OVER 68% of the people on this planet now have a smartphone. For many of those people, their devices have become an integral part of their lives. They’ve become so integrated, in fact, that the average American, 77% of whom own a smartphone, checks their phone 46 times a day.
Altogether, those quick glances and longer sessions of use add up to an average of 90 minutes of phone time a day. In a year, that daily time adds up to 23 days and over a lifetime to 3.9 years looking at a screen. As our smartphones gain more functionality and become more common, it seems reasonable to expect that number to go up.
So, what are people doing on their phones during that time? The most used app category is social media, which makes up 14% of smartphone use time. TV, video and telecommunication apps come in second with 9% and the communication apps take up 7%. Gaming, maps, music and several other categories follow the top three.
As smartphone use continues to rise, some are asking whether we’re wasting that time we spend on our devices. One thing’s for sure. The number of things you can use your smartphone for are certainly varied. Developers offer plenty of productivity applications, games and apps that seem to have no real purpose at all. The answer to the question of whether our smartphones are making us more or less productive gets a little complicated.
According to Merriam Webster, being productive means “having the quality or power of producing especially in abundance” or “effective in bringing about.” Producing is “to compose, create, or bring out by intellectual or physical effort.” In economics, productivity is defined as a measure of output versus input. The inputs are things like time and labor, while outputs include revenue, business inventories and the like.
So, judging strictly by those definitions, smartphones seem like they certainly have the potential to make people more productive. They serve as a way to remain connected to work at practically all times. With smartphones, times you would normally spend sitting around (for example, when you’re on the train or waiting for an appointment) can be spent working.
You can work at times you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, meaning you can produce more. In reality, of course, it’s more complicated than that. People are not merely producers. When you spend your time working, you’re not spending it on something else. There’s a cost to working more. Whether the added productivity is worth the price is up for debate.
If you consider using smartphones’ connectivity to your advantage during times when you would normally be working anyway, you can discount the cost of missing out on other opportunities. This reveals what is clearly a major advantage to smartphone use.
Say you’re a salesperson out on the road or a truck driver or that you’re on a business trip. Smartphones allow you to correspond with your coworkers through email, texting and phone calls no matter where you are. You can also access the information you’d normally access at the office through cloud storage. This can enable you to work more effectively when you’re on the road. For example, a salesperson could access data about a customer, competitors’ prices, information about their company’s products and speak with their bosses to authorize giving a customer a special price all from their phone.
Smartphones can also be used to keep you organized. You can keep track of meetings and appointments on your smartphone’s calendar and have your device remind you to do important tasks. Smartphone users can also download plenty of apps aimed at helping them to improve their productivity and better manage their time. Additionally, smartphones offer practically unlimited opportunities to gain new knowledge and learn new skills. You can look up anything on Google, download apps to help you learn new languages; and can also listen to educational podcasts and watch educational videos. Of course, the individual user needs to decide to take advantage of these functions, but the potential is certainly there.
There’s the obvious advantage of having many devices in one. There’s no longer any need to carry around a phone, flashlight and pocket calendar because your phone can effectively perform the functions of all of those things.
Of the many productivity apps out there, Evernote may be one of the most popular. It helps by allowing you remember things by taking down notes and save web pages you want to visit again in the future. It also supports collaborating with colleagues and syncs across your devices, so that you always have access to your saved items.
Another popular app, Workflow, is designed to save the user time by allowing them to automate the tasks they normally complete on your smartphone. For example, you can have the app call you an Uber before your next meeting and have it send a text that you’re on your way when your ride arrives. The only limit with this app is your imagination.
Any.do is an app designed to help you keep track of everything you have to do in a day. You can use it individually or create a collaborative to-do list. Any.do even prompts you to review all of your daily to-dos each morning, so that you don’t get caught off guard during the day.
Asana is a collaborative workflow management tool that’s great for businesses. With this app, you can create workspaces and project, assigns tasks to people and communicate with colleagues. This app is extremely flexible and can be customized based on the kinds of tasks you need to complete.
Another useful app for businesses is Slack. With this app, you can message coworkers and access company files. It’s aimed at making collaborating on projects easier by creating chat rooms for project teams and keeping all your related correspondences in one place. Its message notifications are meant to keep you up to date while being nonintrusive so that you can stay focused on your work.
As you certainly know, smartphones don’t always lead to more productivity. It’s easy to spend hours playing around your phone, scrolling through social media, playing games and reading articles.
