Technostress – The Freelancers Disease?

The phrase Technostress is being bandied about all over the shop at the moment. The English Wikipedia defines it as: Technostress is, in many ways, the resistance to change that accompanies newly introduced machines to work, home, and leisure situations.

In Spain, however it has slightly different connotations, and almost the opposite could said to be true. Technostress has been linked to those of us who are constantly on. Like me and perhaps like you. Those people who live with their smart phone or iPad or laptop switched on 24/7. We all know of people who seem to spend their entire day Tweeting, and we hate them for it. Stones and glasshouses are never a good mix.

Technostress – The Freelancers DiseasePhoto Credit: Jody Rodgers

When you work for yourself it’s hard to switch off. How many articles have you read on time management, and how many times have you tried to implement their suggestions? How long passes by before you slip back into your old ways? In my case, not long. As I’m writing this I’m using the Pomodoro method. I’ll let you know if this helps me to stay focused, and how long I end up using it for…

In our bid to concentrate solely on work we are forever seeing helpful lists similar to this one:

  • Turn off all social sites and apps.
  • Turn off your email.
  • Try the Pomodoro Method (or similar).
  • Close all programmes not in use.
  • Close the door.
  • Tell everyone to bugger off!

keep out, working imagePhoto Credit: Space Ritual

Now all these things are great when you’re in an office environment, but what happens when you leave the office? Do you keep your work email switched off? Do you shut down your Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but one thing’s for sure, the “niggle” is there, at least for most of us.

We need to know if that client has got back to us, we need to know if we’ve reached number X with our Twitter followers. Worst of all, there are some clients who expect us to be waiting for their email, regardless of the day or hour. We need to educate ourselves, before we can educate others about limits and boundaries.

The danger in always being on, is the level of stress it can create. We don’t allow ourselves to pause for breath, or to appreciate the little things in life that are passing us by. Being a freelancer is supposed to bring greater freedom, so what happened?

There’s no doubt that working for oneself holds endless benefits. One benefit we don’t have however, is the ability to close the door at the end of the day and to think, “great, I don’t have to worry about work until tomorrow morning”. I know this isn’t the case for all freelancers, but for many of us the office is usually open 24 hours, if only in our heads.

My partner has a job that can be very stressful at times, but she is perfectly capable of switching off when she leaves at the end of the day. So where’s the trick, what’s the answer? What do freelancers need to learn from office workers?

Nothing! Technostress is bigger than work related technologies. It doesn’t care who you work for or where you work! It can strike at anyone. Office workers feel the “itch”, the same as we do. They need to check if their best mate has added them to their list of friends via whichever social media site they happen to be using that week. They’re as addicted as we are, and while it may not be work related, the result is the same. Technological addiction to get through the day.

checking Facebook account on phonePhoto Credit: Mehfuz Hossain

If some big bully came along right now and took away your smartphone, iPad, laptop, and computer, how would you get though the day? Would you curl up in the corner, or would you stand tall, punch your fist defiantly in the air, and chant, ‘yes I can!’. Right now I’d probably be the former person. I need my gizmos, I need to be connected… but I also need a life.

So what’s the cure? Social media blackouts? Throwing our smartphones in the bin? Leaving the laptop at the office? Are we so weak that we even need to cancel our home internet connections?

It must come down to strength of character. It can’t have anything to do with the amount of money we make, or our field of expertise. Us freelancers cover pretty much the entire spectrum when it comes to salaries. Whether we earn 8.000€ or 80.000€ the “itch” to be on is there. We need to know! What exactly is it that we need to know? What are we missing out on? No doubt there are already studies on the phenomenon that is Technostress, but I’m just a lowly designer who needs to get some of his life back. I don’t have time for studies or psychiatry sessions, I need to find out how many visitors have seen my latest portfolio update!

You won’t find any bullet point advice here, there are plenty of great articles around that offer ways to “Work Smart”. I don’t have any spectacularly impressive advice that will stop you in your tracks. I am simply becoming more “aware” of my interaction with work outside the office, and it needs to stop. This is my cry for help, and a call to arms.

I have only ever really had one golden rule with regards to freelancing. Never open work email outside office hours. I managed to maintain that rule until very recently, perhaps this was related to setting up the new studio, perhaps I’m more worried about closing projects. The simple fact is that I broke my only sacred rule, and that interferes with my personal life. I have a family and my health to think about, perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but I would like to keep these things both intact and separate.

Is it possible to draw a big thick line on the ground, and say “right, this is where it ends”?

don't cross this linePhoto Credit: Conrad Rutkowski

I don’t want my life to be my work, hell I’m a freelancer! There is no better way to work… and live. I don’t want to be that person who is only capable of work, who has to check visitor stats while I’m playing with my daughter in the park. That wasn’t why I started in this business, right?

No easy answers, no advice and no where else to go, so what am writing this article for? This is my couch session, and its it’s free. I know I’m not the only one who suffers from Technostress, and I know that numbers are on the rise.

Workloads increase, and new technologies get their claws deeper and deeper into our apple-like souls, with their only goal being a 24/7 control. Through making lives easier, through being constantly connected, through being constantly updated and constantly on, we lose a little piece of ourselves that used to be free…

If any of you are suffering from Technostress, and have any ideas on how to kick this into touch, or perhaps you just need to lie on the couch for a while yourself, then I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m all ears!

Good luck!

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