Mobile phones are great for accomplishing small tasks within short periods of time. Deleting unnecessary emails, checking your calendar, and reading short articles that you’ve bookmarked are all ways to free up time once you’re back at your desk. Smartphones also help us stay connected with our social networks, which is a legitimate psychological need. Interactions on social media can help us feel loved and connected. When our mobile phones start making us unproductive or get in the way of our relationships, however, that’s when it’s time to reevaluate the way we use them. If we’re not careful, our mobile phones can take us away from the most important moments in life.
While mobile phones are thought to enhance productivity, sometimes they can get in the way of our ability to concentrate. A recent study found that hearing your phone buzz or vibrate hurts your performance even if you don’t check your notifications. Even if you wait to check your phone until after your current task, you’ll still be wondering about the content or source of the message, and this will take your focus away from your work. And, since many of us are signed in to our work and personal accounts on the same device, the distinction between when we’re on and off the clock has become blurred. Those who use their smartphones before bed don’t sleep as well and have less energy during the workday, since the brain stays psychologically engaged with work and interferes with the ability to relax.
In addition to hurting productivity, mobile phones can have a negative effect on personal relationships as well. According to researchers from the University of Essex, the mere presence of a phone - even if no one is actively using it - when people are engaged in a personal discussion results in lower levels of trust and the feeling that other people are not empathising with our concerns. Even in our alone time, we rarely have significant stretches of interruption-free time. Our mobile phones follow us in our cars, while we’re walking, and even into the bathroom. We rarely allow ourselves to be truly alone with our thoughts. In fact, studies show that we exhibit physical and psychological symptoms of distress if we are cut off from access to our smartphones. It could be argued that we are truly addicted to our mobile phones.
So how do we take back control over our personal time? First of all, make sure you’re only using your phone to complete tasks when it’s truly more efficient to do so. If you’re typing out a long email, switch to your computer. You’ll work faster and you won’t be as likely to continue working on your phone afterwards. Next, you’ll want to turn off your phone’s push notifications. This one may seem counterintuitive, but if you schedule time to check your email at regular intervals, you won’t miss anything urgent or important. You also won’t get distracted by the constant buzzing or ringing of your phone. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to respond to emails thoughtfully, during a time you’ve dedicated specifically to that purpose.
Mobile phones are neither inherently good nor bad - they are tools, and we decide how they affect our lives. By setting boundaries and being more mindful of how we use our smartphones, we can take back control of our personal time and stay productive while we’re at work.