Getting Burnt Out by the Internet? 7 Tips to Deal with Digital Burnout
Today I was at the beach. It was a refreshing feeling, seeing the waves and blue sea and hearing the calming waves. While I was there, it made me think about how much of the real world, nature we’re missing out on these days as our world becomes more digitized than ever.
The truth is that I’ve been digitally burnt out of late. With my work being based online, it has caused me to lose much of the human contact that comes with a regular job. My customers and readers know me from online. My interactions with my readers happen through my social media pages or email. Even my coaching and courses happen online as well, through a monitor and headset. The only times I meet someone in person is for a live media interview or very important business meetings, and these don’t happen very often (and they shouldn’t, else I’d have no time to get stuff done).
It became a stifling feeling, being holed up behind four walls and a monitor every day, even if doing so enabled me to connect with other people. While the internet has helped me connect with so many people around the world, while it has brought together the world as one, sometimes I feel that it has made us miss out on some of the finer aspects of life.
If you’re heavily digitized like me, where much of your work/life is dependent on technology, perhaps you are experiencing a digital burnout as well. Today, I want to share 7 tips to deal with digital burnouts — stress or fatigue caused by prolonged use of digital technology.
#1. Set some limits for your digital usage
Let’s face it — it’s not realistic to opt out of digital technology entirely. The web and digital devices have become thoroughly integrated into our (modern) society today, so if you wish to be a relevant member of your society, you pretty much need to be wired and online. Not only that, technology has become an incredibly helpful tool in our life. If not for the internet, I would not be able to reach out to you guys today. If not for the internet, many of us would not be able to easily stay in touch with friends and family, especially if overseas. I know for a fact that Facebook has helped connect long lost friends — even family members! — and this wouldn’t be possible without digital tech. The digital world today isn’t a bad thing; it has enabled us in many ways in work, social, and life.
However, the internet is open 24/7, and without being mindful of our web usage, it’s easy to get sucked into it. For example, there will always be emails to reply to, messages to check, and websites to visit even after 10, 20 hours online, and that’s because the internet is so vast, boundless, with hundreds of millions of people connected at any one time. As such, I recommend to set some limits for your digital usage. For example, check your email only twice a day, unless you are free and want to see if there’s anything new in your inbox or unless your work is based entirely on email like being a customer support officer. Or, stop using the internet after 10pm each day (or at least stop using it for work) and allow yourself to do something different for a change. Or, don’t click into social media sites unless you’ve completed your to-dos for the day.
Setting such boundaries can be helpful as we regain control over our lives and agenda, as opposed to being taken over by social media or the web.
#2. Get a life outside of the web
Because there’s so much activity going on online, sometimes we can feel that being online is our life. That there’s nowhere we need to be, nobody we need to meet because we have the internet.
Yet, don’t confuse the link between these two words: “internet” and “life.” The internet is not your life; it’s a tool that enhances your life. Your life is your life; it’s bigger than what you do online. When you spend too much time at the PC without going out, even if you may be socializing and connecting with many people like I do, you will still feel deprived, unhappy. That’s because the internet is essentially just a network that links people together — it facilitates connection sure, but it can never give us the things we will only get in real life, such as physical connection, face-to-face interaction, the experience of actually seeing and feeling something in person, and contact with nature.
Is there anything you’ve been putting off? Get off your butt and do that. Is there anyone you’ve been meaning to meet? Stop procrastinating and reach out to him/her. Is there anywhere you’d like to be? Get out there and make it happen! Get out of your usual digital routine and live your life as you would while using digital as a tool to aid you, as opposed to sinking into the web each day.
For example, for many months last year I was thinking of going to the beach and being close to nature (or at least as close as I could in a place like Singapore). But I kept putting it off because I kept feeling that there were all these things I needed to do; messages I needed to get to.
I finally did that today after feeling incredibly cooped up and I don’t know what took me so long because all I did was to hop onto a cab, tell the driver where I wanted to go, and wait for 20 minutes while he drove me to my destination. After reaching the beach, I was instantly relieved as I stepped out of the car and walked onto the beach. Wide open space with a big breeze, rippling waves, and a nice blue sky. No whizzing traffic, no people (at least no busy crowds), and no crazy construction noise that has become a staple of the Singapore landscape today. In retrospect, I was deeply missing contact with nature from being holed up working behind the monitor every day for the past few years. Once I was there, I immediately felt inspired to write, and opened up my laptop and started typing. This post is the result.
