Working remotely? Isn’t it strange how tired you feel at the end of the workday, even without leaving the house? You might even still be in your pajamas. You’re certainly clocking fewer steps on your smartwatch. Yet, you feel like your brain is completely fried.
If that sounds like you, you’ve probably fallen victim to screen fatigue.
Even before the pandemic, it was recommended to limit screen time. But now, our meetings are virtual, our social gatherings are virtual, even our workouts are virtual. There’s no escape.
And what choice do we have? Screens are currently our only window into a sense of normalcy.
Luckily, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to fight screen fatigue, even while working remotely. But it’s first important to understand why these changes are necessary.
Why It’s So Important to Fight Screen Fatigue
Despite the annoyance of feeling totally exhausted at the end of the workday, there are quite a few long term effects too much screen time can have on our bodies.
A study done by researchers at Arizona State University revealed that heavy screen users reported the poorest health-related characteristics, compared with moderate and light users. The study defined a heavy user as those who average 17.5 hours of screen time a day. Moderate and light users averaged roughly 11.3 and 7 hours of screen time per day, respectively.
Clearly, screens don’t have a lot of health benefits. But they can also be the cause of some alarming conditions.
Screen Apnea is a side effect of too much screen time, where users actually hold their breath or breathe shallowly while working in front of a screen. Posture is often affected while sitting in front of a screen, which can lead to breathing difficulties. When left untreated, Screen Apnea can lead to other stress-related illnesses, and more commonly lead to work burnout.
Another common symptom of screen fatigue is known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), where you experience eye strain, redness, or blurred vision. Most of us have probably experienced some of these symptoms at one point or another. Studies actually indicate that 50 to 90 percent of screen users have suffered from one or more of these symptoms.
Zoom fatigue is a somewhat new phenomenon that has stemmed from the rise of virtual meetings. Whether you spend your remote office days on Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, or you’re taking online classes or even teaching them, Zoom fatigue is said to leave you exhausted both mentally and physically, and can also lead to career burnout.
Left untreated, excessive screen time and screen fatigue can turn us into unhealthy, grumpy, and exhausted versions of ourselves. And with remote working and virtual meetings not expected to go anywhere anytime soon, it’s crucial we learn as a society how to combat these negative effects.
So we did some research, and come up with these 10 recommendations to help you fight screen time fatigue even while you continue to work remotely.
1. Work in a Brightly Lit Room
Sometimes reducing screen fatigue is as simple as making an adjustment to your work environment. A lot of people think working in a dark room while on their devices is better for their eyes. But that actually can do more harm than good.
When the lighting in your room differs from the level of light coming from your screen, more strain is actually put on your eyes as they try and focus. The contrast in lighting puts extra strain on your vision. By working in a well-lit room, you’ll even out the light sources and reduce eye strain. But don’t go overboard, working in too much light will do the opposite, still causing that contrast you’re looking to avoid.
The best bet is to utilize natural light from the window. This will do more than just protect you from your computer screen, but also provide some health benefits. But if your home office doesn’t have any windows nearby, consider using a desk lamp that provides efficient lighting, without causing a glare on your computer’s screen.
2. Utilize Light and Brightness Settings on Devices
Because screen time has become ingrained in our culture, devices have been designed to be made with internal settings that can help reduce screen fatigue.
Blue light filters are one new but common setting. Blue light is a harmful wavelength of light that can deteriorate eye strength, causes headaches, and pretty much any of the other symptoms of screen fatigue.
It’s a similar concept to UV light, which causes sunburns, except blue light harms the back of the eyes instead of the outside of the skin.
Blue light filters warms the tone of light being emitted from your device. Apple calls this setting “Night Shift” while PC’s call it “Night Light”. Both can be found under the “settings” on your device.
If you have an older device, you can still download an app or program that offers that same effect. Here are some of our favorite free tools:
Another option on newer devices is what’s known as “dark mode”. But if you’re not careful, “dark mode” settings can have the opposite effect. Only use dark mode when you are in low-light conditions. This will cut the glare from your screen and give you more comfortable viewing. Don’t use it in lighter conditions though, especially if reading long lengths of text. Reading off of a dark screen requires the pupils to dilate to see better. Your vision is sharpest when your pupils are constricted, so when your eyes are dilated you're actually straining them to see better.
So you’ll want to be careful with dark mode, but when used wisely it can have benefits to eye strain and thus screen fatigue.
3. Invest in Blue Light Glasses
You can protect your eyes even further from blue light by investing in a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
These types of glasses have built-in protecting lenses that limit the amount of blue light that filters through, thus decreasing the amount of blue light your eyes have to process. Plus, you can get creative and invest in a pair of branded or custom blue light glasses. That way you can show off some of your company’s spirit while working and protecting your eyes. Our favorite pair comes in 22 different colors and has the ability to be customized with fun designs, patterns, or themes.
If you wear prescription glasses, you can also look into including blue light blocking technology right into your lenses. This might be a great option if your remote work environment isn’t’ expected to change anytime soon.
4. Use the 20-20-20 Rule
Ever heard of the 20-20-20 rule? Developed by eye specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, the rule suggests taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes by looking at something 20-feet away. Interestingly enough, Dr. Anshel says that the basis of the 20-20-20 rule actually came from studies of musculoskeletal disorders, where shorter, more frequent breaks provided significant benefits. Anshel adapted this theory to the visual system, and his “rule” is now widely recommended by the American Optometric Association.
Here are some tips to help you implement the 20-20-20 rule during your workday:
- Set an alarm for every 20 minutes.
