How iPhones can help manage 'always-on' work-related stress

Here are eight ways iPhones can help manage workplace stress, prevent burnout and bolster productivity.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, enterprise, mobile, health, hyper connectivity, iOS 13
Nathan Cowley / Ivanastar / Getty Images

The great thing about smartphones is they help you work from anywhere; the bad thing is that this makes it quite difficult to make the separation between professional and personal life.

This is a real problem that’s creating a health emergency. Here are several suggestions about how your iPhone can help relieve this stress.

What’s the big picture?

It's called hyperconnectivity. It means that we are connected all the time.

Work-related email, messaging and other communications happen 24 hours a day, and most everyone is anxious not to miss anything.

Not only this, but these days we all expect fast responses to electronic communications, even across time zones. We check our messages in the morning, during the day, evenings and last thing at night. Many employees now wake in the middle of the night, just to check their messages.

And it’s not good.

We’re becoming stressed out and anxious, and the poor separation between our home and working lives means many workers find it hard to fulfil their domestic obligations. Relationships also suffer from lack of communication, as working couples obsess over the next message on their iPhone.

Burnout beckons:

"The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees," says Virginia Tech’s associate professor of management, William Becker, "which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives."

Three statistics help prove this case:

  • Two-thirds of smartphone users say they can't live without their device.
  • Data shows smartphone users check their devices at least 50 times each day.
  • AppAnnie’s 2020 "State of Mobile" report claims we spend 3.7 hours a day using our smartphone.
  • Each interaction leaves us open to picking up on work-related business – even when it is bad for us.

In France, the “right to disconnect” has been recognized under law since 2016. It means workers can switch off from work-related communcations at the end of their working day with no fear of punishment.

Fortunately, help is already available in your Phone. 

8 ways iPhones can help manage workplace stress

No. 1: Use Do Not Disturb

Apple’s Do Not Disturb tool lets you silence notifications, messages and other requests, though you can enable them for certain groups of people if you wish.

Here’s my tip – I tend to use VIPs for work email and Favorites for friends and family. That’s because when you use Do Not Disturb you can configure it so you will still receive communications from your Favorites, but not anyone else. This is how to ensure your personal life is not on hold, even while you take time out from working.

Here’s how to do it:

Open Settings>Do Not Disturb, and find the Allow Calls from section. Set this to Favorites.

Now go through your contacts book, identify people you want to hear from who are not work related, and define them as such; just scroll down to their listing and choose Add to Favorites. The process is a little tedious, but you only need to do this en mass once.

Now, when you put your device into Do Not Disturb mode, you can be confident you won’t miss messages from anyone who matters to you.

No. 2: Set an out-of-office email responder

One of the big concerns with email etiquette is the expectation you'll respond to messages fast. That’s fine. But other than the anxiety of being always-on, responding to important emails at inconvenient times often leads us to prepare responses that are clumsy, inaccurate or overly terse. At the same time, there’s that need to let others know their email has been received.

Why not put a little honesty into the relationship? Why not create a vacation responder email that simply tells the person who has made contact with you: “Thank you for your email. I will respond to it as soon as possible between (your normal working hours) tomorrow.” Just enable this response for your work-related email outside of working time.

Here is how to do this in some common email apps:

  • Apple Mail: You can only create an auto-responder if you use an Exchange server. Open Settings>Accounts & Passwords>tap on the account and choose Automatic Reply. Set the dates, create the message and tap Save.
  • Outlook: Tap the gears icon in Outlook’s side menu, choose your work account and create an Automatic Reply.
  • Gmail: Tap the three lines to get to Gmail’s settings, choose the account you want to set up a response for, and then tap Vacation Responder. Swipe to turn this on and then create a message.

The idea here is that you send an automated holding response to reassure the person contacting you, while also giving yourself the freedom to enjoy leisure time. The only snag is the need to enable and disable this manually. (Siri Shortcuts should eventually spot you are doing this and may offer you a shortcut to get this task done.)

