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The Mental Toll of Digital Burnout: How This Founder Helps Thousands Build a Healthier Relationship With Tech

Are you addicted to your smartphone? According to Rutgers University, “People increasingly turn to technology for entertainment and information, a trend that raises concerns about an increase in technology addiction.” Such mindless overuse can leave you feeling fatigued and stressed.

Digital burnout is a real danger to your mental health. Since you rely on technology to work and live, you’re almost guaranteed to be overdoing it. Eighty-two percent of remote workers in the US show signs of digital burnout. The impact doesn’t end when you close your laptop, either – it spills over to other aspects of your life, including physical wellness and social relationships.

The solution? Good habits and boundaries that help us use technology sustainably. Stephanie Henson, founder and Managing Director of techtimeout, has made it her mission to help individuals and workplaces achieve a healthier relationship with technology. She says, “I don’t hate technology but believe that you can have too much of a good thing.”

Techtimeout offers workshops, tools, and resources to empower people to manage digital distractions, increase productivity, and experience digital wellbeing. With a staff of 20, techtimeout has worked with over 750 organizations and 10,000 employees. In 2021, the company hit over six figures in revenue.

The Dangers of Digital Burnout

After graduating from university, Stephanie Henson started her career as a data analyst in the UK. She moved up in the ranks but eventually lost interest in the job. In 2014, Stephanie decided to sell everything and move across the pond to Canada with a suitcase, laptop, and one of her friends. She says, “I went from this stressful job to living on a ski hill. It was a completely different pace of life that helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my career.” 

At the time, social media was still new to businesses. Stephanie and her friend developed a small agency, Six Ticks, to help local businesses with their social media strategy. As the agency expanded to other countries, the founders decided to add mobile marketing to their offering. That’s how they became resellers for Bizness Apps (Bizness Apps was Andrew Gazdecki’s first startup, and now he’s the founder and CEO of MicroAcquire and Bootstrappers). 

As resellers, they built over 70 mobile apps for companies around the world, alongside their social media marketing and website development services. Their clients ranged from a golf course in Saudi Arabia to a nail salon in Australia and everything in between. 

Eventually, Stephanie flew back home to the UK because her visa had expired. “When I got home, I put my head down and worked hard to keep growing our business. But along the way, I developed an awful relationship with technology,” she says.

“My email inbox was constantly overflowing with hundreds of new emails a day. It was just chaos. We had clients across all these different time zones, so I was doing both extremely early morning meetings and late evening meetings. During the day, I was networking and trying to answer all the emails. We didn’t have the budget to recruit more employees, so we were doing it all ourselves.

“And the more we grew, the more noise it created. I got into this terrible habit of waking up and refreshing my browser to see what emails had come in. I knew that there would always be new emails to answer because I was working across multiple time zones. I was so anxious that I wasn’t replying quickly enough or that our service wasn’t good enough. I was overwhelmed and ended up burning myself out. At one point, I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t function anymore,” Stephanie shares.  

Recovery Was the Inspiration for Her Business

It took Stephanie a year to feel completely healthy again. She had to implement boundaries and decide when and where she would put her energy. She says, “I was still very busy running the business but made a lot of adjustments. For example, I turned off my notifications, I disconnected my watch from my phone, and I started segmenting my work.”

Stephanie researched digital burnout and productivity and realized that if she had suffered its negative effects, others must have too. She believed there should be more awareness surrounding technology overload because of its dangers when not managed. So, alongside her other business, Stephanie founded techtimeout. 

“I love technology, work with technology, and run a tech business. But I fell into a negative relationship with it. Techtimeout was born out of the idea that we need to manage the way we use technology daily and put the right protections in place to ensure a happier and healthier relationship with digital devices,” she says. 

In January 2020, Stephanie started working on what techtimeout would look like in reality. “In the beginning, I had no clue what type of endeavor would help spread the word. I brainstormed a weekend festival or a training company – but I wanted it to have a more long-term effect.”

Then COVID hit in March of 2020. In the UK, many employees were furloughed to support businesses, which meant they got paid 80 percent of their salary but weren’t allowed to work. One of Stephanie’s clients from Six Ticks, Kate Oakley, was in that situation. Stephanie reached out to Kate and asked her to be the Head of Marketing for the techtimeout project. Kate was excited to be a part of the movement.

To complete the leadership team, Neil Lloyd – Stephanie’s friend who encouraged her to start techtimeout – also came on board as the Commercial Director. Together, they launched techtimeout in July 2022. 

