Zoom fatigue, unread emails, and work stress: These 3 tips can help spring-clean your work life and restore balance



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Springtime begins to kick off when the clocks move forward and the coats come off. It’s when people organize warm-weather clothes, dust off the bikes in the garage, and prepare for the summer activities ahead—better known as the deep spring-clean. 

But seldom do people clean up the junk that plagues beyond the garage in the form of constant dings, to-dos, and meetings. Overlooked is the need for what Jennifer Moss, author of Unlocking Happiness at Work, deems a spring-clean of your work life.

“That mental clutter makes us more brain foggy,” Moss tells Fortune. “It makes us less efficient. It’s like that room in your basement that keeps accumulating stuff in it.”

We juggle multiple competing tasks simultaneously, drown in unread emails, and face relentless Zoom fatigue. New research finds that 82% of workers are at risk for burnout, marked by feelings of fatigue, distress, and irritability, which hurt well-being, productivity, and performance. As the days fly by, we don’t make time to slow down and see what’s working and what’s not, Moss says. 

“We’re extremely time-starved,” Moss says, but we underestimate the power of doing things in the short term that will make our work life easier in the long run. And unlike a mass closet overhaul, work life organization can be done in bite-sized pieces at the beginning of any season. 

Here are her three tips for spring cleaning your work life to serve you better and your teams: 

1. Attend to your email 

The advice to attend to every unread email would send most people running. Globally, we send over 300 billion emails yearly, so the likelihood of achieving and maintaining net zero is low. 

“We’re in a digital unwellness phase,” Moss says, suggesting people think about the pain points in their inbox. Does your head spin from unnecessary newsletter subscriptions? Is it from an onslaught of daily emails with no way to organize them? 

Once you have an idea of what bugs you the most, take 10 minutes to address it at the start of the day. 

Unsubscribe 

Unsubscribe to 50 email lists over two weeks by choosing to remove your name on five each morning. 

Prioritize

Create and drop emails into themed folders for 10 minutes daily for two weeks. Alternatively, make a “do” folder, put everything you need to respond to that day in the folder in the morning, and address them by the time the clock hits 5 p.m. If you’re a manager and on countless email threads, spend a few moments figuring out which threads you want to engage in and which ones you can opt out of. 

Optimize written communication 

Beyond a personal morning clean out, consider talking to your manager or team about the most effective way to streamline communication. “We were fatigued by emails before, but then we added Slack and Teams and Google Docs, and all these different places where we also share through written text,” Moss says. “If we don’t need to send an email, is there a way for us to use different, even leaner, communication? Can it just be a text? Can we jump on a phone call?”

2. Control meeting fatigue 

Post-pandemic hybrid work environments often require digital calls, but assessing the types and quantity of meetings is essential to relieve fatigue. 

“Why are we thinking that the workstyles, work modes, and habits that we picked up in a global pandemic and a catastrophic crisis are the things that we should continue to foster in the future of work?” Moss says. “We need to have a reset.” 

Consider spending a chunk of your spring workplace clean by asking your team these questions, Moss advises:

  • When is the optimal downtime for you? When would you like to have time blocked off on your calendar? 
  • Are there meetings we can cut? Can we get ruthless about it? 
  • Can we shorten meetings? Can we keep them to 15 minutes? 
  • Can we be more strict on our agendas? 
  • Are we constantly just going to a meeting to solve a problem that can be solved with leaner communication?
  • Is there a point in the meeting where we can create executable goals that don’t require another meeting to follow up on?

“When we’re invited to a meeting or a stakeholder, or if there’s a deadline, we know there’s expectations to still be part of that,” Moss says. “But as a team, we can stand up for each other and work to be more efficient.”

Maybe it’s time to go cold turkey altogether—even as a test. “We’re having meetings to prepare for meetings, and then meetings after meetings to discuss those meetings,” Moss says. 

Many companies are welcoming the lean mindset with open arms. Some have—figuratively and literally—embraced the plank meeting (where it can’t last longer than the employees can hold a plank). 

Last year, Shopify reported freeing up 95,000 hours for employees when implementing a no-meeting policy for a reset at the start of the year. They have since implemented policies to limit meetings and give employees more time to focus, according to NPR.

3. Prioritize balance

We’ve heard it time and time again, but it’s true: Having a healthy work-life balance can make you more energized, engaged, and happy. Often, pressures outside of our control can keep us online 24/7.

What are the self-imposed pressures?

To start, Moss suggests checking in with yourself and seeing what self-imposed pressure you’re putting on yourself each day.

Do you need to check your email first thing when you wake up, or can you practice a slow, relaxing morning routine—even for 10 minutes—as part of your spring reset?

Limit multitasking 

During the workday, are there ways to feel less overwhelmed? Juggling multiple tasks at once often feels stressful. Multitasking is also not healthy for the brain and does not help us remember the essential things. Research suggests oscillating between deep focus and breaks can help people achieve more in less time. 

Consider trying a technique where you work without distractions for 20 minutes and take a 5-minute break for a few hours each day. To get into an optimal flow state, we need three hours of uninterrupted time, Moss says, established in the book Flow by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Learn the art of managing up 

Another way to prioritize balance is to manage up. If you’re given multiple assignments at once, can you ask your manager about giving you enough time to focus on each one and devise a plan? Moss says leaders often don’t know all the tasks their employees are assigned, so letting them know your workflow and ideal timelines can help. 

“This is a great way for you to give them a subconscious reminder that you have a lot on your plate too,” she says. “It makes it so that you’re both in this together.” 

It’s more than email overload and Zoom fatigue. Moss says a spring-clean for work is also about reframing how we think about our work and the urgency we assign to tasks. While it’s critical to do the most essential tasks each day, she hopes people can give themselves the space to disconnect and come back more energized the next day. 

“Will I regret that I didn’t go out with my friends or didn’t have dinner with my family or whatever those things are that are still joyful in our lives,” she says. “We’ve really become work-obsessed, and we need to change those boundaries.” 

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