No. 3: Use Screentime (and ration app time)

Apple’s Screentime (explained extensively here) helps users identify and control their digital habits. Available in Settings>Screen Time, it lets you analyze how long you’ve spent interacting with your device and lets you define downtime, app and communication limits.

The app is designed to promote digital health, and really comes into its own when used to manage the digital habits of children. But it can be incredibly useful if you simply want to fix your work/life balance.

For example, why not define two evening hours as downtime and spend that period eating and interacting with your family? Or use the communication limits tool to prevent incoming anything during your evenings?

You can also use App Limits to absolutely prevent yourself accessing your work-related apps, particularly things like Slack, Trello or any of the other enterprise messaging apps most knowledge workers now live in.

While I’m aware that the expectation is that employees are always available – and you will need to ensure your human resources teams are on your side when it comes to using these tools – it seems perfectly reasonable employees enjoy uninterrupted time off for sleep, eats and family. Perhaps you set these systems up so you can check essential work-related communications at one specific time in the evening.

No. 4: Use hypnosis and relaxation apps

Who else has been thinking about why the biggest-grossing apps in the health and fitness category this holiday season were both built around meditation and mindfulness?

Everyone gets stressed in the holiday season, and by the time it happens most of us are pretty wired. It’s why so many relationships break down over the season.

A little calm goes a long way, while mindfulness helps ensure the personal interactions you do get to engage in are high quality, and help you solve problems and have ideas.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates famously spends a week or two practicing mindfulness each year to help him think creatively. If it’s good enough for him, it’s probably good enough for you and your employees….

There are literally dozens of apps to help you achieve this. Calm and Headspace are two fee-based examples. Here are a few others I recommend:

And if you have an Apple Watch, use Breathe.

NO. 5: Use AirPlane Mode (at home)

Switch it all off during the evening with AirPlane Mode. It’s a bit of a hammer, as you’ll be unable to get online at all, but this is a great way to absolutely prevent any interruption while you spend time with friends or family.

Don’t forget that when in AirPlane Mode you can still enable Wi-Fi, calls or Bluetooth manually in Control Center.

For an even more nuclear option, why not switch off your Wi-Fi router in the evening? (You’ll probably want to negotiate this with others in your household.)

No. 6: Switch to enterprise social networks

I’ve mentioned these already, but it’s worth thinking about migrating all your work-related communications and team collaboration systems to enterprise-focused social networks.

These are useful not only because they usually put all the information, documents and other data you need in one place, but because they also represent safe spaces in which teams can work together, and usually empower employees to work together in or out of real-time mode.

This gives people the chance to switch off when necessary. Solutions like Jive, Slack, Trello, Yammer, Zoho Connect and others all seem pretty popular.

The beauty of switching to use of these apps for communication is that they make it much clearer where work on smartphones ends and begins.

No. 7: Control Notifications

As explained here, silencing inessential notifications and limiting the most obvious of those to the apps that really matter is a great way to place yourself in a state of digital silence. Your attention is, after all, distracted one notification at a time. Take a look at how to control these here.

And don’t forget you have the inalienable right to switch off all notifications from all apps at whatever time you feel appropriate to you. Like meal time, bed time, movie or date-night time.  

No. 8: Activity

Being active is a great way to ease stress and improve mental and physical health. That doesn’t mean you need to run down crowded sidewalks, head to a gym full of macho posturers in tight lycra, or do anything at all outside of your own private space.

Apple’s Activity app will track your ordinary movement, while a rich forest of apps (including the ever popular 7 Minute Workout) let you get active as – and when – you want to be.

The iPhone can help you control the stresses and strains of hyperconnected working lives. Of course, to a great extent enterprises have a part to play. They really need to ensure they break down the taboo around always-on availability, as the consequences of driving staff too hard leads to various kinds of sickness, limits staff retention and generates a variety of new problems that mitigate the productivity benefits of forcing employees to work 24/7.

Flexible working is great, working anywhere is fantastic, but this doesn’t mean we have to work everywhere.

And chilled out people are more productive.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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