It goes without saying that in today’s technology-centric world, we are spending more and more time working, and ‘playing’ online. But how is the amount of time we spend online affecting our brains and bodies? An international team of researchers from a number of universities, including Harvard and Oxford*, concluded that the amount of time we spend online has a negative impact on our attention capacity, our memory processes and our social interactions.
But this isn’t really shocking ‘news’ is it? The effects of prolonged time spent online are obvious to most of us who work in technology-dependent careers on a daily basis. And did you know that virtual meetings and video chats, held on platforms like Zoom require extra mental processing than face-to-face interactions? The brain has to work harder to pick up non-verbal cues and to minimise distractions. As a global entrepreneur, scheduling virtual meetings with businesses and connections across the world is often the only way of getting work done, with time online at a premium, but what is the impact on health?
So what are the symptoms of online fatigue and how can you reduce the risk of burnout?
People experiencing online fatigue are anxious, irritable and have a lack of concentration. In extreme cases, this can lead to insomnia, loss of appetite and mental and physical exhaustion. No wonder you’re exhausted when some researchers believe that the brain should rest for five minutes for every one minute spent online.
But that’s not really practical; none of us who work online would be able to factor those types of breaks into our day. Yet online fatigue is real, so here are the 7 top practical tips you can implement today to improve your online stress and fatigue levels:
1. Take a break (obvious but essential….)
When taking frequent breaks, the consensus, and achievable proposition, is to have a 5 minute break every hour and a 20 minute break every 3 hours. Having a break does not mean you are being lazy or not ‘working hard enough’. In fact, taking planned breaks has been proven to increase productivity and help you to make better decisions.
2. Take an EYE break and reduce stimuli on screen
Eye fatigue has a huge impact on your overall fatigue and mental exhaustion. If you have multiple windows open, your brain will have to work harder. Particularly if you are in a Zoom meeting, make sure there is not an overload of information going on around your line of vision. Generally during the day, give your eyes a break and try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look up from your screen at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can help to disengage and refresh the eyes to instantly reduce fatigue.*
3. Avoid multi-tasking
When working online, it can be so easy to become distracted and start new tasks before you’ve finished the main task you are working on. Stay clear of the trap to flick and click from one task to another, as this will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed and unproductive. Often in online meetings, it can be tempting to multi-task, (especially with the microphone on mute), but this can cause the brain to overload.
4. Make a plan and stick to it
Take time to schedule your day including all of your breaks. If you have online meetings, make sure they don’t run over time and always stick to the agenda. Having a plan reduces overwhelm and helps you to feel in control, knowing you are getting your required work completed, which then reduces stress and ultimately minimises your fatigue. There are a number of scheduling apps that can assist you with your day-to-day planning.
5. Set boundaries:
a.) schedule a day per week with no online meetings;
Setting boundaries around your workload can have a positive impact on your fatigue levels. If you can, dedicate a day per week to just face-to-face interactions or focusing on a project. This can benefit your working week immensely. As mentioned above, online meetings actually require more mental processing than face-to-face, so cutting out online meetings for a day will give your brain a much needed rest.
b) have a day a fortnight without responding to emails
When you choose to not be distracted by your emails, watch what happens to your productivity levels! It’s amazing when you realise how much time is being spent responding to ‘unimportant’ emails.
6. Set a rule that reduces your online meetings each week (e.g. total of 120mins) or switch to phone and email
Over the last two years, it has become ‘easier’ to just ‘chat on line’ but the fact is, our brain is working harder because of it. In reality, 8 out of 10 online meetings could be dealt with by email or a simple, quick telephone call. Prioritise your meetings and always stick to an agenda. Spending extra time talking ‘off-topic’ can negatively impact your day, which in turn will have an effect on your fatigue.
7. Look after your well-being and mental health
Please don’t take your well-being and mental health for granted. We can often become stressed without even realising it, but there are clues such as lack of sleep and being irritable, so take the time to recognise when you are not at your best. Consider looking into relaxing activities such as meditation and mindfulness as a way to relax your mind. On a physical level, be aware of aches and pains from sitting still for too long. Investigate the ergonomics of your office workstation and make sure you are working safely.
At Scalepreneurs, working with businesses across the globe, we understand how easy it is to keep pushing through the workday, scheduling back-to-back video calls with people in different time zones and doing a large percentage of your work online. However, it’s easy to fall into the trap of not taking care of ourselves, so hopefully these tips have been a helpful guide to understanding online fatigue and how to be proactive for your health.
Please reach out to us if you need to know more.