Banish multitasking and procrastination by establishing positive smartphone habits. Dr. John L. Evans Jr. shares how to maintain a deep focus on what matters.
Smartphones seem like they were created to waste time through multitasking and lack of focus. They also isolate users in a fishbowl where every facet of their lives is visible while personal interaction gets shunted to the “optional” category. When you need your brain to focus and perform efficiently, your app library can be your greatest enemy.
The trick is to make your technology work for you instead of letting it trap you in a hamster wheel of likes and swipes. Choose your apps carefully and set strict limits to make the most of electronic assistants. Cable news channels, emails, phone calls and important conversations – with real, live people – will continue to clamor for your attention. How will you maintain a deep focus on what matters?
Start a Junk Information Diet
Start by redefining the problem. You’re not going to get rid of your smartphone, nor should you. It’s a useful and versatile tool for digital-age professionals. A recent Harvard University blog post pointed out that smartphones themselves aren’t inherently addictive.1 It’s the “hyper-social environments” made possible by sophisticated portable technology that has reprogrammed our brains, making us crave a consistent delivery of flashing, beeping, buzzing rewards.
Junk information, like junk food, is cheap, plentiful and delicious. When you make the decision to get healthy, it can be difficult to go it alone. A new breed of apps has evolved – somewhat ironically – to curb distraction and boost productivity. The right blend of time management apps and self-control infuses work days with motivation, discipline and accountability that could otherwise devolve into multitasking and procrastination.
Share the Load
Strava, the fitness app, gained popularity by gamifying the motivational power of friendly competition. Users latched on to Strava’s social component, which shows how you stack up against other athletes on the same route. The app promotes sharing and communication based on achievements and performance metrics.
HabitShare, a combination social networking site/habit tracker, similarly allows you to establish and promote rituals with coworkers for extra accountability. Members of a HabitShare group can establish mutual goals, see everyone else’s progress and evaluate where they stand. If you’ve ever felt a surge of motivation after learning your buddy torched your best time on a trail run, you understand how this mutual transparency might kindle a fire under more reluctant team members.
A similar app is stickK, which requires you to create a commitment contract with yourself upon signing up. You can also assign someone else to check your data and ensure you stay on track. More accountability means more reasons to stay head down on the task in front of you, leading to what my mentor, Dr. Jim Loehr, calls the power of full engagement, personally and professionally.
A Note on Effectiveness
An app like HabitShare only works when it’s not competing for your time and mental capacity. Turn off social media notifications, disable games and do whatever else is necessary to ensure that only relevant reminders reach your cranium during work hours. The Offtime app, which restricts connectivity based on user-defined parameters, also lets you invite colleagues to participate in a collectively unplugged meeting. It’s less authoritarian than banning phones altogether but achieves the same results.
Seeing is Believing
Offtime’s selective connectivity and distraction-blocking features are nice, but even more useful are the intuitive analytics. The app provides an in-depth view of your phone usage, enabling the identification of habits. For most of us, seeing our usage data – what we’re doing, when we’re doing it and for how long – is a queasy experience. Face the music and shut down frivolous app access during work hours.
By chipping away at destructive tech habits while building productive rituals, you’ll benefit from the return of mindfulness and freedom to your work.
1Haynes, Trevor. “Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time.” SITNBoston, May 1, 2018. sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time
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