GPSolo Magazine - October/November 2004
You might laugh when you hear the word technostress . I know I did at first. But think back to how it used to be—when you could come home and really leave work at the office. Today, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the constant barrage of cell phones, e-mail, and pagers. It’s easy to work late into the night, finishing up just one more report or just one more memo for the next day’s legal briefing. Because technology lets us do more, we can take on too much. We end up feeling overwhelmed and never really “finished” because we are always plugged in. The constant accessibility—even while we’re on vacation—can lead to burnout by giving us the means to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without interruption.
Signs of Technostress
When does it all become too much? Have you fallen into the trap of, “Because I can, I do,” only to find yourself forgetful, unable to think clearly, and incapable of having a restful night’s sleep? Here are some warning signs to see if you have fallen into the technostress cycle:
• Do you spend more time doing sedentary work, often sitting alone at the computer?
• Do you find yourself multitasking more, juggling multiple things at once?
• Do you feel like your personal and work boundaries have become blurred?
• Do you feel anxious if you haven’t checked your voice mail or e-mail within the last 12 hours?
• Do you have a hard time determining when you are finished researching a topic on the Internet?
• Do you feel that no matter how much you do, there is still so much more to accomplish?
• Do you feel your perception of time has altered, increasing what you believe can be accomplished in a day?
• Do you feel what some have called “information overload” or “information fatigue”?
If left unattended, technostress can lead to memory loss, diminished concentration, impatience, irritability, difficulty relaxing or falling asleep—even headaches, stomach discomfort, backaches, and more serious health problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Combating technostress means finding ways to achieve a healthy balance of using technology without becoming consumed by it:
• Awareness is the first step. See where technology has created stress in your personal and professional life. Keep a daily log or diary to identify how and when you use the Internet, cell phones, and pagers. By becoming more aware of ways you use and possibly abuse technology, you’ll learn to take control of it instead of being controlled by it.
• Take a technology time-out. Take time each day to avoid plugging into anything. Avoid computers, fax machines, phones, and any other technological devices that habitually demand your attention. Get up, walk around the office, stretch, do breathing exercises, or meditate. At the very least, take a short vision break from your computer. A quick time-out can help you feel more refreshed and better able to tackle the next technological task.
• Limit your need to multitask. Not everything needs to be done all at once. While you may feel as if you are getting more accomplished, multitasking actually hurts your concentration. Learn to focus your attention on one task at a time. Instead of answering your e-mail while talking on the phone with a client, only check your e-mail or only check your voice mail. You’ll find that by learning how to prioritize and setting goals for when and how you use technology, you’ll be less distracted and better able to concentrate.
• Slow down. So often we get caught up in having to finish the next report, having to answer the next e-mail, or having to make the next phone call. We rush through the day never pausing long enough to really slow down. Give yourself more time to complete tasks. If a project is expected to take two days, plan on a third, just so you don’t feel so rushed; if you planned on 15 minutes to get to your next appointment, allow yourself a half-hour. Slowing down helps you feel more relaxed and better able to combat the wired whirlwind of technostress.
• Exercise. Sitting in front of your computer all day means that you aren’t getting the proper exercise. Get up from your desk, take a walk at lunch, or stretch your legs and take a stroll around the office. If you can, join a gym or take a Pilates class. Taking even small steps to exercise momentarily gets you away from work, lets you clear your mind, and helps you regain concentration when you do have to answer that next e-mail.
• Rekindle old interests. Take time to enjoy the non-technical things in your life. Have interests or hobbies fallen by the wayside? Do you find yourself completely absorbed with work? Rekindle those old interests or take up new ones. Spending time on other interests will give you a different perspective on your time pressures at work and help you feel better refreshed when you return to the office.
• Take e-vacations. When you decide to take a vacation, make sure it is a real vacation. Don’t tote your laptop on the trip or expect to keep in touch with the office. Go out to dinner or to the movies with family and friends and don’t take along your cell phone or pager. Learning to feel completely relaxed without access to technology may be a little daunting at first, but in the long run it will prove worth it. You will learn to work smarter, not harder.
Dr. Kimberly S. Young is associate professor of management sciences at the School of Business, St. Bonventure University, New York. She also is executive director of the Center for Online Addiction, www.netaddiction.com . She can be reached at email@example.com.
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