person tired at work yawning

Over the past four years of sharing how companies can work well and live well, we’ve mostly tried to keep our content succinct, actionable, and applicable to organizations of all kinds. While we share examples from our own work experience, we typically don’t get too personal.

But as we approach one year of a global pandemic–with all the hopes we have for the end of the pandemic and an increase in civil discourse–we’re tired. We’re overwhelmed. We’re reeling from current events. We’re running on empty and often feel like we’re bathing in the stress of working and raising families in the midst of a pandemic.

Any chance you are, too?

Almost two years ago, we did a blog series on rest–the importance of taking intentional time away from work that is truly restful (not work masquerading as rest). Stopping the cycle of overwork to take a break, whether for an hour, a weekend, or a long vacation, was hard enough in 2019. Now, in the era of remote work, distance learning, and social distancing, it feels downright impossible. 

One reason we feel so much less rested in a remote work environment–even when we can cut out time-consuming tasks like a commute–is the concept of information overload. We’ve come to rely on technology more than ever to help us work remotely, but along with all that software like Zoom and Slack comes an endless barrage of notifications to read, requests to organize, and snippets of conversation to keep up with. Our day is full of dings and vibrations nagging us to look at just one more message, while little red marks on apps scream at us to check them. 

This overwhelming amount of information–no matter how trivial it may seem–gives us “analysis paralysis,” overwhelming our brain with endless ideas, tasks, links, and meetings to keep organized. Instead of taking time to sort through it all (time we often don’t have), we store it all up in our brain.

For example, take 10 seconds to peek at how many browser tabs you have open right now. More than 10? More than 20? Even the effort it takes to sort through what tabs you actually need to come back to later and what can be closed out can feel monumental. 

The Importance of Mental Rest

If you’re feeling worn out by all that extra information, you’re not alone. When it comes to feeling rested, getting 8 hours of sleep at night isn’t enough. Research shows that there are actually seven types of rest, with physical rest being just one of them. Another often-overlooked but critical type of rest is mental rest.

And that’s the exact kind of rest we’re not getting in the age of too much information. If you have a constant swirl of thoughts running through your head, fueled by a barrage of information from work, our 24/7 news cycle, and social media, you’re probably feeling exhausted. 

According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a physician and work-life integration researcher, “the good news is you don’t have to quit your job or go on vacation to fix this. Schedule short breaks to occur every two hours throughout your workday; these breaks can remind you to slow down. You might also keep a notepad by the bed to jot down any nagging thoughts that would keep you awake.”

Getting those thoughts out of your head is the first step to reduce mental exhaustion. But organizations can make changes to their workday structure to reduce information overload and protect their teams’ mental health, too. 

First, consider implementing norms around how your team communicates. If instant messaging between colleagues is more distracting and draining than helpful, find another virtual communication tool that limits the sharing of unnecessary information. (We’re not trying to get rid of opportunities for colleagues to collaborate or interact as humans, but it can be difficult to keep track of requests that come in from multiple channels.)

Some other ways to reduce information overload and streamline communication:

  • Provide opportunities for deep work–uninterrupted times for focus without distraction
  • Consider implementing company-wide hours when team members are encouraged to set their status to “do not disturb” and turn off notifications
  • Create a norm where team members must check shared calendars before scheduling meetings so they don’t interrupt blocks of time scheduled for deep work

Finally, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember that your team is made of humans who are just as distracted by current events as you are. Give everyone an extra dose of grace if they’re having difficulty focusing, and create opportunities for mental rest both within the workday and outside of it. This is a time to prioritize restoring humanity to the workplace, and helping everyone–including yourself–get the rest they need will pay dividends into the future.