April 9, 2019

Is your smartphone taking over your life?

If you had an extra four hours in your day, what could you accomplish?

Studies suggest the average person spends four hours a day on his or her smartphoneFour hours.  Even if you assume some of that is productive work or restorative activity, that’s an astounding portion of the day.

No question, smartphones have given us a lot of freedom and flexibility.  The ability to FaceTime with your family while traveling, ready access to your calendar wherever you are and the freedom to send emails and take calls from the gym have brought down barriers that long complicated work-life integration.

But at what cost?

The multitasking myth

Over and over, we hear that multitasking doesn’t actually work, and yet many of us continue to subscribe to the very appealing myth that we are different.  While you certainly can reply to emails from the train to work, your brain can’t actually manage two tasks at once without compromising your efficiency.  When you try, you get less done, absorb less information, and creativity and memory are less-than-optimal, research shows.

So this means if you’re texting during a meeting, you’re not fully contributing.  If you’re scanning headlines while chatting with a colleague, you’re not really listening.  The people around you know it, your ability to pick up on nonverbal or subtle verbal messages is reduced, and your emotional intelligence suffers.

The productivity myth

Google “smartphones and productivity” and you’ll find a lot of love for smartphones as powerhouses for getting more done in less time.  There are some ways in which smartphones can enhance productivity (you may find some ideas in this roundup of apps), but they are far better primed to sap it.

It takes about 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption, and although frequent interruptions cause us to speed up to compensate, stress, time pressure and frustration also increase.

Interruptions can come from anywhere, but smartphones are especially good at distracting us.  Research suggests even the mere presence of a phone nearby compromises cognition, especially for those of us who interact heavily with these tools.  As Robinson Meyer writes, “if you grow dependent on your smartphone, it becomes a magical device that silently shouts your name at your brain at all times.”

Should you kill your smartphone?

Remember those “Kill your TV” bumper stickers?  Do we need one for our smartphones?  Maybe not.  After all, this is a digital world, and most of us need to stay plugged in for work and even play.  But since the digital world is designed to lure us in (and by the way, if you’re hooked on your phone, it’s not a sign of weakness — your phone and apps really were designed for this), it’s on us to recognize we might need to pull back.

Put your phone where it belongs

So what can we do with this?  A good starting place is this list of small actions that collectively can return your phone a more reasonable presence in your life.

Disable notifications:  This idea is not new, but if you did this several years ago, you may have experienced notification creep.  Do it again.  Most of us could even do without email notifications.  It will put you back in control of your phone, instead of the other way around.

Clean up your home screen:  Organize your apps into folders, and clear your home screen so what you see when you look at your phone is what you really need, not the stuff that sucks you down a mindless wormhole.

Use a real alarm clock:  Is the phone the last thing you see at night and the first thing you look at in the morning?  Consider cutting the cord with a real alarm clock, which will let you charge your phone somewhere other than a bedside table.

Replace the dopamine hit:  The sense of pleasure you might have noticed when you get a notification can also be found through exercise, yoga and other activities that promote mindfulness.  As a bonus, this mindfulness is likely to also help you be more mindful about your technology use.

Track your usage:  Even if you’re not sure you need to scale back, you might find it illuminating and perhaps reassuring (or disturbing) to see how much you’re using your phone.  Some phones have this functionality built in, or you can download yet another app.

Go on a digital diet:  Try a day or even just an evening off from screen time, and notice how you feel.  This will tell you a lot about your usage, but also can shed light on what you may have been missing if you’ve been buried in your phone.  Similarly, consider screen breaks at work such as putting your phone away while you engage in creative work (even if on a computer — hopefully with your email and social accounts hidden away so you can focus).  Consider asking for phones to be put away during meetings, and make this a consistent practice for more connected conversations.

It’s clear that this is an evolving challenge we will all continue to wrestle with.

[bctt tweet=”Perhaps the most important tip is simply to cultivate awareness and continue — as many of the most effective leaders do — to prioritize human connection. ” username=”MettaSolutions”]

There is no substitute for  this connection, and here smartphones can sometimes be a wonderful help.

Do you hope to scale back your smartphone use or have you done so successfully?

What has worked for you?  Please share your tips in the comments.

Last updated April 9, 2018

Related posts more:

6 tips for conquering inbox overload

Rewire your brain to make a new habit stick

An anti-resolution reset for the new year