning to late night, in consecutive Zoom meetings. He was exhausted from being on camera all of the time, and his health was being affected because he wasn’t making time to exercise. After a few months of this brutal schedule, he made a powerful decision: to participate in as few Zoom meetings as possible.
Instead, he chose to start doing walking meetings using his phone, earbuds and lots of portable chargers. Now, he’s logging twenty miles a day walking. Needless to say, he’s exercising, sleeping well and has more energy. On the professional side, he reports being more engaged in his meetings now than he was when he sat in front of his computer screen for 12 hours a day.
There is certainly a necessary time and place for Zoom meetings, such as when you need to see shared screen presentations or if you need to review a lot of documentation. But not all meetings need to be on Zoom. That’s just what we’ve defaulted to in the face of this new work-from-home era. In the case of my client’s husband, he now looks at ways he can be present at work without sitting in front of his computer. Others I know have adopted this strategy, and it’s been a game-changing decision for them as well.
When you have back-to-back meetings on camera, it can be hard to grab a bathroom break, much less a decent meal. If you aren’t able to cut back on your online meeting obligations, try interspersing your day with 15-minute chunks of time to recharge. Schedule a few breaks in your daily calendar among your meetings so that time is blocked off and you stick to the routine. Unplug during this time and, if possible, get moving — go for a short walk in nature, do a quick yoga sequence. The key is to break up your meeting fatigue with an activity and length of time that feels long enough to recharge but not so long that you lose efficiency.
Establish a routine
As we work longer hours from home, it’s important to apply some structure to your day. Create a routine that you can stick to and that allows for dealing with distractions during the day, such as remote learning for kids. These very small steps can help you be more efficient each day:
1. Start each morning with five minutes of judgment-free mindfulness. This practice of keeping distracting thoughts at bay can make a big difference in how you maintain your focus throughout the day.
2. Consider what you can outsource. Is a cleaning service a possibility to save a few hours each week? Can you shop online and have your groceries delivered instead of spending your Saturday mornings browsing aisles at the store?
3. Have a plan for making meals. Consider investing in a meal delivery service or, if you do cook, perhaps do more batch cooking so that you have more meals on hand for the time you spend cooking.
4. Lay out your clothes for the next day. Prepare the coffee machine. If you suffer from a lack of organization, taking care of small tasks like these the night before can help you set yourself up for success the next day.
5. Schedule a hard stop to your workday. At a certain time, log off your computer and stay off of your phone for work-related emails unless there is an absolute emergency that you must deal with in the moment.
Spend time on the right stuff
Consider how you are spending your time being connected to tech. You’ve likely heard of the time management matrix presented in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey in which tasks are divided into four quadrants:
1. Important – Urgent (aka necessity)
2. Important – Not Urgent (aka effectiveness)
3. Not Important – Urgent (aka distraction)
4. Not Important – Not Urgent (aka waste)
Covey believed the key to being effective lies in quadrant two. By focusing your attention and spending time on these important yet not urgent matters, you reduce distractions in quadrant three and can “just say no” to everything in quadrant four. Many of us spend more time in quadrant three than necessary because we misinterpret urgent matters for important issues. By applying this theory to the amount of time we spend connected, we can determine whether something is a good use of our time or whether we can let it go.
Some higher level of connectivity is necessary as we navigate this new normal, but being more mindful of how effectively you are using your devices and more thoughtful about how you focus your time can be game-changing for your well-being.