Thriving in Today’s Digital World: How to Redefine Success and Avoid Burnout


There’s a huge focus in today’s culture on getting ahead. We all want to be the best; we want to achieve, to succeed, to do big things. And while there’s nothing wrong with pushing ourselves to do our best work, our cultural obsession with succeeding at any cost? It’s starting to have some serious drawbacks.


In order to keep up with society’s definition of success, we’re working harder than ever before. We’re working longer hours, we’re connected to work 24/7 thanks to our smartphones, and we’re not carving out the quiet time we need to rest and recover. And that “all work, no play” mentality?


It’s a one-way ticket to burnout.


No one knows this better than media giant Arianna Huffington. In 2007, Huffington was, by all definitions, a success. She was two years into building The Huffington Post, one of the most popular news websites in the history of the internet. Business was good and only getting better.


But in order to build her business, Huffington was running herself into the ground. She was working 18-hour days, not getting enough sleep, and spending 24/7 thinking about work. She thought she was on a fast track to finding the success she desired—until it literally all came crashing down when Huffington passed out from exhaustion and burnout.



When she came to, Huffington was on the floor with a broken cheekbone and a gash over her eye that required four stitches. The moment was a huge wake-up call for the mogul; she realized that to move forward and have the kind of life she wanted for herself, she was going to have to redefine her definition of success.


Since picking herself off the floor that day, Huffington has been hard at work changing the way our society looks at success. Her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, explores the way our current definition of success is literally killing us—and how we can embrace a new definition of success that allows us to lead happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives and avoid the dreaded “burnout” phenomenon that’s plaguing our society.


But what, exactly, does that new definition of success look like?


Working more doesn’t mean you’re more productive


First things first, let’s be clear: we need to reprogram our belief that working more means we’re more productive.


Today, we have an idea that the more time we devote to work, the more we’ll get done—and the more successful we’ll be as a result. But the truth is, that’s just not the case.


According to Huffington, working ourselves into the ground does much more harm than good. Not only does working too much have a negative effect on our health and well-being, but it can actually tank our productivity; when we’re suffering from burnout, it’s impossible to make good decisions. We can’t think clearly and so we’re more likely to make mistakes. It’s hard to see the big picture and effectively solve problems. We’re so exhausted, it’s hard to tap into our creative energy and come up with new and innovative ideas.


So while it might seem like the number of hours we work is directly tied to our productivity, the truth is, productivity actually decreases the more hours we put in.


So, if working more isn’t the key to leading a more productive and successful life… what is?


Put down your smartphone


If there’s only one thing you do for yourself to make your well-being a priority and redefine your definition of success, let it be this: put down your smartphone.


Technology has changed the way we connect with the world around us, and while it’s certainly made things a lot more convenient, it also has some drawbacks. From Thrive Global, the online hub of Huffington’s Thrive movement:


“Core to a Thrive culture shift is addressing our relationship with technology, which is one of the most pressing issues of our time. We all feel it — we’re addicted. And it’s getting worse. We’re being controlled by something we should be controlling. Our technology — especially in the form of our ever-more-powerful smartphones — allows us to do amazing things. But it also consumes and controls our attention, crippling our ability to focus, think, sleep, meaningfully engage with others, and connect to what’s around us and, especially, what’s inside of us.”


Our smartphones—and, more specifically, our addiction to our smartphones—is taking a serious toll on our well-being. When we check our phones a thousand times per day, we keep ourselves in a constant “fight or flight” state; we’re never able to fully relax because we’re never fully disconnected. Every email or notification sends our minds spinning and puts us back into “work mode”—whether it’s right before we go to sleep or while we’re trying to enjoy our weekend.


So, if we want to get the time we need to rest, recharge, and do our best work, it’s time to disconnect from our smartphones.


For many of us, this is easier said than done. We’re so reliant on our technology, going without it can feel scary. But if we want to truly redefine success and take care of ourselves in a way that fosters true productivity, we can’t be attached to our smartphones 24/7.


Set a cut-off time each day where you put your phone away for the night (for example, no phones after 7pm). Charge your phone in a room where you don’t have access to it. Start each day with a morning routine that supports your well-being with activities like journaling or reading—and doesn’t involve a smartphone. Try “screen free Saturdays,” where you spend an entire weekend day without using your smartphone.


At first, it’s going to be hard to tear yourself away from your smartphone. But the more time you spend away, the more time you get back to rest and recharge—and the more productive you’ll be as a result.