From left to right: Stephanie Henson (Founder and Managing Director), Neil Lloyd (Commercial Director), and Kate Oakley (Head of Marketing)

Building a For-Profit Business That Does Good

Techtimeout raises awareness through a range of activities, including HR programs, education initiatives, and charity events. The company does a lot of free work to help as many people as possible. Although a big part of techtimeout’s mission is to spread the word, the company still has to be sustainable in the long run.

When they launched, Stephanie knew they needed to develop a product they could sell to the public. She says, “I spoke to a clinical psychologist so that she could weigh in on my ideas about how to help people manage their digital wellbeing. With her stamp of approval, we developed the techtimeout10 challenge bags. It’s proven that having your phone in sight can impact your ability to focus – even if you’re not actively using it. That’s why we created the techtimeout pouches that allow you to put your phone out of sight and out of mind.”

The techtimeout10 challenge helps you reap the benefits of truly disconnecting.

Techtimeout’s first customers were from Stephanie’s existing network. Many of her clients and connections from her other company were interested in what she was doing. She says, “One of our first clients was our PR agency. They tried our techtimeout10 challenge when we first launched it and their feedback was incredibly positive.”

Besides the challenge, techtimeout generates revenue through its accreditation program. This accreditation educates employers on how they can encourage their teams to create healthy habits, become less easily distracted, and be more productive. After completing the process, they become a techtimeout accredited business that has put all the protections in place to manage the impact of digital behavior on mental health.

Techtimeout supports businesses in a variety of verticals, including education, professional services, and health. The company has recently secured a partnership with a prominent mental health organization in the UK (soon to be shared publicly). They also acquired their first US client, allowing them to export their cause overseas.

Stephanie adds, “We’ve also built momentum with a national day inspired by special national days in the US. Last year, we launched Techtimeout Tuesday. It challenges individuals to take time away from their devices after the online chaos of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, contributing to our screen-free minutes pledged. Techtimeout Tuesday helped us scale the company, and this year, we’re looking to make an even bigger splash with the help of celebrity endorsements to make as much noise as possible.”

Leveraging Government Programs to Grow as a Bootstrapper

To found techtimeout, Stephanie invested a small amount of her own money. Now, the leadership team is continuously trying to find ways to keep the business going. She says, “Kate, Neil, and I all have other businesses to run, so we are trying to grow techtimeout to the point where it’s self-sufficient. But it’s been challenging being bootstrapped.”

Stephanie shares that they pitched investors a couple of times, but she now wants to run the business independently and trusts that techtimeout will grow organically.

To boost growth, techtimeout has made the most of government support. During COVID, the British government launched a program to help fund wages for young people looking to gain experience in a tough job market. A large part of techtimeout’s team is made up of young professionals. Techtimeout helps them develop practical skills, including project management, marketing, sales, graphic design, and social media.

Stephanie says, “We don’t have 20 highly-experienced employees, but we train them on the job. Sometimes it’s tough and people make mistakes, but we have some great success stories too of how people have grown at our company into higher roles.” 

The techtimeout team

Persuading People to Help Themselves

Another challenge techtimeout is trying to overcome is convincing people to change their behavior. “What we’ve discovered is that people know digital burnout is a big issue, but we’re asking them to do something they don’t really want to do (take a break from their devices). It’s similar to recommending that people go on a daily walk. Although they know they’re going to feel better by the end of it, they don’t end up doing it. That’s how it is for techtimeout – and it’s a challenging business to be in,” the founder says.

“We’re working to find the right messaging that hits home with our target audiences. We know there’s a big push for change, especially with discussions about mental health, burnouts, and working from home in the post-COVID era coming to the forefront.” Nailing brand messaging will help techtimeout become more profitable so they can expand the team with more experienced people. 

Techtimeout’s long-term goal is to create enough buzz that “tech timeout” becomes something people use unapologetically in their daily language. Stephanie says, “Instead of saying, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t reply to your message, I was really busy,’ you say, ‘I didn’t reply to your message because I was having a tech timeout.’ It becomes a socially acceptable thing to say because we all recognize that people need time away from their devices and don’t have to be available every moment of the day. Our objective is to make it part of a cultural movement in the English language.” 

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Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew is an award-winning serial entrepreneur with three exits. He’s the founder and CEO of MicroAcquire, the world’s most founder-friendly startup marketplace, and its rebellious child, Bootstrappers, which gives voice to the entrepreneurial underdog. When not building businesses, he writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, and now, Bootstrappers.

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