The web and digital tools are meant to serve you, not engulf you. I challenge you to think about 3 new things to do this week. 3 things you’ve been thinking of doing, but haven’t been doing. These things can be related or non-related to the internet, such as going to the beach, signing up for singing classes, and calling a friend / family member. Once you’ve thought about these 3 things, actually do them.
#3. Opt out of social tools that don’t serve you
With so many social networks and messaging apps these days from Facebook to Whatsapp to Snapchat to Instagram to Twitter, sometimes it feels like we’ve been taken over by them. Think consciously about the social tools you wish to use, while dropping the ones that don’t add value to you.
For example, I know many of you here use Whatsapp, but I personally stopped using it 2 years ago. (Funny because it’s through Whatsapp that I found my husband!) I stopped using it because I was getting too many messages there. My situation is a little unique from the regular user though in that privacy and personal space have become a struggle for me due to the public nature of my work, so I found Whatsapp becoming too invasive for me since anyone could message me once they had my number, without my authorization. I started to have people messaging me on coaching and blog/work stuff, even though the “official” channels to send them should be my email and social media pages, even though we never had any precedent conversation of this sort on Whatsapp. It started to feel like Whatsapp became this work tool where I could never disconnect from my blog activities, when I was previously using it to keep in touch with just my close, personal friends. Add to the fact that it has the whole “Last seen online at X time” and blue tick, message read receipts (at that time you couldn’t turn these off), Whatsapp was killing me.
Similarly, I opted out of Facebook’s personal account a few years ago. It was the same issue where I was getting a lot of individual messages, add requests, and so on from different people including PE readers even though I already have my social media pages for this purpose. In fact, my Facebook personal account had reached the maximum limit of 5,000 friends, most of them readers, and I wasn’t able to add anymore people. The bad thing was that many of the messages I was getting through my personal account seemed to be from readers who couldn’t be bothered to read my contact/FAQs page or to check my articles page for related articles I had written before before jumping in to ask for advice, help. My Facebook account became like a free-for-all, free consultation channel, and it started to drive me crazy with all the messages I needed to check every day.
With both tools, I just stopped using them. With Whatsapp, I just stopped logging in one day. I didn’t even bother to uninstall the app. After I got a new phone, I didn’t install it back. With my Facebook personal account, I emptied out my Facebook contacts, all 5,000 of them — which was sad because it meant losing touch with my ex-colleagues, though I can always message them if I want to — and stopped using it. I still have the personal account because you need one to manage a Facebook page, but it’s nothing more than an empty shell now.
I don’t expect you to drop these tools because the reality is that Whatsapp and Facebook are extremely useful in keeping in touch with friends and family, especially if you/they live overseas. However, it’s good to think consciously about these social tools and the value they add to your life. What tools have you been using? For each tool, has it been serving or draining you? You do not need to use Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, etc. just because other people are using them; you only need to use the tools that add value to your life.
#4. Get rid of push notifications (and alerts)
So this is a gray tip because some may find it useful while some may not.
If you don’t know what push notifications are, they are pop-up messages that an app displays on your home screen to alert you of something, usually an update. Many apps today have push notifications. Social media apps in particular use push notifications to prompt you whenever there is a new message.
Now I don’t know about you but I find push notifications really annoying. I feel that apps and software today cross the line from enabling to distracting when they continually beep and notify you about every single thing. Every beep or notification essentially creates a false urgency to read and respond too — not unlike a Q3 task masquerading as a Q1 task. The user is then tickled to go down the rabbit hole by clicking the alert and following through with the next step, which could be to read and respond to a message (which then creates a feedback loop to keep checking), or to update the app/software, or something else. The worst thing is that these updates can be a weekly affair for software you don’t even use often, or for social media apps, every few minutes, whenever someone messages you.
Before you know it, your life becomes a sum of reactionary responses to alerts on your phone/PC while your time is at the mercy of the next person who decides to text you!
I personally prefer to check an app only when I want to do so, not when it prompts me to (unless there’s some major security patch). Turn these alerts off. All software alerts in my PC are turned off, while with my mobile, all push notifications and Google Play Store’s automatic update settings are turned off. When there’s an app with alerts that can’t be turn off, I uninstall it. Even my SMS icon is not on my home screen because I don’t want to be informed of new messages whenever I check my phone. This has given me a lot of freedom from the false urgency of today’s digital world.
