Back Away from the Phone
We’re Looking at Our Phones Too Much
Americans, on average, check their phone 46 times per day, even when they’re watching TV, talking with friends, and eating dinner. Not to mention all the times they’re looking at their phones at work, distracting from getting work done (Liberman, 2017).
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport writes that social media “tools fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate” (Newport, 2016). He recommends each person at least once a week observe an Internet Sabbath. In my own life, I’ve applied that idea to social media. I don’t use any social media on Sundays at all. Sundays are often open, full of time to do anything but work and it’s tempting to fill up that time with Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. But taking a break from social media alleviates that reflex to mindlessly lose hours passively absorbing information other people think is important. I’ve rediscovered Sundays and found that, even though I go to church for a few hours most Sundays, I can relax and spend time with the most important things in my life – my wife and three kids – without that distraction.
Newport also talks about how we need to practice being bored. By letting ourselves be bored, we’re able to exercise our mental muscle so it can focus on one thing in longer and longer stretches without being easily blown from a course toward deep work to shallow thinking and frequent task switching.
Cost of Task Switching
The mind can only focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking just means half-assing more than one thing. In a study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2006, it was clear that task switching decreases productivity by as much as 40% (American Psychological Association, 2006). That means that in an eight-hour day 3 hours and 12 minutes are lost to task switching. To take that a step further, when I estimate project time I consider a word day as six hours long (because nobody works eight hours straight). That would mean that, due to task switching, the average worker would truly only have 3 hours and 45 minutes of productivity. What a waste of time!
Not only do these distractions affect performance and personal relationships, they’re causing physical health issues like chronic body pain and sleep deprivation (Liberman, 2017).
Here are a few simple solutions that can eliminate many of those problems.
#1: Take a break from social media all day, one day of the week (preferably a day that you’re not working). Observe a social media sabbath, or fast.
#2: Work in sprints of 45 or 90 minutes. During those sprints, put your phone away, turn off email, close your office door (or put on your noise cancelling headphones), set a timer and work until your alarm goes off. It’s said that Darwin worked in three 90-minute bursts during the day: two in the morning and one after lunch.
#3: Be bored. Between your work sprints, don’t turn to social media as a distraction. Instead, go for a walk, have a conversation, read a book, or take a nap. Train your brain to no longer crave social media distractions. (By the way, it’s been shows that a 90-minute nap greatly increases creativity (Pillay, 2017)).
#4: Try and schedule as many meetings in the afternoon as possible. During the morning hours most people are at their creative peak. Reserve those morning hours for deep work.
Let me know what you think! Comment below or contact me on twitter @brianaustinbp.
American Psychological Association. (2006, March 20). Multitasking: Switching Costs. Retrieved from APA.org: http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx
Liberman, C. (2017, April 13). Device-Free Time Is As Important as Work-Life Balance. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/04/device-free-time-is-as-important-as-work-life-balance
Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work. New York: Grand Central Publishing.
Pillay, S. (2017, May 12). Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/05/your-brain-can-only-take-so-much-focus?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod&referral=00203&spMailingID=18328074&spUserID=NzM4MDM3OTc5MDYS1&spJobID=1121359039&spReportId=MTEyMTM1OTAzOQS2