It’s not only our kids who need screen-time management. So do us grown-ups who find ourselves working from home - quite possibly into the foreseeable future.
New data shows the average adult is online up to 13 hours a day - and the pandemic-led trend towards remote work is set to drive that figure even higher. No wonder WFH is making us tired and cranky.
Think about it. When you and/or your partner were working in an office, it may have felt like you spent all day in front of your computer. But did you? Really?
In fact, though you may not have been aware of it, you were enjoying plenty of off-screen breaks, from meetings to casual coffee-room chats, to lunches out and, yes, even commuting.
These non-screen activities gave your eyes a rest and allowed you to stretch your limbs. They were the little breaks that stood between real-world you and total-digital-immersion you - and they kept you from going completely square-eyed.
Remember when casual, off-screen chats with colleagues were a thing?
Working from home, those built-in breaks have largely evaporated, explains time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders. What’s more, she says, video calls now add an extra layer of fatigue to the working day. They are more taxing, not less, than face-to-face interactions.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, she notes, “Having to focus on multiple faces simultaneously while also being conscious that everyone can see you creates an added layer of mental and emotional exhaustion that wouldn’t be experienced as acutely in an in-person setting.”
Add to this the extra eye strain and muscle fatigue that result from holding yourself rigid to stay within the camera’s range - in many cases for hours - and it’s no wonder that WFH screen-time poses a special risk to our digital health and wellbeing.
Top tips for managing WFH screen-time
So what can we do? Saunders advises a range of simple strategies.
Don’t forget to call. Suddenly, it’s all about Zoom. But much of our business communication can be handled just as efficiently, and with less unwanted intensity, the old-fashioned way, by audio call. Or, for that matter, via email or a shared document. “Just because you can use video,” she says, “doesn’t mean you should.”
Go meeting-free. Block out time on your shared calendar for meeting-free work - a few hours in the morning, the two hours after lunch, or just a couple of one-hour chunks throughout the day. This is a strategy time-management experts have always recommended. But in a WFH setting, where high-intensity virtual meetings are the order of the day, it is more important than ever.
Get physical, not digital. Make a conscious effort to choose low-tech when you can. Brainstorm new ideas using actual paper and pen - or sketch out your roadmap on a white board. If possible, choose hard copy books over e-books. And when you take an exercise break, get outside and leave your phone behind.
Move it! Look for ways to move your body as much as you can, and you will prevent the fatigue caused by sitting rigidly in front of your screen. Take that coffee break (even if it means just walking to kitchen). Do a few quick stretches. Try putting your laptop on the kitchen bench and work for spell of standing work to stretch your legs.
On a long call? If you can’t get outside, you can at least take laps round the loungeroom. Or, multitask by performing some mindless (and quiet) housework - dusting is ideal.
Love your lunch. And do NOT eat it “al desko.” Take advantage of this time to step away from your technology. Have a chat with a family member. Read a physical book or magazine. Alternatively, simply “be present” with your sandwich.
Notes Saunders, “I find that even when I take a short lunch of 15 to 20 minutes where I simply eat without doing anything else, I feel more peaceful at the end than I did before. I also find that I tend to have a clearer sense of the big picture of what’s occurring in my life and work.”
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