#5. Declutter your PC, mobile
While tip #3 is about opting out of digital tools that don’t add value to you, this tip is about removing clutter from your PC and mobile. For example, bookmarks you have no use for, shortcuts on your home screen that you hardly access, redundant files, and so on.
Just like physical clutter can make it difficult to work, digital clutter makes it hard for us to get things done.
Spend some time to tidy up your PC, mobile. Some things to start with:
- Bookmarks: Remove bookmarks you have no use for. Group similar bookmarks into topical folders.
- Desktop icons: Cut down on desktop icons. My desktop used to be filled with shortcuts to get to certain files quickly. I didn’t realize it, but I became really overwhelmed with all the stuff I needed to do after a while because all the icons were constant reminders of things I needed to do, even though I had already penned them in my to-do list. Many of my shortcuts were also not shortcuts I needed to access regularly, which made it difficult to access my real priority stuff. I recently cut down my icons by two-third and not only do I feel “lighter,” it’s now easier to locate my stuff.
- Software, Apps: Uninstall software/apps you don’t use anymore and likely won’t be using. There’s no need to bloat your PC/device with unwanted apps. If you really need them next time, you can always install them again.
- Digital documents: This one is going to take a while since there are probably many documents in your PC. Break this task up into different parts to be done over weeks. Organize your files, folders, and delete the stuff you have no use for anymore. Create a classification system such that it’s easy to find your digital documents. Even though it’ll take you a while, you’ll find it much easier to navigate your PC once you are done.
- Email: If you don’t already use folders/labels to organize your emails, you should! Read: 11 Essential Tips to Manage Emails Effectively
#6. Unsubscribe from stuff you don’t need
The web has made it easy for us to subscribe any site, business that we like. Before you know it though, you are probably getting dozens of emails each week from services you no longer have use for, or on topics you stop having an interest in.
Be choiceful about who you decide to let into your inbox. I recommend the following:
- Unsubscribe from sites you don’t read. This includes email lists and RSS feeds.
- Unfollow Facebook pages and YouTube channels you don’t visit anymore. Same for Twitter accounts and other social media accounts.
- Create an email filter to delete emails you can’t unsubscribe from. Interestingly, there are still businesses, including supposedly reputable ones, that don’t give you an option to opt out of their newsletter. For example, Amazon insists on sending me bi-weekly emails about their program updates because I’m an affiliate, even when I’ve unchecked all possible mailing options. Their reason is that these are mandatory things I need to know, but the thing is that Amazon is one of the lowest revenue streams in my business to warrant any attention and I don’t understand why they would have mandatory updates I need to know every 2 weeks as opposed to showing them in their portal when I login once a year. Flying Blue, a frequent flyer program of Air France and KLM, also repeatedly sends me emails even though I’ve unsubscribed from all their lists. For such cases, I create an email filter to send their mail straight to trash. On email filters, read: 3 Simple Tips To Achieve Inbox Zero Using Email Filters [Video]
#7. Meet new people
Last but not least, get out there and meet new people.
Even though you can meet loads of people online, digital should always be a tool that facilitates you to meet others, not a tool where you replace physical meetups, I have PE reader meetups when I travel and it’s always an amazing experience meeting PE readers in person, hearing about their background, and learning more about them individually. I remember the wonderful hospitality of the Burton family in UK when they invited me to stay with them in Cambridge and brought me out for punting. I remember the wonderful times with PE-reader-turned-friend Lizette who gave me such an amazing experience in Cape Town, from paragliding to penguin sighting to going up the Table Mountains. I remember living with my wonderful “twin” Phoenicia Falcon with whom I had so many wonderful conversations and who showed me a different side to New York. I remember staying with the lovely Whitney and Kari from Los Angeles who brought me around LA including taking me to Disneyland and Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The internet will not let you connect with people as deeply, or at least not in the same way, as an in-person meetup would. I’ve shared tips to meet new people in this post and this post, so I’m not going to repeat them here. Rather, I encourage you to set aside time to get out there and to meet new people, face to face. You’ll find it fun. You’ll find it exciting. And I’m sure you’re going to find it rewarding. 🙂
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