17 Jul How I Won My Battle With Tech Burnout
Throughout my career, I’ve always worked with technology. Specifically, I’ve had a very close relationship with social media and publishing – essentially a career with a very high likelihood of experiencing information overload. I never used to think it was that bad – I used to read books very easily, be able to concentrate, and generally not get distracted. But advanced phone handsets, combined with a new form of mobile-only social media and always-on email changed all that.
At the end of 2017, I left full time employment for freelancing and to see what that might hold. I’d done it before in 2013, but this time around with a much closer relationship with technology, and already being fairly shot from the last couple of months of work, I struggled to get the concentration necessary to give it a proper go. I procrastinated in the mornings, meaning working days would have to drag into the evening. In my working day, my attention flitted between serious work and social media. I couldn’t read a book, and even more bizarrely, I even began to struggle with listening to audiobooks. My sleeping was not in good shape either.
It was difficult to get anything entrepreneurial off the ground, and after several somewhat circular conversations and incidents of me staring at a computer screen without action, I knew something was wrong. I was burnt out. I told various clients of the fact that I was experiencing tech burnout and decided it was time for action. I couldn’t pretend I could continue at a rate of 50% productivity or worse. So towards the end of March I decided to make a plan to deal with my tech burnout and get back on track.
I took myself away
I could have easily gone to a beach for a week. While that might have helped, I’m not sure holidaying solo would have made me beat my constant phone reaching so I did something out of my comfort zone – I volunteered for a charity in France. There were several benefits to this: I met some new people and there was a sense of camaraderie and togetherness that I’d been missing in my freelance life.
I also had no reason to look at a screen for any real length of time, as I was cut off from any potential of actually meeting who I might have been talking to. I got to sit on the ferry for a few hours and didn’t think about work or technology for three or so days, so experienced something of a digital detox. Another aspect was the contrast between a physical job (I worked in a kitchen and woodyard) against staring at a computer screen all day. This meant I went to bed physically tired and slept well, without my mind whirring or other distractions.
I deleted some apps
Being in France for some reason gave me a ruthless streak when it came to technology. I was away, in a different place and mindset, and I thought to myself, why do I need to be in this Whatsapp group, where we always chat but never really meet? Did I really need an Instagram account? I thought I didn’t and eliminating these things would aid my attention span. So I just did it, didn’t regret it, and overall I think it did help. I got a few messages from friends in the group asking why I’d left. No big deal, I replied, just want a bit of a break from Whatsapp.
I also installed the Facebook News Eradicator on all of my computers, and installed a plugin called Block Site. Top of my list to be banned? Without a doubt for freelancers it’s LinkedIn. In all my experience of social media, I don’t think there’s a bigger time waster than LinkedIn’s feed of meaningless work based fables, success parade of people getting new jobs and largely hot air points of view. It gives the illusion of being useful to freelancers for networking, but in fact is just largely a time sap. I suggest avoiding it in the working day.
I stopped drinking for a bit
I’ve always liked a drink, but if you hit it too hard at the weekends (or indeed in the week) your body and mind is going to be in a constant game of catch-up throughout the week and you’re only really going to sharpen up by Wednesday. Even having a couple of glasses a night will wear you down if you do it regularly enough. Completely dropping alcohol for two weeks was a very fruitful exercise.
I started sleeping far better than previously, and I felt a lot sharper and productive. I couldn’t necessarily keep it up after this short window – and I did start getting a little bored sometimes – but it was worthwhile in getting me out of a rut. If you want to go a bit further than a couple of weeks, then I recommend taking a look at One Year, No Beer.
I did something to overcome tech burnout that gave me a goal
In 2016 I’d done a half marathon, and it was agony. With some trepidation I decided to sign up to another one and train properly this time. I started in early April and had about eight weeks to build up, and incrementally I ran a bit further each week.
On the actual day, I beat my previous time by nearly twenty minutes and felt quite amazed at how far I’d come. I suppose the main thing was that I knew what being unprepared felt like, so I really went for it. Running in the Spring is really very pleasant. I looked forward to the longer runs on Tuesday evening and Saturday morning. A goal doesn’t have to be physical, of course, but it does need to be challenging. I enjoyed the challenge of running longer and longer distances and then beating my personal best.
I pursued creative endeavour
I hadn’t taken up art since school, and felt it was something of a lost talent, so I started doing drawing and painted a mural in my flat. I’d also taken a couple of digital art classes. There is no other activity I know of that stops time like painting. It makes me almost entirely forget about the outside world and feel entirely focused on what I’m doing. Granted, it didn’t help me recover from tech burnout on its own, because I didn’t do it for long enough, but I certainly thought it contributed.
I’m not sure any one of these pursuits on its own would have been enough to give me a full recovery from tech burnout. While they all happened at similar times, they didn’t all overlap. But my own experiences say that making these changes, all added up over a couple of months, brought me my concentration back.