Money & Business

Four Ways to Fight Digital Burnout

By / Aug 21, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Taking time off from the internet when feeling overwhelmed is a growing trend. You may not be able to unplug completely, but these tips can help to keep digital burnout at bay.

David Roberts is quitting the internet.

Starting on Labor Day weekend, the popular environmental writer for Grist says he’s taking a year off from using the World Wide Web. No more blogging. No email. No tweets or likes. Roberts says he won’t even be checking news sites.

Few of us can imagine disconnecting for a full year—or even a month. But there are more practical ways we can soothe the burnout.

He’s not alone. Taking a hiatus from the bits and bleeps of the online world has turned into a digital-age trend piece that includes The Verge’s Paul Miller, who just returned from a yearlong internet sabbatical. Writer-comedian Baratunde Thurston declares in the most recent issue of Fast Company, “I have left the internet.”

Why are these digital savants going unplugged? All three men use the phrase “burnt out” and then describe in lengthy detail the endless amount of email and social media they digest each day. Roberts claims he can’t even spend 30 seconds going to the bathroom without tweeting.

Many of us can sympathize. We are strapped at the hip with smartphones or tablets, bombarded with email that never seems to stop filling our inboxes, and expected to tweet smart responses to every major news story.

Few of us can imagine disconnecting for a full year—or even a month. But there are more practical ways we can soothe the burnout. Here are four of them:

1. Respect the weekend. You don’t need a yearlong sabbatical to recharge your digital batteries. A weekend will do. The productivity blog WorkAwesome calls this a “mini digital sabbatical” and offers five steps to prepare for one, including putting the date in your calendar and making a list of the offline activities you intend to do. When the time comes, unplug your modem, put away your laptop, and turn off your smartphone. Another tip: Turn on your email’s auto-reply and post a tweet letting your followers know that you will be offline until Monday.

2. Change your tone. One of the things Roberts writes about his burnout is this: “I spend each day responding to an incoming torrent of tweets and emails.… I snark and snark and snark. All day long.” Instead of taking time away from the internet, try taking a different approach. Replace your sarcasm with sincerity, and you may find yourself feeling better about the time you spend online. A recent Time magazine story suggests that this is the future of online interaction: “Bloggers have traditionally turned to sarcasm and snark to draw attention. But the success of sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, whose philosophies embrace the viral nature of upbeat stories, hints that the web craves positivity.”

3. Take a break. When you start to feel the pressure and anxiety of working online, step away from the computer. Self-help blog Lifehacker advises to remove yourself from things that are associated with work, such as your laptop or smartphone. One of the easiest ways to do that is exercise. In FastCompany, HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes says, “I take time out of each day to bike, do yoga, or rock climb. It’s pretty impossible to check your iPhone in downward dog or while scaling a rock face.”

4. Set consequences. Force yourself to ditch the smartphone during dinner or family time by making yourself accountable. One of the ways to do that is to start an internet tariff. Atlantic Wire says this is like a swear jar—you drop money into a jar every time you check Facebook or email. Another way to enforce human interaction when eating out is to play the phone stacking game: At the start of dinner, everyone stacks their phones face down on the table and no one is allowed to pick them up. If anyone gives in, they pick up the tab.

How do you fit mental health breaks into your routine? Let us know your take in the comments below.

Chris Brandon

Christopher Brandon is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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