Workweek woes: Web conference fatigue
My biggest “aha” moment over the past month came to me when trying to pinpoint why I was feeling so tired. I have been getting plenty of sleep, taking time for exercise every day, eating (relatively) well, and practicing my usual self-care (mostly reading books that don’t require much brain power and playing with my dogs). I’m doing everything “right” – and I am used to working from home, so I know for me this isn’t about not seeing folks in the office every day.
I often find my days jampacked with meetings. This is not abnormal for me, in fact for the last two years I’ve wised up and blocked portions of time each week to think, plan, and get work done. But something was different. I started to pay attention to my daily work routine to pinpoint why I was feeling so drained when, fundamentally, not much has changed for me.
Now, I am almost embarrassed at how simple the answer is. In the past I may have had days chock full of meetings but there were often gaps between them because the other attendees needed time to move from one meeting room to another, grab a quick cup of coffee between meetings, etc. Often times I would be the only one dialing in to a meeting, so sometimes the virtual meeting room wouldn’t be opened until a few minutes after the hour while the other attendees were arriving to the physical meeting room and getting settled.
Although the calendar showed back-to-back meetings, it was unusual for me to have a 3-5 hour stretch of time without a few minutes to reset my brain in between. Now that the bulk of my teammates are working from home, moving between meetings just means disconnecting from one Webex or Slack call and clicking into the next. There isn’t any mental breathing room built in between calls, and it is taking a toll.
Additionally, with everyone dialling in remotely it takes a lot more effort to maintain the pace of a meeting. There is often a very small delay (less than a second I am sure) when using a voice/video conference tool. That makes it more difficult to get into the rhythm of the meeting. Add in the usual suspects of people forgetting to mute (or unmute) their microphones, echoes and other audio malfunctions, freezing video screens, and other common maladies and it becomes obvious to me why it is so exhausting to participate in web conference calls all day.
Once I realized why I was struggling so much, I made a few small changes to my routine. First, after every call I disconnect, review my notes from the meeting I just completed, indicate any actions or items for follow-up, and mentally “close” that meeting from my brain. Then I close my eyes (or get up to look out the window) and take four deep breaths. I think about how I am feeling physically (when was the last time I stood up to move around), mentally, and emotionally. Total time elapsed since I disconnected the call is approximately 1-2 minutes. Depending on what comes up next in my schedule I might choose to dial in from my phone (rather than my computer’s built in audio) so I can walk around a bit while on my next call.
I also have started adding 5 to 15 minute blocks to my calendar to have a transition period on particularly full days. I do my best to honour that time and don’t use it to make other calls. At the start of each week I will review my calendar and if any days look particularly full, I might reschedule some meetings to build in a buffer for my own sanity. I like to think others who are frequent-fliers on meetings with me appreciate this gesture as much as I do. And I’m making a point to get fresh air at every opportunity without a screen in front of my face or my earbuds in. Today I ate my lunch in the sunshine and didn’t multi-task while eating. It was absolutely the reset my brain needed to come back refreshed for a full afternoon.