- Christina Creedel
- BBC Technology reporter
It is no secret that technology is more and more present in our lives, especially since last year.
We use our devices to keep in touch with friends and family, to educate and entertain our children, and, for many, to work from home.
But endless hypothetical interactions have led to what is known as “fatigue zoom,” according to scientists at Stanford University.
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To avoid digital burnout, companies are now trying to design technology solutions that encourage productivity and creativity and allow less time to be spent staring at a screen.
Microsoft introduced a new tool in Outlook that encourages people to shorten meetings and take more breaks.
The settings schedule meetings after five minutes of the hour, so there is a natural lag between calls.
The tool was created in response to research by Microsoft, which showed that back-to-back virtual meetings can cause feelings of stress and distraction.
The researchers performed brain scans of 14 people over the course of four consecutive half-hour meetings, some without a break and others with a 10-minute break between each meeting.
The analysis revealed that the lack of breaks led to a sharp increase in stress levels, especially when switching from one call to another.
“It’s also imperative to take a physical break away from screens, as it can improve our ability to focus,” Nick Hederman, head of subject matter at Microsoft’s UK branch, told the BBC.
He suggests that managers can create a “positive remote working culture” in these settings:
- Shortening the duration of the meetings to 20 to 40 minutes.
- Organizing “team meetings” that are not related to work.
- Schedule audio-only meetings while you walk, to “change the scenery and improve your physical health”.
“If we are aware of our behavior and set clear boundaries and timelines, we can choose to make technology work for us rather than against us,” said Naz Beheshti, former executive assistant to Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs.
His new book is a pause. The same. Choose. Become Your Health CEO Highlights the importance of boredom, a lesson Jobs learned to boost creativity.
In her book, she writes, “The next time you have a gap in your day, stop filling it.”
“Resist picking up your phone or any other electronic devices that may temporarily distract you with something that distracts you, such as the endless update of your social networks.”
An increasing number of scientific studies are showing that phones and notifications have a detrimental effect on productivity and attention.
Research by the University of California, Irvine showed that it took 23 minutes to get back to one assignment after notification. People were able to focus their attention on computers for just 47 seconds on average before switching to another screen, such as a phone.
Research indicates that notifications can take a long time to recover, cause errors, and cause stress.
Both Apple and Google have tried to empower smartphone users, through Apple’s Screen Time feature and Android’s Digital Wellbeing tool.
The user’s device will inform them of how long they have spent on each app and how many notifications they have received.
You can set limits and times and customize notifications.
Also, Google is adding a new feature that will send an alert asking you to search from your phone while you walk.
According to a study from the University of Chicago, without notifications, the mere presence of the phone can reduce the ability to focus.
For those who do not have a desire to turn off notifications, there are technical hardware solutions.
The Light Phone is a simple mobile phone that aims to eliminate the distractions caused by smartphones.
It has very basic features: calls, text messages (and group messages), and alarm.
It can also integrate calculator, simple music player, and streaming tool.
But the phone “will not contain social media, web browsing, e-mail, news, or advertisements,” as the company promised.
Light phone requests have risen sharply during the pandemic as people struggle to check out at home.
“The problem is still there, it is even worse because we are trapped,” says co-founder Kaiwei Tang.
Tang adds that only 50% of Light Phone users use it as their primary phone, and many use it on weekends, vacations, or at night when they want a break.
And for writing or editing documents, reMarkable offers a tech solution … on the laptop.
It looks like a tablet, but it’s like writing on paper. The technology can also convert your handwriting into a text file for emailing.
But because it’s designed to “get you into productivity,” you can’t surf the Internet, receive emails, or even check time.
“It’s not just a device, it’s the opposite of all this,” says Magnus Wanberg, the company’s chief executive.
He says it is “hypocritical” for big tech companies to put the responsibility for limiting screen time on users when devices and algorithms are designed to be addictive.
“Concentration is the rarest commodity we have right now,” he adds.
We realize more and more the importance of not interrupting “in-depth work” [où l’on est vraiment concentré]Professor Duncan Brumby of University College London explains.
“We know that periods of intense work are short-lived and hard to find,” he adds.
So we must use these periods wisely, and disable notifications during these periods. “
But while it can be more productive, these methods of work are not necessarily suitable for everyone.
“You’re at the mercy of your boss” if you don’t answer calls or emails for long periods of time, says Bruce Daisley, a former vice president of Twitter, now an author who writes about work culture face-to-face.
“Almost all modern businesses aren’t ideal for focus,” he adds.