Do you answer your cell phone every time it rings? Or do you check email the minute it beeps? If so, you could be a click away from a workday ruled by telepressure—the compulsive need to quickly respond to emails, texts, news alerts, voicemails and other digital messages. These interruptions can seduce you or anyone struggling with boundaries into losing themselves in the bottomless pit of work tasks and electronic devices, interfering with engagement and productivity and raising cumulative stress and ultimately burnout. Research shows that workers with high levels of telepressure are more likely to report lack of focus on the job, burnout, health-related absenteeism and sleep problems. Plus, their work-life balance is negatively impacted.
A Real Case Of Telepressure
CEO Blaine Vess shared with me how he handled telepressure when he was running his company by making micro-adjustments—small changes in old habits that yield big results. He said his email interrupted him nonstop. His philosophy was to keep things moving, so he functioned like a switchboard operator—constantly checking to see what message he received and responding or redirecting the sender appropriately. He said it was a long time before he realized he was functioning like a switchboard operator and that was not real work when you’re trying to run a company. Here’s the approach he took to mend his ways:
“I landed on a simple tool called Mailman. Just as in real life, the mail carrier delivers mail, Mailman puts your emails in a hidden folder in your email applications so you can still access it when you want. I initially set it to deliver my email twice per day, at noon and five o’clock. I noticed when noon rolled around, I was on my email like a feeding frenzy, and it disrupted my productivity in the afternoon. I also noticed I didn’t like receiving email at five when I was spending more time with my wife. Now, I’ve landed on receiving email once per day at three p.m. That gives me most of the day to work on real tasks. It’s also early enough that I can respond to folks before I finish work around five.There were days where I would glance at Mailman’s hidden folder to see how many messages were in there. This made me anxious, and I would click into the folder and start answering emails. So, I found another tool to complement Mailman that allows me to hide the mailman folder. If I glance to see how many messages are in there, I can’t see the folder, and I can’t start answering emails. This simple method of applying out of sight, out of mind has been extremely helpful.I also applied this “out of sight, out of mind” mentally to my phone. I turned off gmail notifications and deleted the apps for Facebook and LinkedIn. These changes weren’t enough, though. I still had the Gmail app and looked at it constantly, even after I was using Mailman, and I knew that I wouldn’t have received new messages. Then, a friend told me how he’d stopped watching and reading the news. This sounded radical to me at first, but I wanted to see if I could figure out a way to block the news from my life. I dug into my iPhone and saw that it had a way to block websites. I started blocking all the sites that I frequently checked, like cnn.com, facebook.com, linkedin.com, gmail.com, news.google.com, and anything else I might visit to distract myself. I even deleted the Gmail app, which I never thought possible. The key to what’s worked for me has been the concept of out of sight, out of mind. It made apps and websites more difficult or impossible to access. These changes have made me a much more present person in my life.”
7 Tips To Spit Shine Your Electronic Habits
Allowing wireless devices to call the shots can put you in a foot race with the speed of light. If not properly managed, telepressure can increase work stress and lead to burnout. Here are some tried and true ways to manage your devices instead of letting them manage you so telepressure doesn’t invade every minute of your life:
- Unleash yourself from red alert. Trying to keep up with the lightning speed, keeps your nervous system on red alert. It activates your stress response, provoking a cortisol-dopamine squirt, causing you to respond to the immediacy of the device as if it’s a threat to extinguish. Don’t be duped by the red alert chime of your devices when they interrupt your train of thought. And use custom ring tones for your family, friends or coworkers to screen calls during off-hours.
- Unplug. Arrange to power down and clock out at a certain time. Work after hours only when it’s absolutely necessary and an exceptional case. Turn off electronic devices on breaks, at lunch, and after hours.
- Practice “out of sight, out of mind.” At home, put your laptop, iPhone, or iPad out of eyesight, just as you would a hammer or saw after working on a cabinet in the den. If it’s necessary to use wireless devices during personal hours, confine them to specific areas in your home. Make it a rule: no work tools in bed, at the kitchen table, or in the den while watching TV.
- Put the kibosh on immediate checking. Limit the number of times a day you check your devices every several hours instead of intermittently. Ease up on instant messaging so you don’t create the expectation that you’re available 24/7.
- Prioritize relationships during after hours. Think twice before allowing a device to interrupt a face-to-face conversation. Studies show that these intrusions ruin conversational rapport and can damage personal relationships. Leave space in your schedule for heart-to-heart talks with loved ones and friends.
- Practice the 20-20-20 rule. Set an alarm or time popup for every 20 minutes when you’re working in front of a screen as a reminder to get up from your workstation. It takes 20 seconds for your eyes to fully relax. Every 20 minutes for 20 seconds walk around the room, hydrate yourself, close your eyes or look out a window—perhaps at a tree, squirrel or some aspect of nature.
- Cultivate green time instead of screen time. Make an appointment with yourself and schedule time in nature to recharge your batteries and reset your brain. Indulge yourself with a hobby, hot bath, manicure, yoga, facial, reading or meditation. Just 15 or 20 minutes of personal time can lower cumulative stress and raise your energy level.