With a smartphone by your side, you feel like you’re ready to solve any problem the world can throw at you. If your boss emails, you’re ready to respond. If your client texts, you’ll start writing back before he or she even remembers hitting send. If a colleague asks you for new ideas for that upcoming event, you’re only a Google search away from inspiring a fresh dose of creativity. There’s a big problem, though: That device is distracting you from giving your best effort to the work that’s already on your plate.
“Smartphones create dumb people because they are, in large part, invitations to multitask,” Art Markman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Texas, told an audience in the PCMA Business School at Convening Leaders 2017. “Your brain doesn’t want to do several things at once. Instead, your brain does one thing at a time.”
By constantly checking our mobile devices, according to recent research from Apple, we are engaging in addictive behavior. The company found that people log into their iPhones 80 times per day. Every 11 minutes and 15 seconds, the average iPhone user is entering his or her passcode or pressing his or her thumbprint to spend more time on the phone. Markman shared how scientists have seen similar behavior from laboratory rats — in experiments, rats that are occasionally rewarded for an action such as pressing a bar will constantly perform that same action. Humans display similar behaviors with the random rewards that our smartphones offer: We check them all the time because we know we might receive something exciting — a new tweet, a new text, or any kind of update.
Unlock a Healthy Mobile Routine
Markman said that habits are one of the key components for effective thinking, but they have to be good habits. And any routine that aligns you with the intelligence of a lab rat falls into the bad category of habits. So what can you do to dim the glow of your smartphone screen? Markman offered a simple formula to start your workday. Set the timer on your phone for 10 minutes, and check your email. Identify any crucial messages that need an immediate reply. Then, close your email, and set another timer for 60 minutes. Focus on digging into your work. Do not give into the temptation of seeing if someone wrote you back.
“We need to tame those habits to allow us to do things more effectively,” Markman said. “As much as possible, we need to develop habits that will enable us to focus on what we’re trying to do rather than trying to do a million things at once.”
Avoiding Multitasking During Your Meetings
Hiding your mobile device in a drawer so you can focus is a good out-of-sight, out-of-mind trick, but what about when you actually have to be on your phone? One member of the audience asked Markman if he had any tips for focusing on conference calls, and he admitted that group discussions with remote participants face serious challenges. “There’s this idea of co-presence,” Markman said. “But if you can’t see me, there’s less pressure. So it’s really hard to stay focused in situations where you don’t feel that co-presence.”
There is a solution, though. “Keep the interactions as short as possible,” Markman recommended. “You’re better off having more conference calls that are shorter than having one long one.”