If you look up from your phone, though, and are shocked to see that an hour has gone by and feel upset that you lost that time, this may mean that there is a problem. If your smartphone keeps you from accomplishing important tasks, it may start to have a serious effect on your life. Whether or not personal time spent on a smartphone is wasted really depends on the feelings of the individual. There’s no one formula that applies to everyone. If you ask employers, however, most of them will say that the use of devices has resulted in lost time. In one study, 55% of employers said the biggest distraction for employees at work is smartphones.
Remarkably, your phone can make you less productive even if you don’t look at it when it buzzes. Participants in a Florida University experiment scored 28% worse on a test when they were called during it even though they didn’t answer their phones. This drop in productivity can even carry over to the next day. Another study found that sending job-related emails the night before work makes you less productive the next day because you never get time to recharge. The inability to focus may become long-term too. According to the science of neuroplasticity, our brain changes over time based on what we repeatedly do. So, if we spend all of our time being distracted by our phones, we’ll eventually become worse at staying focused.
Our smartphone use also affects other areas of our lives. Similarly to how consistent smartphone use can eventually make you less able to focus, it can also reduce your memory and inductive reasoning skills over time. The ability to Google information at any moment and take photos of things to remember them enables us to not have to use our own brainpower to do these things. With steady smartphone use, our skills in these areas may diminish over time.
Smartphone use can also reduce the quality of our social interactions by serving as a distraction.
When engaged in a social interaction, getting sidetracked by your phone may cause you to miss important parts of the conversation. It may happen even if you don’t look at your device when it buzzes. Phone use may also lead to relationship dissatisfaction, because the other person may feel like you’re not giving them your full attention. The ability to remain constantly in touch with work may also become an issue if it causes other areas of your life to suffer. Constantly being pulled away by your job may reduce the quality of other important things like spending time with family and friends.
Apart from the cognitive and social effects, there are also the physical dangers of distracted driving. In fact, one in four accidents in the U.S. is caused by texting and driving. We’ve all observed people’s’ attachment to their phones, but this dependence has recently gained credibility in the field of psychology. Psychologists now call the fear of being without your phone nomophobia, as in no mo(bile) pho(ne) phobia.
It’s a common problem to feel that your phone’s become more of a distraction than a boost to your productivity. If you feel that may be your situation, there are some things you can do to change that. The first step to changing your mobile phone habits is to pay attention to the way you use your phone. It might seem a little counterintuitive, but if you need a little help keeping track of your cell phone use, there are apps for that. App stores offer several that track how much time you spend on your phone and how you spend that time. Another strategy is to put a background on your device that jolts you out of mindless scrolling mode.
1. Establish No Phone Zones
If you want to cut down on phone time, it might be helpful to establish ‘no phone zones,’ where you won’t use your device. You could make a mental commitment to yourself or a verbal one to a friend or family member not to use your phone while at the dinner table, for example, or after nine p.m. When and where to this time away from screens should be is up to the individual.
2. Establish Blocks of Time
You could also establish blocks of time in which you commit to staying focused on a certain activity without looking at your phone. Also, you can promise yourself to complete one important task in the morning before checking your gadget. A neurological research, The Pomodoro Technique, suggests working for 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute break. Putting your phone on airplane mode and setting a 25-minute timer can help you get away from any distraction.
3. Retrain your Brain
Since the brain is somewhat malleable, you could also work to retrain your brain to rebuild the capabilities that smartphone use deteriorates. Practice focusing on a task that requires concentration, meditate or avoid multitasking to build up your concentration abilities. Play learning games and practice memorizing things to improve your memory. And, of course, living a healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise will improve your mental functioning.
4. Disconnecting completely from work at home
Organizational psychologists recommend segmentation and detachment for long-term mental wellbeing and productivity. This helps doing away with the distraction and temptation of working from a phone. That means disconnecting completely from work for at least part of the time you’re at home. Research shows that if one of your colleagues does this, it’ll become easier for the others as well. Maybe you can start the movement.
5. Make Your Smartphone Simpler
Another way to make your phone less distracting is to just make it simpler. Delete apps that you don’t really need and that will sidetrack you. Adopt a minimalist mindset when it comes to your cell phone and keeps only what adds value to your life and what you feel is necessary.
As smartphones’ popularity spreads, so does the realization that they can be addictive and distracting. Research shows that they can have a serious effect on one’s well-being. Many people feel that this is simply a normal part of life now, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Education and awareness about how our smartphone use affects us could help to move our society toward healthier smartphone habits.
Of course, smartphones aren’t all bad. They’re incredible marvels of modern technology that have the potential to improve our lives dramatically. Whether their influence is net positive or negative is up to the individual. Your smartphone use and awareness directly impacts if you are being productive or just waste time!