Life has never been easier. Our cell phones can connect us to millions of search results in seconds. We now have a GPS, phonebook, and entertainment available with a swipe of our fingers. However, our screens have also impacted our work in unprecedented ways. As journalist Mike Elgan puts it, “The economy’s most precious resource is human attention — specifically, the attention people pay to their work. No matter what kind of company you own, run or work for, the employees of that company are paid for not only their skill, experience and work. A company also pays for their attention and creativity. When, say, Facebook and Google grab user attention, they’re taking that attention away from other things. One of those things is the work you’re paying employees to do” (Computerworld). This attention grabbing is a way cell phones distract us at work.

Cell phones distract us at work in a variety of ways.

The number of ways in which our cell phones distract us at work has only increased throughout the years. As journalist Kaytie Zimmerman says, “What used to only make phone calls and send text messages, now does our banking, shopping, fitness measurements, and plays music. Further, our cell phones are not only used for personal activities, but for work” (Forbes). Our cell phones have allowed us to multitask more than ever. So, even hearing the buzz of our phone interrupts our thought process long enough for us to mentally skim through all the tasks we perform on it.

“One buzz from a text message can make us think about our reminder list, paying a bill, ordering an item online, checking our calendar, and wishing a friend happy birthday on social media” (Forbes). “Often,” says Dr. Tim Elmore, “a recent grad doesn’t know any other lifestyle but to be responsive to the “pings” of social media and text messages.” If a millennial spends eight hours at work, they receive roughly thirty – forty messages during their workday (Forbes). So how does this impact their productivity?

The Journal of Experimental Psychology found that “the rate of errors made after hearing or feeling an alert on one’s phone was about the same as if they had actually answered the call or message” (Forbes). Additionally, a 2013 study found that the probability of making an error went up by 28% after receiving a phone call and 23% after receiving a text. (Forbes) Employees are also aware of this issue; when asked to name the biggest productivity killer at work, the answers “cell phone” and “texting” topped the list. (Forbes)

Self monitoring for distractions

However, while it is generally acknowledged that our smartphones distract us at work, there is a lack of awareness to the degree of distraction. While 92% of Americans believe smartphone addiction exists, most underestimate their own smartphone usage; 60% believe they touch their phone 100 times per day or less. A typical user actually touches, taps, or swipes their phone about 2,617 times per day (Inc.).

Smartphone usage also affects employee engagement, which in turn influences productivity. 80% of employees believe it is wrong to check their phones during meetings, yet 50% do it anyway. 95% of people are interrupted over five times per hour. As seen with previous statistics, this heavily increases their probability of making errors.

Potential solutions

Knowing how central phones are to our everyday existence these days, what can we do?

First, you can build awareness of the way you are spending your time. Apple and Google both have features that highlight most-used apps. There are also additional tools in the form of wellness-coach applications. BetterYou uses notifications to remind you of your priorities and how you are using your time. You can also adjust your settings; Google, for instance, has a “Wind Down” feature which sets your phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode, conceals notifications, and converts your screen to grayscale to discourage usage. BetterYou’s feature “Lights Out” will nudge a user back to sleep when they’re at risk of using their phone at night.

A mindful way to reduce phone dependence is by curbing your phone-checking habits. Consciously choose not to check your screen. “Every time you successfully beat the urge to check your phone, you strengthen your resolve” Ryan Jenkins writes. “Dishes aren’t washed every time a single plate is dirtied. Dishes are done in batches. In the same way, batch your responses to ensure you don’t lose focus.”

Jenkins advises us, “Manage the tech, don’t let tech manage you.” As we continue to delve into how our smartphones distract us at work, BetterYou will continue to help users stay focused on their priorities. As you can see, our cell phones have the power to distract us at work. Our favorite devices have given us much in this new era of technology, but we must remember that we are the masters of our technology, not the other way around.