How to Unplug: Protecting Your Sanity from Technology Overload

by Anne Chambers, LCSW

Attorneys are increasingly using technology to keep in touch with clients, search legal databases and submit electronic filings. Technology use among attorneys will continue to increase due to its’ cost effectiveness, productivity benefits and ease of client access.  This rise in technology use is accompanied by the risk of information overload.

Here are some suggestions on ways to keep your work focused on customer service and minimize electronic overload during your workday. When seeing clients, log off your computer, do not disturb your phone, silence your cell phone and reduce any other distractions. Check your e-mail at set times, not constantly. Use your out of office feature on weekends and vacation. When you are angry, don’t send that reply. Many a person has been called into their supervisor’s office because they did. Sleep on it few days, then decide whether to send or delete your response.   

Signs of concern include physical symptoms, work related problems and psychological concerns. Physical signs include dry eyes, headaches and back aches, with are generally a sign you need to take a break. On the more serious end are skipping meals, sleep disturbances and neglecting personal hygiene.

Work related signs of concerns include unfinished work, loss of productivity, lying about computer activities, unsuccessful attempts to stop or control use, continuing to misuse the computer at work despite negative consequences and being found hunched over computer, unaware of time, clients or surroundings. Lack of sleep may contribute to performance problems and use of inappropriate sites on the job may lead to discipline problems. 

Psychological signs of concern include being overstimulated, overwhelmed, craving more and more time on the computer, being unable to stop, withdrawing to the computer, feelings of escape, euphoria and guilt attached to computer use; neglecting work, family and friends; feeling empty, depressed and cranky when not computing;  having problems in important life areas and continuing despite negative consequences. 

About 73% of Americans use the internet very regularly. Of daily users, about 6% are estimated to report concerns with compulsive technology use. The most common people reporting concerns are college students and middle aged males with a college degree or greater education. The most common problems associated with compulsive internet use are loss of productive time which is present in almost all situations. Sitting down to work at the computer, then realizing it is now morning and you have not slept all night is not unusual in such situations. Relationship problems, sexual concerns and trouble at work are often present. Financial, physical and academic concerns are sometimes present. This emerging concern is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders at this time. Some clinicians are starting to address compulsive computer use with cognitive behavioral therapy. This problem will likely be the subject of future research and inquiry. 

If you are concerned with information overload or career stress, please contact the Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859 for free, confidential assistance.   

Bibliography:

  1. Computer/Internet Addiction, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, 2006.
  2. Johnson, Margaret Wheeler. “National Day of Unplugging:  Can You Spend 24 Hours Offline? Huffington Post, March 23, 2012. 
  3. Krieger, Lawrence S. Straight Talk About Your Career Choices: Avoiding the Mistakes that Create Unhappy and Unprofessional Lawyers, pp. 7-9.
  4. “Lawyers,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition, US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, pp. 1-2.
  5. Maressa Hecht, PhD. Computer Addiction Services Website, www.computeraddiction.com.
  6. Economic Survey for 2010, Missouri Bar, September 2011, pp. viii.
  7. Search, Kenneth, “Internet Addiction,” GPSolo More Bumps in the Road, American Bar Association, 2004, Volume 21, No.7, pp.48-49.
  8. Waldhauser, Carol P., Identifying Addiction, Hawaii Attorney Assistance Program Website, http://www.hawaiiattorneysassistanceprogram.com/substanceabuse/identifyingaddiction.html.  
  9. Young, Kimberly S., MD. “Treatment Outcomes with Internet Addicts”, Cyber Psychology and Behavior, 2007, Volume 10:5, 671-679.