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How Your Cell Phone Habits Impact Your Productivity

Intelligent smartphone use can change the flow and focus of your day.

Most people buzz and beep their way through the day, as their smartphones contantly demand attention. Whether at the office, at an important client meeting, or on a date, the phone is right there, usually placed directly on the table in front of us, signaling our priorities.

We rationalize that the phone makes us more productive, allowing us to engage in important communication all day long. But is that true?

Breaking the Flow

One of the best ways to ensure productivity is to strategize an environment conducive to uninterrupted concentration. Whether at home or at work, attention requires eliminating distractions. Can you achieve an optimal state of concentration with a smartphone on the table in front of you? According to research, the answer is no.

Research by Éilish Duke (2017) entitled, “Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported productivity,” discusses the ways in which smartphones impact productivity.[i] Results indicate smartphone addiction and actively checking the phone have a tendency to decrease productivity both at work and at home.

Preliminarily, Duke notes that smartphones distract us from achieving a state of flow, defined as “a state in which we are fully absorbed by an activity, forgetting about space and time, whilst being very productive.” She uses as an example, how in a state of flow, we can accomplish a task, such as authoring a significant portion of a document, without an awareness of the passage of time.

She also notes that the ability to achieve flow requires at least several minutes of unbroken concentration, and its maintenance requires focused attention on the particular task or project one is seeking to accomplish. She explains that research has indicated that interruptions, even as brief as 2.8 seconds, have been shown to disrupt the flow of concentration and lead to increased errors when performing a cognitive task.

Smartphones, beeping and buzzing with their alerts and notifications that incoming messages have arrived, interrupt flow, and can decrease productivity. Smartphones also prompt users to check them frequently, further impacting the ability to engage in consistently productive work.

Smartphones Prompt Foolish Behavior

Interestingly, Duke´s results included the finding that people spent more time on their smartphones at work than they felt was optimal, demonstrating that people continue to allow themselves to be distracted by their phones at work, despite an awareness of the negative consequences.

Many users also check them constantly, sometimes even compulsively—even when there is no indication they received a message or email. How frequently do people check their smartphones? Duke cites research that indicates people look around every 18 minutes, within the first five minutes after waking up, and within the last five minutes before going to sleep.

Do we even appreciate how much time we spend checking our phones? Discussing her own research results, Duke suggests that people probably check their smartphones more frequently than they think, as checking the phone may be unconscious and automatic—leading participants to underestimate the number of times they check their phones. This suggestion is corroborated by other research demonstrating people underestimate the frequency and duration of smartphone use.

Smartphones and Personal Life

Duke found that participants reported smartphone use negatively impacted their personal lives as well as their professional lives. She noted this was consistent with previous research on “technostress,” defined as “the direct or indirect negative influence of technology, including smartphones, computers and the Internet, among others, on one's attitudes, behaviours, thoughts or physiology, including perceptions and emotions pertaining to the increased prevalence of technology in the workplace and society.”

Intelligent Smartphone Use: Regaining Productivity

Battling smartphone addiction and improving concentration does not require you to go device-free. We live in a day and age where people expect us to be connected. Instead, a healthy balance of focus and freedom requires a disciplined approach to the smartphone. Keep it accessible, but not necessarily in view. Unless you are expecting an important call or are required to be reachable around the clock, consider keeping it out of sight until you absolutely have to use it. Keep it out of sight during important conversations.

Establishing intentional boundaries will allow you to maximize your productivity, and facilitate intelligent use of your smartphone—what a great concept.


[i]Éilish Duke, “Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported productivity,” Addictive Behaviors Reports 6, 2017, 90-95.

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