Love it or hate it, you can’t live without it. Owning a smartphone is just one of those things that are like unspoken prerequisites for modern lifestyles. It’s as if unless you own a phone that doubles as a camera, a calendar, a mobile gaming platform, a photo album, an email consolidator, a notepad, and much more, you’re more or less still stuck in the middle ages.
The advent of the smartphone has revolutionised the way we go about our daily lives, and that’s not an understatement. To begin with, smartphones have made it so much easier to find yourself on the other end of a black hole of distraction that you didn’t even realise you’d jumped into.
It always starts with “let me just check one thing” and ends with “how has it already been 2 hours, I just got on my phone for a bit!” Clearly, the smartphone addictions that so many of us don’t realise we even have can take a huge toll on our productivity and performance.
Let’s not get archaic, though. The problem isn’t owning a smartphone in and of itself; it’s how we use it that’s the crux of the matter. So many of us have developed self-destructive smartphone habits that so over time, without even realising it can be hugely detrimental to our performance at work and to our general well-being—and it’s not just because of how distracting smartphones can be. Here’s why.
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Let’s be honest. What’s the last thing you reach for before you go to bed, and the first thing you reach for when you wake up in the morning? For most people, it’s their phones. So many of us sleep with our phones right next to us, or charging on the bedside table, which makes it easily within reach. Unfortunately, it’s also having a detrimental effect on the quality of our sleep.
For one thing, research has shown that the blue light that smartphones emit can confuse the brain into thinking that it’s still day time. That, in turn, offsets your body clock and makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep. When you do fall asleep, though, it’s less restful, because your brain is still buzzing from the smartphone simulation you gave it 5 minutes before tucking yourself into bed.
Checking your phone first thing in the morning isn’t actually helping your productivity; it may be doing more to hurt it than anything else. Allowing our minds to be bombarded by the hailstorm of notifications, updates, texts, emails, and alerts first thing in the morning can cause it to be swamped before it’s even in fully awake mode.
Consequently, instead of starting your day with the kind of laser-sharp focus and mental clarity that you need in order to hit optimal productivity levels, you start it a little overwhelmed and dazed, before even stepping into the office.
The urge to keep checking your phone throughout the day can be powerful and indeed hard to resist, but it’s also highly detrimental to your concentration abilities. According to Cal Newport, bestselling author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success In A Distracted World”, the brain can take up to 20 minutes to recalibrate itself each time it switches attention to a different task.
When you’re multitasking between impulsive phone-checking and all your different daily work tasks, you’re subjecting your brain to the tedium of having to re-focus itself all the time.
As you can imagine, it’s highly damaging to your focusing ability. If you want to get more done, you need to minimise distractions, but smartphones can end up accustomising your brain to distractions, which is the exact opposite of what you need.
Practically no one can stand being bored these days, because it’s just so much easier to pick up your smartphone and find something to do instead. While it may sound like it’s making you more productive and creative, research has actually shown the opposite: being bored actually has a lot of creative benefits.
Boredom puts your mind in a relaxed state; it’s when your mind starts wandering off on its own, which is highly conducive for the kind of associative and divergent thinking that takes place in the creative process. A smartphone addiction, however, deprives you of this, because it makes you highly resistant to boredom, in favour of just picking up your phone and finding something to occupy yourself with.
Most of us have come to rely on multitasking, in some shape or form, just as much as we rely on our devices to get things done at work and in life. The ubiquity of smartphones, in particular, has made it so easy to switch seamlessly to and from different tasks throughout the day without really concentrating on one.
Apart from the detriment it has on our ability to focus, though, the fact that it scatters our attention so much also has another, perhaps even more dire, effect on our well-being.
It isn’t just that a scattered mind has more trouble focusing on an individual task as opposed to multiple tasks at once; it’s that it gets accustomed to always running “other programs” in the background. When your attention is distributed so thinly across so many things at any one time, it gets harder for your mind to shut down when it needs to.
Often, come bedtime, we get under the sheets only to find that our minds are still running on overdrive. The cumulative long-term effect that it can have on our stress levels and eventual performance is worrying, to say the least.