Last Saturday, I said no to a video call with dear friends of mine. It’s not that I wasn’t free, I was just tired from the video chats I’d had earlier in the day. And the flurry of texts I’ve been sending to family members. And emails to colleagues. I was just tired.
With the increase in virtual communication, it’s no wonder we’re suffering from communication fatigue. No matter how you’re doing it, the use of technology to communicate virtually is hard on the brain. Psychologists have been studying this effect for a while now and are discovering that virtual communication reduces the amount of information we can gather from non-verbal cues.
The typical video call impairs all of these cues and requires us to focus intently on the words alone. That requires a lot of brainpower to do. Add in the fact you can really only see a person’s eyes during a video chat, and you’re draining your mental energies even more as you struggle to maintain prolonged eye contact.
Just because it’s easy to stay connected right now doesn’t mean we have to accept every invitation. There’s got to be a better balance between too much technology and no connectivity at all. If you’re struggling to find this balance and maintain your mental health, here are a few ideas on how to stay virtually connected on your terms.
Schedule a Time to Unplug
Connecting with someone is a choice, as is being disconnected. Technology should enhance your life, not dominate or rule it, so you have to take back control. The easiest way to do that is to establish times every day when you unplug.
When You’re Asleep
Turn off your smartphone entirely or at least silence it when you go to bed. Most phones have a “do not disturb” feature, so enable it for your sleep time. We did perfectly fine without notifications during the night before now, and you’ll be fine without them now. Take back your sleep and give your brain the time to rest, relax, and reset.
When You Need to Focus
Productivity experts will tell you to schedule everything important to you, from work to your free time, and even exercise. There’s a reason for that. Most of us struggle to focus on high-value tasks because we’re distracted by things around us. Remove those distractions and close your email, instant messaging apps, and silence all notifications on your smartphone when you need to focus. Try it for all your high-priority tasks you want to accomplish every day, so that you can concentrate properly.
When You Need Time For You
You also need “me” time throughout the day. Try setting aside three times each day for yourself to be present, say morning, midday, and before bedtime. Carving out this time will help give yourself a break from the inputs around you and give you a chance to be present in the moment.
Some people use this time to exercise or meditate. Others go for a walk with the dog or listen to relaxing music. A friend goes for a walk every day with his partner after lunch as a way to get outside, catch up on their days, and just enjoy each other’s presence.
For most of us today, the break before going to bed is the most important one. It helps us process the day’s events, calms our minds and bodies, and signals to our bodies that it’s time to go to sleep.
Think Before You Act
Most technology today comes with all the notifications, alerts, and alarms turned on by default. They seemed like a good idea at the time, but ultimately, they’ve turned us into reacting all the time, which is bad for our health. Take back the control of your devices and decide how you want to respond to them (if at all.)
Decide when to respond to messages: When you receive a text or email alert, you’re not obligated to interrupt what you’re doing to check it, much less respond immediately. Check it when you’re ready.
Turn off your ringer: Likewise, you don’t have to answer every call that you get. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message and maybe even try again later.
Say no to a few meetings: The meme about how “this meeting could’ve been an email” is valid for a reason. We schedule meetings today for every little decision or idea and disrupt everyone’s productivity. Try canceling all your meetings and see what happens to your productivity levels. Only bring back the meetings that have a clear agenda and solve an important problem for your business.
Now that you’ve learned how to stay virtually connected on your own terms, are you ready to do it? Maybe not all at once, and that’s okay. Take it one step at a time, and you’ll start to see a difference. Encourage your friends, families, and colleagues to do the same. You’ll all be amazed at how much better you feel once you’ve taken control of how you connect.