Technology is enabling talent development to reach new heights with VR, mobile learning, and other training options, just to name a few new trends. Team collaboration platforms can support better transparency and more agile communication. Smartphones and the ability to work remotely help talent development leaders stay connected with colleagues, clients, and teams.
It can be a real project-saver for a team to quickly get a leader’s reaction and feedback to a particular plan or question. After all, we now live in a world where responses occur in seconds. Unchecked, however, the technology that enables us to have our work constantly at our fingertips can lead to burnout. Our commitment to our career creates an unnatural obsession to constantly stay connected and available.
Like with so many things, the path to tech burnout starts with laudable intentions: Driven executives and managers have a sense of profound responsibility in our work. We don’t want to let down our clients. We want to provide for our loved ones. We want to be recognized by our managers or other stakeholders. We aspire to be known as someone who can be counted on to hop on projects and get things done no matter what.
Therefore, many leaders consider their connectivity to be a virtue and value-add, and believe that being overly accessible is the key differentiator to prove their worth and commitment to colleagues and clients alike. With that mindset, any attempt to set tech boundaries is destined to fail.
These good intentions ignore the obvious: Tech burnout (or being on the verge of tech burnout) can have disastrous consequences in our careers, our personal lives, and our physical and mental health. Sloppy work, increased mistakes, anxiety disorders, and health issues can all arise from tech burnout.
Some signs that you might be on the verge of tech burnout can include:
- You wake up and start responding to email before you’ve even gotten out of bed.
- You go to bed checking emails, with a laptop on the nightstand or smartphone in your hand.
- You set an auto-reply “out-of-office” message but can’t resist responding to anything that comes in (I call this the “Sham OOO”).
- You pride yourself on being “always available” and respond to requests and assignments at all hours of the day and night. You feel a little flare of panic every time your phone delivers a new notification.
- You’re always tired.
- Your smartphone comes to the gym, bathroom, and yoga class with you.
- Your respond to emails while driving.
- You panic when your smartphone battery life falls below 75 percent.
- You struggle with more in-depth projects that demand your focus.
- You are incapable of or struggle with using the word No.
- You’ve noticed your mind start to drift to what might be waiting in your inbox or project management to-do list while talking to someone in person or participating in an in-person group meeting.
How do we get ourselves into the mindset to relax and take a break? Common sense and research tells us that nothing is better than prevention. But it’s not too late if you suspect that you’re on the brink.
So, what can you do if you realize that you’re on the verge of (or in the midst of) tech burnout?
First, come up with a realistic plan—prioritize what is most important and write it down. Make a commitment to yourself and put it in writing. Next, enlist the help of technology and the people around you to slowly work your way back to reasonable tech boundaries.
Here are some recommendations for how to turn technology around and make it work for you:
- Start using “Do Not Disturb” features on your devices. Block access to email and notifications for scheduled chunks of time or while you are driving. You can start small; for example, you could block access for the duration of a meeting so you can put away your phone or tablet and focus on the speaker.
- Let your colleagues know you are making an effort to rein in your tech addiction and ask for their advice and support. Chances are they struggle with the same issues in their professional and personal lives, and will likely respect your efforts and be willing to help you hold the line. Moreover, having open conversations with co-workers can have a beneficial ripple effect, as they will likely model your efforts and take better care of themselves as well. This can have a profound effect on the culture of your organization. Don’t underestimate how much your team will appreciate this.
- Create an environment where you appreciate the benefits of taking care of your physical and mental health and be honest with yourself about what is realistic.
- Manage client and other stakeholder expectations. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries; discuss and develop a mutually agreeable definition of what is truly urgent with your customers and teams.
An important skill for a busy professional is the ability to manage expectations. This won’t be new territory to dedicated leaders; you’re likely already using this skill to manage your team, deliverables, projects, and personal life. It is the process in which you define what you and others should expect—and is a powerful tool based on communication, realism, and transparency.
Preventing burnout (or addressing it quickly) positions us to be our best selves. A week off to decompress and catch up on sleep is a better investment than countless hours in a doctor’s office—or worse, in an emergency room. Rather than fueling years of resentment and feelings of neglect, take some half-days to spend with your family and loved ones. Start putting away all technology an hour before bedtime; this has been shown to improve both quality of sleep and ease in falling asleep.
We might all have machines in our pocket, but we ourselves are not machines. Our need for sleep, rest, exercise, healthy eating, and social interaction remains necessary to bring our optimal selves into our work and life. Make a commitment to yourself that ultimately nothing is more important than your well-being.