“We’ve all been there,” says Chieu Cao “you’re sitting at your desk and struggling to get through a task that has been assigned to you. Suddenly your phone flashes and you tell yourself ‘I’ll just reply to this message’. However, we’re all fully aware that this can quickly lead to several back and forth messages, checking several apps and suddenly, ten minutes has passed and your concentration on the task at hand has completely lapsed.” Chieu continues the story:
It’s clear that smartphones at work are affecting our productivity. Whilst they do have some advantage, for example if we’re out of the office for a meeting we can keep up to speed with emails or we can make quick work related phone calls on the go, the average person in the UK spends way too much time checking their phone – every 12 minutes on average to be exact, according to research from Ofcom.
What’s the happy medium? What can we do to stop our smartphone having a negative impact on our productivity?
1. Pause the distractions: out of sight, out of mind It seems obvious, but having your phone right beside you on your desk is asking for trouble. Keeping it in your bag or coat pocket will help you focus on the work in front of you. A crucial part to ensuring this actually works is creating a boundary between you and your phone. This could include putting your phone on silent or muting notifications. Do you really need to know during the middle of work that a friend has liked your Facebook photo? Somehow, I think it can wait until you finish the task at hand.
If that still doesn’t work you can always adopt a more extreme method and lock your phone away by using tools like the Ksafe . Where you simply put your smartphone in the box, set the time you want it locked it away for, press a button, and you can’t get to it until the time has passed.
2. Carve out some break times. Research has proven that we work better and are more productive when we have regular breaks. In fact, it has been shown that we work best in 90 minute sprints . During these cycles, we’re better able to engage and focus. This is followed by lower brain activity or “brain fog” for about 20 minutes where we may have more difficulty concentrating. Harness this natural cycle by working in 90-minute sprints, and give yourself a break in between. This could be having a quick walk around the office, going to the kitchen and getting a coffee with colleague or of course, checking your phone.
3. The flipside: how to stop work consuming us via smartphone when we’re OOO. The flip side of our smartphones distracting us from work is that they also keep us ‘tuned in’ to work for longer. Advances in technology seem to have created the perfect work-ation storm where employees feel the need to be checking their emails during their time off.
As an employer, you also have the responsibility to set an example and make sure your employees understand the value of fully unplugging from work during time off. A good example of this is Volkswagen in Germany, which in 2012 stopped emails being sent to its employees’ BlackBerrys 30 minutes after their shift ended, starting them again 30 minutes before they returned to work.
It’s also worth looking at France, where a law around ‘the right to disconnect’ was introduced in 2016. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. Maybe this is an example the UK should follow?
It’s clear that smartphones have both advantages and disadvantages, but the key takeaway should be that they don’t become the centre of our lives. If this means locking your smartphone away, switching it off or muting notifications…. it will be worth it in the long run.
Chieu Cao, is the Co-founder and CMO Perkbox