They told us technology would make our lives better. They told us things would be quicker, easier and more efficient. What they didn’t tell us was how much it could stress us out. Once upon a time, we were all amazed by the pager, the mobile phone and the video conference – the productive possibilities were endless. But are we really any better off? And do the improvements outweigh the burdens?
Mobile devices make for mobile invasions
When your hold in your hand a communication tool that’s Wi-Fi-enabled and powered by 4G, your lunch break isn’t your lunch break anymore. What’s more, the commute is a very real and active part of your working day and those precious weekends are no longer your own.
Thirty years ago, it would have been considered taboo for your boss to call your house phone after work and ask your spouse or kids to put you on the line. But now your colleagues have a direct line to your pocket and that might mean you can never switch off from work.
So, what’s the solution? Turn it off! There’s rarely an emergency that can’t wait until after your lunch break, and any employer that has respect for your work-life balance will understand that time spent alone, with family or with friends is just as important as time spent on projects, figures and forecasts.
Working from home can feel like living at work
The digital revolution has led to some serious advances in working flexibility. We can all appreciate the chance to play with the dog or raid the fridge between bouts of serious hard work, but studies show that we’d probably spend more time working each day than our office-based counterparts would. Without the fixed hours of a 9-5 existence, we can find it much harder to know when to stop – it’s not uncommon for those working at home to keep on going well past midnight.
On top of that, your new-found love of remote working could actually lower your chances of getting pay rises or promotions. A 2010 study from the University of California found that an increase in “passive face time” – simply being noticed in the office either during work hours or during overtime – gives employees a significant advantage over those who perform well at home.
“Merely being seen – often from a distance and without any interaction or real understanding of what a person is doing – that in itself has value,” said Professor Elsbach. “People notice.”
E-mails aren’t always the most effective way to communicate
Refreshing, reading and responding to e-mails is so ingrained into our working lives that it seems strange to think that they might have a negative effect on our productivity. But by strapping heart monitors to a team of employees, Professor Gloria Mark found that taking e-mails away for five days reduced the employees’ stress levels. With the barrage of digital messages that demanded instant responses gone, workers instead spoke to their colleagues face-to-face and their productivity actually increased with the absence of e-mails.
“Email is relentless,” said the professor. “There’s no break.” Trying to stay on top of your e-mail, she said, was like being on a “treadmill” – you’re being asked to complete more and more tasks by e-mail, while continually trying to respond to more and more e-mails that contain more and more tasks.
Make sure you prioritise your time. Check your e-mails every hour or two, not every minute or two. It used to be the norm to send a non-digital message and expect a response in a matter of hours, and businesses survived just fine.
Look after your mind
The human brain is a robust tool but it can also be a delicate thing. There are plenty of techniques you can easily practise to help you detach and de-stress. Ironically, there are also plenty of apps and websites to help you – such as Headspace or Do Nothing for Two Minutes. And if the idea of using your computer to heal the stress caused by too many computers just seems far too absurd, you can’t go wrong with an old-fashioned remedy – leave your phone on the desk, step out of the office, and take a ten-minute walk outside. Fresh air, natural surroundings and small talk with a stranger can all do a lot to help you momentarily disconnect from a world full of e-mails, spreadsheets and Skype.