Five reasons you need to kick your email habit now

11 December 2017 -

email alertOnce you start checking your phone, you won’t be able to stop (and you wondered why your productivity is in freefall) 

Jermaine Haughton

In a bygone era, if you were disturbed by a telephone call at work it was considered highly impolite. Old-fashioned phone etiquette even dictated that office phones should be arranged so that certain people were interrupted only “on the most urgent matters”.

But today, when you look across the meeting room you’ll see that many workers think it’s perfectly reasonable to sit tapping away on their smartphones; whether that’s slyly sending a text under the table or swiping away in plain sight. 

And not only is it infuriating for everyone else who managed this brief separation from their smartphones, but it can actually have a negative effect on productivity.

Here’s why, next time you’re in an important meeting, you should switch off the smartphone and stow it away – and not just out of politeness.

It’s too easy to get sucked in

As we increasingly depend on our smartphones to manage all aspects of both our working and personal lives, without realising it, we can start to offer them preferential treatment and attention. 

When you have the choice between focusing on one ‘physical’ meeting or digitally managing all your messages, emails and your workload, it becomes all too easy to get sucked into the seemingly bigger world that our smartphones give us access to. Even when it’s not the most important or effective way to spend our time.

It breaks concentration 

A study by the University of California Irvine found that when you’re interrupted from a task, it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on what you’re doing. So, if you check your phone just once in an hour-long meeting, you could miss over a third of the discussion just trying to regain your concentration. 

You’re conditioned to check your phone

Whether you like it or not, all that buzzing, ringing and flashing from your smartphone begins to condition your brain to react in a certain way. Think Pavlov’s Dogs. You associate these cues with the reward you’re about to receive – a juicy text, tweet or, ahem, important email – and respond by checking your phone (rather than salivating).

According to licensed psychologist Dr Mike Brooks, what then happens is you enter a higher level of conditioning where you associate the mere sight of your phone with the reward, and are driven to check it without those cues. Break free. 

Your brain is working overtime to ignore your phone

The Association for Consumer Research revealed that – on or off, face up or face down – being within looking or touching distance of your phone makes it harder for you to focus. This is because your smartphone commands something called automatic attention. 

Automatic attention can be a helpful bodily response. It directs your focus to something relevant to you, without requiring you to constantly think about it. In this case, that’s your phone. However, automatic attention can be a bad thing, particularly at work, when what you’re focusing on isn’t relevant to your job. This is because you then need your brainpower to prevent your focus from being drawn to your phone.

You’re less able to problem-solve

While you’re fighting to ignore your phone – or accepting the distraction it causes – your phone is taking up the attention resources you have. And you only have a limited amount.

The Association for Consumer Research tells us that these are the same resources you need to learn, problem solve, think abstractly and be creative. All of which could be extremely helpful to the meeting you’re in. 

And if you’re still tempted to check your phone during an office meeting, consider that the effects of all this divided and diminished attention that your smartphone is guilty of causing, is referred to as “brain drain”.

Because that’s probably the last thing anyone wants to bring to the boardroom.

Further reading: A good old-fashioned guide to phone etiquette

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