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Fighting Digital Fatigue

How phones, emails, and Zoom meetings impact our daily lives.

Key points

  • Digital fatigue has numerous implications for our work and relationships.
  • Digital engagement in our work can be effective if we think strategically about how to use our phones, email, and video conferencing.
  • Strategies to recharge from digital fatigue include scheduling shorter meetings and short breaks between them.

We spend five to six hours per day looking at our smartphones. Internet users spend an average of 145 minutes per day on social media. That is a full hour per day more of selfies, doom-scrolling, outrage, and attention panhandling than in 2012! Additionally, the average worker now spends about 21.5 hours weekly in meetings, many on Zoom, Teams, or some other video conference platform.

That is a lot of mute button management, staring at Zoom backgrounds, and seeing others (and ourselves) more close-up than most of us would like! Whether it's work, personal, or family life, we have screens in our hands or in front of us seemingly every waking hour. In many respects, we live our lives through pixels rather than authentic experiences. It can be virtually overwhelming given all the “virtual” that has permeated almost every aspect of our lives.

Digital fatigue is a real thing. That feeling of being tired and burned out from all the screen time in our lives. The endless and sometimes habitual scrolling and texting back and forth limits our attention and can just plain wear us out. We can even see our producvtivity decline while at the same time struggling to disconnect. Virtual meetings are far more intense than those in-person.

Jeremy Bailenson from Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab suggested we exert a higher cognitive load on video conferencing platforms. The excessive amount of eye contact with larger-than-life faces on a screen can be far more taxing than any in-person setting. We just don’t get as close to the other humans in a conference room unless it is a rather intense meeting.

In addition, the stress of looking at ourselves on the screen all day is also taxing. We have not been accustomed to seeing how we look in meetings and when we talk and listen. It can be stressful for many people. Incidentally, the Aesthetic Plastic Surgery National Databank reports that Botox has increased by 54 percent, and filler treatments are up by 75 percent from 2019 to 2020. So we are more beautiful, yet exhausted.

Recognizing that all this screen time is draining is an important first step. Are you feeling more tired and perhaps have a sense of malaise? Do you feel as if you are not as creative as you perhaps once were? Is it tougher to sleep at night because you’re thinking about work? Maybe your social interaction on these platforms has become stale, and you struggle to engage with others verbally. Bad small talk before or after your weekly team meeting? Maybe it’s a dull team, or maybe it’s digital fatigue.

Strategies to Put Down the Device and Recharge

We can be strategic about when we need our devices and when we don’t. Just the presence of your phone, even turned off and face down, can still drain cognitive resources and divert your attention from what is around you. If you are tethered to your devices but feeling overly taxed, try 15 minutes and see how it goes. See if you feel more present and recharged, and make it part of your routine. Expand the time away from your screens as you become more successful. Are there opportunities to engage with others outside of texts and social media? How about a call or a coffee instead? Whether it's work or home life, you can also think about the objectives of the next hour, day, or week ahead and determine when you need the screens in front of you. Continue to find reasons and ways to disconnect from them.

We can also try to be more proactive about our work calendar, scheduling short breaks between meetings to stretch and rest our minds (which does not include checking our phones).

We can also be more strategic about whether we need all our video calls. Some calls can be done via phone, limiting the cognitive load. Shorter meetings are obviously better than longer ones. The reality is that many meetings will take whatever time you allocate. In many cases, the group can get it done in 20 minutes or 60. It’s a matter of how much time you give them. Why not err on the side of 20?

We must decide whether each of the screens, social media sites, and video conference tools is working for us. They either lead us to more productivity and better experiences, or they’re not. We do not have to quit our jobs and leave modern society all for a dopamine fast, but we do have to manage all of these screens and platforms actively…so they do not manage us.


Statista. “How much time on average do you spend on your phone on a daily basis?”Accessed on January 24th, 2021.

Reclaim. (2021, November 2). Productivity trends report: One-on-one meeting statistics: Reclaim. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from

Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue. Technology, Mind, and Behavior, 2(1).

Aesthetic Plastic Surgery National Databank Statistics 2020-2021. Aesthet Surg J. 2022 Jun 22;42(Suppl 1):1-18. doi: 10.1093/asj/sjac116. PMID: 35730469.

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