- Get up and stretch.
- Take off your shoes and dig your toes into the carpet for 20 minutes.
- Look out the window.
- Get yourself a drink or a snack.
5. Take Tech-Free Breaks
When you do take a break, it’s important to put the technology down. It might sound pretty obvious, but most of us probably don’t do it. What do we normally do when we’re eating lunch or stepping away from the work email? Scroll through our social media pages, online shop and watch YouTube videos?
And most of us are probably guilty of having days where we just eat our lunch at our computer screens. It might seem like we’re being more efficient, but screen fatigue will eventually catch up.
Consider stepping outside for a walk, reading a book, or just looking out the window for a moment of peacefulness. You’d be surprised at the benefit that just 15-20 minutes away from technology can provide.
6. Maintain Good Posture
It’s amazing how much posture can affect both your physical and mental well being. What’s even more, your posture and your eyes are actually very much connected. By sitting properly, you’ll be amazed at how much better your eyes feel at the end of the day.
So what’s good posture look like? Let’s take the advice of optometrist, Mark Kahrhoff. He says it’s important to have the computer positioned at a downward angle.
“A downward gaze helps bring the eyelid down and helps eliminate the chances of being affected by drafts,” which Kahrhoff says can contribute to dry eyes.
Kahrhoff says when you sit at your computer, your feet should be flat on the floor, with your wrists slightly elevated, and not resting on your keyboard. You definitely shouldn’t be slouching, as that can create muscle tension and restrict blood flow to your eyes.
7. Refrain from Multitasking on Video Meetings
So we already talked a little bit about Zoom fatigue. Unfortunately, when working remotely it’s kind of hard to avoid the virtual meeting. But there are some things you can do during meetings that can not only help alleviate your eyes, but also cut down on the fatigue virtual meetings combined with screen time can bring.
Multitasking is one main driver of Zoom fatigue. It makes sense, right? During regular in-person meetings, you don’t multitask because you can’t. Not only would the boss disapprove, but it’s just plain disrespectful.
But during virtual meetings, when you have the benefit of hiding yourself from view, it can be very tempting and easy to work on other tasks. But multitasking is said to decrease quality, cost up to 40% of your productivity, and put additional stress on your already taxed out brain.
So treat your virtual meetings just like you would an in-person meeting. Give the leader your full attention, and use it as a break from your daily tasks.
8. Hide the Self-View on Virtual Meetings
Another virtual meeting tip? Hide the self-view on your screen. You can still have your camera on so the other person can see you, but removing it from your own view gives your brain one less thing to focus on.
Think about it. We’re not used to staring at ourselves while we talk to people. So it’s unnatural to constantly be looking at ourselves during virtual meetings. It often causes unneeded anxiety. Some people might not like how they look at that moment, and then that’s all they are thinking about. Other people are constantly worried they might not come across as attentive, so they are constantly checking up on themselves in that tiny box.
Maybe you don’t find yourself doing either of those things during meetings, and you’re very good at ignoring yourself. I’d still suggest you try hiding your self-view. You might be surprised at how big a difference it can make.
Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and WebX all let you easily hide your self-view. If you’re using a platform that doesn’t have this feature, consider blocking it off with a piece of tape or a post-it note. It might seem silly, but you’d be surprised at the benefits.
9. Use the Phone
Sure, video calls are nice and all. But not every conversation has to be a video call. Consider picking up your phone, stepping outside and away from your screen, and grabbing a notebook for a change of pace.
This will not only give your eyes a break from your device, but it will give your mind a change of pace as well. Listening to someone’s voice is a different function for your brain, and can offer a break from all the visual stimulants that video calls offer.
Of course, some meetings are just better for video. We can’t deny the benefits of being able to read colleagues’ facial expressions. But if you have meeting after meeting scheduled on your calendar, consider giving yourself a break and taking one call on the phone.
Most video call services offer a dial-in option, so you don’t even have to change the platform. Just dial in on your phone, let your meeting attendees know you’re taking a “video break”, and get on with the agenda.
10. Call it Quits at the End of the Day
Finally, the best thing you can do to prevent screen fatigue and overall work burnout is to simply call it quits when it’s time to quit.
According to a report published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the average workday increased by 48.5 minutes in the weeks following global lockdowns. Cut out the time to commute, and the fact that your office is always accessible, it can be very hard to put work away when working remotely. But if you’re always working, screen fatigue, Zoom fatigue, and overall burnout are inevitable.
Quitting at the end of the day is easier said than done. But here are some ideas that might help:
Consider keeping up your old routines. If you use to spend time driving to work, consider spending that time listening to music and drinking coffee, just as you would commuting. Instead of working extra hours during that time, this can be an easy way to give your mind a break without losing efficiency.
Do the same thing at the end of the day. This is a great way to unwind and separate yourself from the “office”.
Physically put your computer away. Don’t just leave it sitting on your kitchen table, or someplace where it’s easily accessible. This can help avoid the temptation of opening it up and checking your email.
Consider removing your work email from your phone. If that’s not possible, put in on “Do Not Disturb” during after-work hours.
Finally - Just Disconnect
Sure, we recognize that working from home also comes with challenges that might require you to work abnormal hours. But being mindful about the amount of time you work is always important. If you find yourself clocking in 11-hour days several times in a row, it could be time to try some of the above methods, and really concentrate on quitting when it’s time to quit.
When all else fails, stepping away and giving yourself a much-needed break might be the best way to fight screen fatigue, prevent burnout, and keep yourself feeling productive even while remote.