7 Tips to reduce digital fatigue

Our world has shrunk. Daily living before COVID-19 and lockdown meant moving around, driving, using public transport, being in traffic… whatever your mode of commute is. At the office or workplace, there was constant navigation between different spaces. You moved from your desk to a meeting room, cafeteria, bathroom, someone else’s desk, another meeting room, kitchen, printer, etc. The reality is that there was constant visual- (seeing) and auditory (hearing) variety while your body was physically (moving) between these spaces, regardless of your type of work or your working environment.  The current reality looks quite different: your working world is now about the size of your computer screen and its immediate surrounding space… and it is pretty small. Your eyes are in another kind of lockdown on your screen, particularly when you are in digital meetings. And your ears are trying to contest with the distractions of your screaming toddler, a hungry teenager (in my case), a barking dog, an irritable spouse, etc. This is happening while you are seated for much longer times than usual and your body is just not moving as much as it used to. 

The obvious result is a higher level of fatigue, headaches, joint strains and other physical body complaints.  Not to even mention the stress, irritation, mental pressure and anxiety coupled with it. Our bodies are taking physical strain and our minds are taking mental strain. That is an unfortunate fact. 

As sensory beings, we interact through our 7 senses in a dynamic way with our world. This constant navigation helps us to obtain a modulated response in how we focus, behave and emotionally respond. We need the ebb and flow of daily living through varied sensory stimulation to be our best.  With this in mind, we are using our specialist knowledge of neuroscience and sensory processing to add some practical insights into how you can make your digital world less stressful… and continue being your best: 

  1. Lower your expectations and don’t try to be the best at everything. We are all trying to juggle homeworking, managing our kids in a whole new way, homeschooling (and we are parents, not teachers), living in restricted and limited environments while trying to keep ourselves and our families together in one piece. 
  2. We are experiencing an influx of information and technology overload. Listen to your body and be mindful of the signals it is sending you. Are you feeling dizzy, lethargic, or tired? Do you have a headache? Are you feeling anxious? Your body will provide you with signals to show you if something is wrong.  Make a note, write down how you are feeling, the time of day and what you were busy doing before it happened. It helps to be more in tune with what is going on, reading your own signals and making the necessary adjustments before it turns bad. 
  3. How to maximize your auditory processing and reduce auditory overload:
    -For meetings, use a headset or earphones, particularly when you don’t have a quiet, designated workspace. It will reduce distractions for you as well as your online colleagues or audience. Sounds get amplified in online meetings and you might be conveying a different message than what you intended.
    -Test your microphone and sound prior to meetings. Set a volume that is comfortable for you.  Navigate between sound muted or unmuted where necessary. Mute your microphone particularly when there is an increase in background noise and if you are sneezing, coughing or drinking water. And obviously don’t eat anything when on a call. Not even gum… it looks and sounds dreadful.
    -Disable any sound notifications to reduce noise levels. It is extremely irritating to hear another person’s constant ping. And although intended to be background noise, the sound will be amplified for the others on the call. It will help everyone to be more focused and less distracted.  Have designated times when you check your email and messages to avoid constant interference while on calls or working on a task.
    -You can also revert to using the chat box instead of speaking when your microphone isn’t working when there are too many distractions or if you just don’t trust your voice at any given time. It does interfere with the level of human interaction but will reduce auditory overload.
  4. How to maximize your visual processing and reduce visual overload:
    -Check your positioning in the room for maximum use of light. Be mindful that the light should not be from behind as it will be difficult for others to see you clearly.  It is ideal to have incoming light from your front, i.e. sit in front of an open window. An alternative is to have a side lamp on your desk shining on your face.  Light will help you work better but also make you more visible and easier to see for your colleagues and thus improve human interaction.
    -Make sure your desktop and screen(s) are cleaned up and tidy. Clean your screen, reduce your icons and/or group them. Work with as little on-screen clutter as possible. Limit the number of tabs you have open. Set bookmarks for quick and easy access to your most-used apps or websites.
    -Set your screen brightness and type of background to your liking.  An image that provides joy and calmness is ideal. Some people prefer to have a single colour as a desktop background.
    -Having meetings without video is very impersonal and reduces human interaction. If WiFi connectivity is an issue then videos are disabled but it is always a pity and preferable to have it enabled. We have to work much harder to be “human” through our digital channels to make it as real as possible help. That includes showing off your face and your voice.  So make sure you are dressed and groomed properly. No pyjamas, no bed head, no beach clothing…
  5. How to maximize movement and self-regulate your body:
    -Movement breaks will be your number one priority to save your energy and lower your fatigue. The brain is designed to tap into movement brain breaks in order to function and focus optimally.  A water bottle next to you helps to hydrate you and then increases the need for bathroom breaks. The best and most effective self-regulation tool!
    -Having movement breaks between meetings is non-negotiable. If you go from meeting to meeting you are going to start talking rubbish as your brain will dip into fatigue. Even a quick leg stretch (2-5 minutes) can help. You can always negotiate with your meeting members to all have a quick stretch in longer meetings and return at a designated time.
    -Don’t have a movement break while you are on a call and move around excessively.  You will make the other people seasick, particularly if they are visually sensitive and in sensory overload. You can shift your body or move your position but don’t walk around with your phone or laptop while talking. If you do need to display anything to your group, make sure to keep your phone or laptop as steady as possible.
  6. Scheduling and time management for online working will depend on the amount of control you have over your schedule. Where possible keep 1-1 online meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes, group meetings to a maximum of 60 minutes and webinars or training to a maximum of 90 minutes. When the group is bigger, there will be less focus on one particular individual which makes it easier to go for longer periods of time. If you can negotiate schedules with your work colleagues, family and children that is ideal.  Sticking to a routine for homeschooling your children will not only make their lives but also yours much easier. Kids need and love routine. Therefore try and create a clear routine at home during the lockdown. And write it down or draw simple pictures so it makes it easier for them to follow.
  7. Sensory styles are a great way to help us understand our environments and navigate best. We are all unique and different. We process the world differently. What works for some won’t work for others. Sensory sensitivity and avoiding behaviours occur for 25% of the population: this group will most likely get overloaded faster by their digital environment. They will take more care and effort to reduce overload. Sensory-seeking behaviours occur for 36% of the population: they take longer to get overloaded. However, they usually realize it too late and they are more likely to crash “unexpectedly”. For 39% of the population, the environment has a neutral impact: they can navigate fairly easily and are flexible within their work- and online environments.  This is the beauty of human genes and makeup. Completing your Sensory Matrix™ will help you to be more in tune with your needs and make your accommodations personalized. 

