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Taming The Technostress

By Eileen McDargh

Last week, my big desktop PC crashed, my laptop got the "blue screen: of death". The refrigerator croaked, and the toaster oven went the heaven. My I-phone decided to stop receiving e-mail and the dashboard in my car kept erroneously sending warning messages. It wasn't even a full moon!

As marvelous as all our technology is, chronic malfunctions and crashes and the constant demand to keep up might account for the fact that at least one in four of us will admit to physically assaulting a device. There's even a ratio for judging the attack because the chances of failure are in direct proportion to the urgency of the task they are needed for. Hence the scream heard from my assistant as she tried to get out my summer newsletter before autumn.

It doesn't get better. The 2009 March/April issue of Psychotherapy Networker says that such chronic, unalleviated stress compromises our cognitive and emotional functions as well as undermining our immune system. Nor does it when a workplace (often unknowingly) contrives urgency by leashing employees with PDAs, laptops, pagers, and anything else for instant access and response.

Well intentioned. And ultimately a timewaster and a driver of increased health care costs. What happens is that we continually try to multitask, toggling back and forth, answering the ping of instant messages, and wind up feeling constantly "on". Instead of concentrating on one task, we unconsciously scan for the next message or task, thus spending often 50% more time on one job before taking on another.

Ways to conquer the beast:

  • Manage your energy not your time. You don't run marathons every day yet we try and do the equivalent at our work. Studies of energy suggest a 90-minute rhythm. This means stopping and doing something to recovers your energy expenditure. (Coffee and chocolate don't count. Nor does smoking). Take a 4-minute relaxation break. Walk outside, deep breath, trying biofeedback. Go outside. Drink water. And when it's time-go home without work.

  • Program your computer to delete messages after 30 days. If no one has screamed by then, how important could it be?

  • Send out the equivalent of a "do not disturb" sign, telling folks you will respond from 3-4pm daily. If it's an emergency-call you.

  • Turn off rings, pings, dings, and anything that sings.

  • Distinguish between uninterrupted work time and answer time.

  • Work with your team to determine the important and urgent from the unimportant.

  • Cut the cord. If you continue to remain connected all the time-you have only yourself to blame with the constant barrage of requests.

  • At the end of the day, reset to zero. You did what you could. It's done. Over. Finito. Do not plan tomorrow today. Your brain will start working on it and there goes the sleep.

  • Shut the door of your office. Turn off the computer. Reset to zero. Tomorrow is a new day.

  • Do not take the PDA to bed with you. Give it a rest. Give all of us a rest.

Without boundaries, Tyrannosaurus Techno will win again.

Read other articles and learn more about Eileen McDargh.

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