I turned off my phone for an hour and a half, and my life changed.
Okay, it didn’t totally change forever, but for ninety minutes it did. For one solid hour-and-a-half, my attention was focused on one thing, and only one thing, and it was eye-opening.
According to some studies, productivity is down among American workers as a direct result of cellphone use.
Research tells us that we are more productive, and even smarter, when we turn our phones off. And it makes so much sense. Your attention is not divided, your train (of thought) stays on the same track and you don’t have to get “back” into whatever you were pulled away from by that little bell telling you that someone liked one of your Tweets.
Seriously, this is what we’re giving our attention to? I mean, I’m totally happy that people like my Tweets, and I like plenty of other people’s Tweets, but hey – is it really worth giving your attention to 24/7?
Mel Robbins offers the advice to leave your cellphone outside your bedroom. Now I actually use my phone as my alarm clock and I desperately need the six alarms I set for myself when I have to get up early. (Yes, six. That was not a typo. I am a confirmed alarm-clock-rebel.) So, putting it in another room just isn’t going to work for me, unless I want to go out and buy six alarm clocks which, frankly, I don’t have the space for. But I agree that being plugged in when you’re supposed to be sleeping is incredibly counter-productive, so I keep the spirit of her advice by turning my phone over so that I cannot see any lights flashing, and putting all of the notifications on silent (except the six alarms). Trust me – you really do sleep better.
And you work better if your phone is off too. While I’m definitely a believer in multi-tasking (to an extent – hey, I’m a mom too so I know a bit about multi-tasking!), I also know that cognitively we perform better when we are focused on one thing. And this is not just my opinion based on my own performance, or on anecdotal evidence.
A 2015 study published by the journal SAGE reports that “increased cell phone use was associated with decreased academic performance” in a sample of college students in the US.
In the same year, the American Psychological Association published a report that confirms “It is well documented that interacting with a mobile phone is associated with poorer performance on concurrently performed tasks because limited attentional resources must be shared between tasks”, as well as the astounding fact that “cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.”
Even hearing that little Twitter bell, regardless of whether or not you pick up the phone to check who’s showing you some love, can impact your performance negatively.
Suddenly all those teachers who unreasonably demanded that the kids in their classes turn off (or not bring) their cellphones are starting to look a lot smarter.
The thing is, technology is great. It opens up doors and the world. It’s a place to connect with our neighbor a continent away and to understand others in a way that just wasn’t possible in prior generations, and for this we should (rightly) be grateful. But technology is not a god, and we need to stop treating it like it is. Cellphones are a tool, one that we can use to enrich our lives, but they are not our lives and we need to stop making them be.
I’d love, at this point, to point out that it’s really just a generational problem. That it’s the millennials, the twenty-somethings, who are way too plugged in and that we older (and ahem, wiser) adults are more discriminate in our use. But that’s not the case. The truth is we’re all in the same boat.
And not only are we keeping our phones on more of the time, we’re also using them for unbelievable amounts of time: over 4 1/2 hours a day some reports say.
See, the one thing I keep coming back to: we all say we need more time in a day. Lack of time is one of the most cited reasons people say that they just can’t pursue their dreams. I don’t know, guys. It just seems like there’s time there, only we’re spending it where maybe it doesn’t need to be spent. We might all just be better off if we put some of those 4 1/2 hours into our personal growth, into our relationships. Into our dreams.
But there is hope. I recently got a glimpse of this while talking with my eighteen year old son. He and his brothers are going on a camping trip this weekend, and he told me that he was not taking his cellphone and thought that none of them should. Of course being the protective mother that I am, I told him that at least one of them should take his phone. What if there were an emergency?
And yes, that’s good advice. Yes, of course one of them should take a phone. But not all of them, and only for emergencies, he said.
Because can you really get away from it all, if you bring it all with you? Can you really pay attention to the moments of life if your attention is divided?
Also, I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend.
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