 

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

7 Tips to improve your remote working environment

Covid-19 is forcing us to rethink the way we engage in the real, physical world. The power of technology and connectedness has never been more prominent than now. As a team, we have always worked virtual and support a flexible, home working approach for employee productivity and wellbeing. In the sensory overloaded world we operate in, flexible remote working practises have saved many of our clients from the brink of burnout in the past.  So let’s see this as the positive take on Covid-19. It will force us to use the tools that have been right in front of our noses the whole time. This time not by choice (we hope you do) but by necessity (you know you must)! 

Here are our 7 tips to be successful when working online

  1. Your work environment should firstly be comfortable and conducive. Use a desk and proper chair – your bed or couch is not conducive for long periods of sitting still and can create unnecessary strain on your back, wrists and/or other body parts.  Create an “office space” for you at home. No clutter, no mess, clean, tidy and comfortable. Although others won’t necessarily see it, you do and you need to like what you see. 
  2. Stable WiFi and good online systems are critical. It will ensure smooth and easy connections.  There is a variety of systems to meet, chat, collaborate and act. We use G-suite, Zoom, Trello, WhatsApp and Hangouts but there are various options. It is just amazing how connected you can be without being in the same physical space as others. Just ensure you agree on standard operating procedures to use the systems to avoid duplications, irritations or uncertainty when you work in a team.
  3. A distraction-free environment is important. Firstly, to help you to stay focused, ensure there is no annoying background noise. You can play your favourite playlist for sustained focus. I find Mozart, classical and instrumental playlists extremely helpful. They improve my level of focus by ± 30% and as a result, I get more work done. Secondly, when on a call you have to switch off all background noises. Switch off your music and keep the dog outside. Screaming toddlers won’t be appreciated by your audience. Disable the sound alerts on your phone or pc as they can be highly annoying for your team or audience on the other end. Mute your microphone when you are unable to control the noise and you are not speaking at that particular time. 
  4. Good, proper lighting is important to boost productivity and focus. Use as much natural lighting as possible as it boosts productivity more than artificial lighting. Open your blinds or curtains to allow for more light but not to the detriment of glare. The potential is to change your desk position to allow for more natural light this way. Play around with options. If you develop eye strain or headaches relook your lighting sources.
  5. Sitting for hours and hours in your home office will have the same detrimental impact on your brain and focus levels when at work. Build stretch breaks into your home working day. Using the movement senses will improve your focus and alert levels and help you to have longer periods of productivity. 
  6. You are not having a pajama party! While it can be tempting to move from your bed to your desk in your pj’s… don’t. Brush your teeth, comb your hair and dress as if you are going in to work.  Your body and attire will prepare your mind for focused work. The unsaid and unseen have great power in our output and attitude. 
  7. Last but not least, having self-awareness and self-insight into your natural rhythms and working style will take your home working productivity to the next level. The Sensory Matrix™ is our online assessment tool to provide insight into which sensory stimuli are distracting for you and which sensory stimuli are calming. Knowing how to build these insights into your day-to-day working environment will create lasting energy and focus.  Most of my own team have low thresholds (they are roots of our Sensory Tree™) and can work week in and week out at home. I have high thresholds (the leaf of the Sensory Tree™) and find home working environments boring after a while. I need the vibe and stimulation of other people and different spaces. I will then arrange a meeting in a coffee shop and usually love it when I can go out and deliver services to clients. Understanding this unique diversity in our team has helped to ensure we are aligned optimally to the tasks needed. 
  • Click here to do our FREE Sensory Quiz™ to determine whether you are sensory sensitive or sensory seeking.
  • Click here to buy the comprehensive Sensory Matrix™ with a 26-page report on your unique assessment scores, insights and strategies.
  • Click here to find out more about our online workshop Work from home effectively to learn how to be most productive at home.