Avoiding Burnout in a Mobile-Connected World

*Updated Monday, August 29


I really enjoyed being part of a panel conversation about “Avoiding Burnout in a Mobile-Connected World” presented by the Journalism and Women Symposium, Southern California (JAWS SoCal); Online News Association, Los Angeles (ONA LA); and Women, Action, Media (WAM! LA).

The main topic of the panel was “phone-life balance:” When do we turn off our smartphones, how do we implement strategies to put our phones away, and what are some standards we should both follow, and lead the way in making them the new norm for our over-connected society?

The irony is that even though we are working longer hours than ever, last year we each lost 11 days of productivity. So if we are losing those days anyway, shouldn’t we be using them to focus on our life outside of work, including our health, our families, our pets, volunteer work, travel, hobbies…?

Our values as a society need to shift when it comes to cheering overworking as a good thing. And a big part of that is changing the American workplace in general. It’s starts with each of us, but employers and those in leadership have a big responsibility to recognize the negative effects of burnout. For example, why is it a good thing to check emails at all hours of the day, night, and weekend, when it’s been shown that this makes you less productive? A new study makes it clear that not only does getting emails after work create stress and contribute to burnout, but simply anticipating emails has the same effect.

Rather than looking down on those who do not check email after hours, we should look down on those who do, since it’s counter-productive, inefficient and simply not strategic. There are other ways to communicate, after all, if something urgent does come up — like actual phone calls. Why did we all decide, suddenly, that emails are the only way to go? It isn’t lazy not to continuously check email. It’s smart.

My main message at the panel was, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” If we set rules for ourselves and our homes, and do our best to follow them as much as possible, we’ll go a long way without have to be too hard on ourselves.

My #1 rule that I shared during the panel is not to use phones when I am waiting— anywhere, be it in a line at a coffee shop, waiting for a friend to arrive somewhere, or even at a red light (yes, we all do it). That makes a huge difference in reducing stress and just allowing myself to wait for a few seconds or minutes without needing to do work or be connected.

Then, right after that, is “turning off” time. To be honest, this is the rule I break the most, but I try every evening to stop using by phone (and lap tops/iPads of course, and therefore check email/be online) after around 8pm. This also goes to what Arianna Huffington said at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this year:

“No one with even a remotely interesting job can finish everything they want to do in one day. We need to acknowledge that there are going to be incompletions, but the day is done.”

My third rule (and therefore tip for anyone interested) is to have a “screen-free” weekend every few weeks or months to really unplug. It becomes a habit to reach for our phones, and when you leave them at home or decide not to use them for a whole day or two, you’ll be surprised at how liberated you feel–after the initial twitching.

See, the catch-22 is that a sign of being depleted from the multi-tasking that has come in the digital age with the rise of smartphones is the mindless scrolling we do on Facebook and social media at the end of the night, according to a recent study. So when we over-use our phones, we then use them even more! We have to constantly fight against this, so that our smartphones can be the powerful tools for our careers they have the potential to be, rather than devices that drain us and disconnect us from ourselves, our family and loved ones, and the present moment (ironically).

Some background…

Image credit CassandraRules on Twitter

I wrote about this photo in “Forget Your Phone at Home — On Purpose” earlier in the spring.  And one of my first blog posts here last summer was about The Screen-Free Weekend Challenge.


These photos shared by NBC News at the unveiling of Pope Francis are such a powerful snapshot of the problem. And here’s a similar screenshot from CNN:


I took this photograph at Fenway Park in Boston this June, heartbroken at the site of this young girl playing a game on her phone while at a live summer baseball game in America’s most beloved ballpark:

Michelle Chahine Sinno Photography Fenway Park

It’s up to us to set the standards…

I recommend Arianna Huffington’s latest 2 books for more reading and tips on finding balance in a mobile-connected world:

And these 3 articles: