10 hacks to combat technostress

Running businessman has problems and errors with computer

By Wasim Anwar and Daniel Groenewald

You are sitting in a promising presentation when suddenly the presenter’s face turns pale, an icon spins on the overhead projector, the mouse is clicked with murderous enthusiasm, the audio drops out, the screen freezes and the presentation keels over and dies.

“I’m so sorry,” says the presenter. “It was working fine in the office.”

You’ve probably been that presenter or in that audience. Or maybe you are just an empathetic person who can identify with the stress and humiliation that occurs when technology lets you down again and again and again. Maybe you are wondering if this happens inside tech companies (and it does) or why it happens so frequently almost 50 years after we tiptoed across the moon. #Technostress is one of the scourges of our age, and, if we want to live productive, balanced lives, we need to meet it head on.

“Don’t be conned by those utopian videos depicting a future in which we seamlessly exchange ideas via gestures and touchscreens.”

Technostress is the anxiety you experience when the presentation crashes, the internet is slow, the passwords don’t work, the screen is too small, the updates don’t update, the videos don’t download, cables don’t connect, wireless drops out, graphics fail, the emails multiply, the conference call lags, document versions don’t match up, devices can’t communicate, or people check their phones while you are speaking to them.

Technostress is one of the symptoms of busyness. The rise of technologies such as smartphones and ubiquitous Wi-Fi has caused us to expect and demand Instant On. We are living in a culture where we expect web pages to load immediately, laptops to be ready as you lift the lid, and blazingly fast internet connections. The more we crave Instant On, the more technostress we suffer.

“People not only feel less productive but they fail to communicate, connect with others and feel good about their jobs.”

While tech failure is the most visible sign of technostress, tech abuse is another cause. Users cause us and themselves stress when they misuse tech tools. The experience of ‘Death by PowerPoint’, for example, is the presenter’s failure to communicate, not a software limitation. Similarly, lengthy slide decks and cluttered presentations can be annoying but they are design and communication failings.

The misuse of email is another well-known cause of technostress. Common problems include too much detail, the false assumption that what is said in line 100 has been comprehended, cc dobbing, and the witting or unwitting forwarding of sensitive information. Smartphone abuse also causes technostress in that it contributes to constant distraction and low productivity. Instant messaging is a great productivity tool but is limited if intended recipients don’t log on or users spend too much time on non-work chat.

Technostress is costly. People not only feel less productive but they fail to communicate, connect with others and feel good about their jobs.  So what can we do about this?

You could start by switching off. You could go off grid and grow your own chillies – and good luck if you can afford to. But for most of us this is not a reality and we are left tethered to this digital world. As long as we are tethered to it, it serves us well to manage it better. So we have come up with 10 hacks you can use to improve productivity and reduce technostress:

  1. Understand and invest time in your technology ecosystems. Ecosystems have continuity. Building capability in one suite transfers to another.
  2. Arm yourself with tools that fit in your IT ecosystem so that you’re in control.
  3. Do not be at the mercy of other people’s technology. Make presentations standalone and self-contained. Never assume that the place you are presenting in can accommodate your technology. Purchase a bluetooth speaker, click fob, spare battery and 4G dongle. Have a presentation plan B (available on USB or cloud) and access to a spare computer.
  4. Engage in one task at a time, serialise rather than multi-task.
  5. Don’t check email constantly throughout the day. Schedule time to check your email – set a limit of three or four times a day and publicly declare it.
  6. Drop your ego and engage in reverse mentoring. Reach out to younger people for fresh tips and advice, especially around productivity tools. Book in time with them too.
  7. Use the two-minute rule when writing emails – succinct, summarised, actionable/accountable and aimed at the right audience.
  8. Before setting aside an hour for your 1000 word email, talk! Hold shorter meetings, use Instant Messaging with the right audience and then follow up with a summarised email.
  9. Don’t procrastinate. Start a task no matter how large or difficult it may seem. If you make a start, you are more likely to finish.
  10. Plan time to play with technology. You will develop a level of mastery and confidence. You will learn more from voluntary play than forced training.

So don’t be conned by those utopian videos depicting a future in which we seamlessly exchange ideas via gestures and touchscreens. Technostress is real, frustrating and expensive. To combat it, develop your digital mastery, harness your productivity and enjoy some time unplugged.

Our blog is an open platform for leading thinkers right across our business. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) are their own and do not always imply endorsement by the Datacom Group.