Prioritize sleep


Huffington credits sleep deprivation as the leading cause of her collapse in 2007. And she’s not the only one who’s struggled with sleep; according to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 3 Americans isn’t getting enough sleep.


And while you might think sacrificing sleep is a solid strategy to get more accomplished at work, the opposite is actually true; a recent study found that lack of sleep is responsible for a whopping $411 billion in lost productivity each year.


Getting enough high-quality sleep is essential if you want to feel your best, perform at your highest level, and get the most done during the workday. And if you want to get more high-quality sleep, you need to practice better sleep hygiene.


Sleep hygiene is, simply put, a set of habits and practices that lead to more (and better quality) sleep. The more sleep-friendly habits you practice, the better sleep you’ll get. And the better sleep you get, the better you’ll feel—and the more productive you’ll be as a result.


But what does good sleep hygiene look like? Here are small changes you can make each day that can have a huge impact on your quality of sleep:


  • Keep the same sleep schedule each day (including weekends);
  • Skip naps, which can mess with your sleep cycle and make it harder to fall asleep at night;
  • Say no to coffee or other caffeinated beverages past 2pm;
  • And say no to wine with dinner (while alcohol might make falling asleep easier, it makes it harder to stay asleep, which can lead to you waking up feeling just as exhausted as you were when your head hit the pillow);
  • Make exercise a priority; working out on a regular basis promotes healthy sleep (just don’t work out too close to the bedtime; the endorphins you release during exercise can make it challenging for the body to shut down and go to sleep); and
  • Make your bedroom a “device-free zone;” the fewer distractions in your bedroom, the easier it will be to fall asleep


When you get more sleep, you’re able to get more done—and you’ll feel a heck of a lot better while you’re doing it.




The last key to defining success in a way that supports your overall well-being and productivity? Spend more time truly connecting with the people around you.


Humans are wired for connection; we need meaningful connections with the people in our lives to feel happy, healthy and fulfilled.


But today’s culture isn’t set up to foster meaningful social interactions. Text messages have replaced in-person conversations. We spend more time scrolling through our Facebook feed than we do talking to other people. And even when we are interacting with the people we care about, we’re distracted and looking at our phones (“phubbing,” which is the term for looking at your phone instead of paying attention to the person you’re with, has become the cultural norm).


If we want to become truly successful, we need to make connection a priority. When you’re at work, walk over to a colleague’s desk to have a conversation instead of sending an email. Make it a rule that when you’re spending time with friends or family, you put your phone away and give them your full attention. Carve out time to spend with the people who make you feel inspired and excited.


Interacting with people in a meaningful way makes us feel happier, connected, and inspired—and we can take those feelings into our work, which can offer a serious boost to productivity.


It’s not just Huffington that’s redefining success


While Huffington is certainly one of the leading voices in the movement to redefine success in a way that supports our well-being, she’s not the only one. Almost all the Productivity Giants we interviewed as part of our series echoed her sentiments that cutting down on time with technology, prioritizing sleep, and connecting with the people around us is crucial to success.


Just take a look at what they had to say:


“Every night when I go to sleep, I put my phone on airplane mode and in a completely separate room. This is a practice I’ve done for more than 5 years. I’ve found that when my phone is within reach or is able to receive inbound calls and emails, my mind is active and I’ll frequently grab my phone and start down a rabbit hole of emails or internet-surfing that doesn’t allow me to get a good night’s rest.” – Adam Braun, Co-Founder of MissionU


“Sleep is another massively important area. My general rule is that I never cheat myself on sleep and I often get eight or nine hours per night. I’m sure my work and productivity are much higher because of it.” – James Clear, Author and Entrepreneur


“I wake up at around 6:30 each morning and commit to focusing that first hour on human contact rather than contact with digital devices like my phone or computer. We have twin babies, so I immediately go and spend time with them, whether it’s feeding or playing with them, making sure I start my day focused on what matters most, which is my family.” – Adam Braun, Co-Founder of MissionU


“If you’ve got kids, a family, and an incredibly demanding work schedule, you MUST set boundaries on your work.


Each day, in the mornings, I plan my quitting time. This is the time when I will stop working. And I stick to it. When my quitting time rolls around, my work goes away, and I’m fully present with my family. This also forces me to work even more efficiently, because work often expands to fit the deadline that you give it.” – Mel Robbins, Speaker, Author, and CNN Contributor


We’ve been conditioned to believe that the key to success is working ourselves to the bone. But all that does is lead to epic levels of burnout. If you truly want to succeed, you need to make your well-being your top priority.