I recently took my children out for a special seafood lunch. A like minded father sat nearby, and spent the entire time staring at his iPhone. Most people have had their personal lives interrupted by work on occasion. However, this guy was staring at Facebook. He was completely disengaged from his children, who sad glumly by, for more than an hour. This was another reminder as to why I decided to sever my reliance on a smartphone, and invest in a £9.99 Nokia. According to a recent report by Gallup 46 percent of smartphone users “can’t imagine” their lives without a smartphone. Seven in 10 say that their smartphone has made their lives better.
I don’t credit a Smartphone for making anyone’s life worse. However, my smartphone definitely blended my personal time and my work time. I had trouble concentrating on either one, because the other was always interrupting. A July report by the American Psychological Association explains why.
It is well documented that when people perform multiple tasks concurrently, performance suffers. However, even a beep or a vibration, no matter how short, can prompt mind wandering. Even if you don’t check who that message is from, your attention is shot to bits.
I love new technology. I’ve always embraced it in business and in my personal life. However, it took me a few years of smartphone use to recognise that it was hurting me in both arenas. Initially, I felt that being constantly plugged in was making me a better worker. I checked my email before bed and then immediately upon waking. I checked my phone at traffic lights. Dinners out. Weekends away. People contacting me received immediate responses. No need to wait. I marveled at my efficiency.
But the distractions were affecting my focus. I checked my phone compulsively. Unlike the guy at the restaurant, social media never drew my attention. But business did. And the interruption was constant.
I decided to reclaim my concentration. I took baby steps at first. My wife and I decided to ban smartphones at night. Even without getting a bad email before bed, we felt that screens were having a negative affect on our sleep.
My business didn’t crash and burn because I was checking out in the evening, and I felt more rested. So I took things one step further. I told my office that I’d be unreachable for an entire day. Urgent matters could be dealt with via landline. Nobody called me, and I had the most productive day in months. Next step: I went on my first laptop/smartphone free holiday ever. It took me days to get used to living without my crutch. The relaxation set in. Of course I still thought about business. I seldom stop. I filled three notepads with ideas and returned to work refreshed and invigorated.
Since then I have retired my iPhone except for rare travel occasions. I always have a notepad. Unplugging has been the best move ever. Instead of integrating my work, news, personal messages and latest football stats, I make a conscious decision about where to focus. I then give it my undivided attention. Sometimes, like when I meditate or run, I make the decision to keep my mind empty and free. This is usually where my biggest ideas happen.
There is no denying that technology has expanded our worlds. It has transformed the workplace. But our reliance on gadgetry means that our attention is divided. The boundaries between work and life become so blurry that we aren’t fully present and mindful anywhere.
In the quest for work life balance, it is important that we recognise the need to unplug so that we can live our lives properly connected.