How The Device You Can’t Live Without Is Also Destroying Your Productivity

Decreasing attention spans aren’t the only reason our smartphones take away our focus.

How The Device You Can’t Live Without Is Also Destroying Your Productivity
[Photo: Flickr user Alex M]

From open concept spaces to game rooms and coffee lounges, our workplaces are filled with distractions.


But nothing is distracting us more than our smartphones. A 2014 study by Ricoh Americas Corp. found more than three quarters of employees are distracted by mobile phones, with 67% sending personal texts and 61% taking at least one personal call per week.

According to a recent study by LISTEN by RealNetworks, a smartphone app that automatically responds to inbound calls and text messages, social media and messaging apps are the top two workplace distractions. The study polled over 1,200 Americans across a variety of professions and revealed that 38% of workers use their cell phones at work to check social media feeds. Almost three quarters of workers (68%) check their phones during work time to keep in touch with friends.

Why are we so distracted by our phones?

Decreasing attention spans.
According to a recent study by Microsoft, humans attention spans are now around eight seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2000). Alex Cequea, former editor in chief of iPhone Life Magazine, says smartphones are “the gateway drug to endless hours of procrastination.”

“I’ve seen even the most productive of employees succumb to the vortex of never-ending entertainment at our fingertips,” says Cequea. The constant availability of information and entertainment takes advantage of our easily distracted minds.

Smartphones distract us from challenges.
“Intellectual challenges cause us to check out and seek distraction,” says Cequea. The problem is this checking out just prolongs the task by breaking our momentum and focus, making it harder to get back on track. “Those with enough discipline to sweat through a problem or stay in the discomfort of a challenge will usually experience more success in the long run,” says Cequea.


A remedy for boredom.
While too great a challenge can cause us to mentally check out and turn to our phones for a distraction, not enough mental engagement also makes our phones a popular choice for stimulation.

Phones are a stress reliever.
LISTEN’s Distracted Professions Survey found some professions are more distracted than others. Medicine and finance ranked high on the list of professions distracted by cell phones at work. Stress may be a reason for this. “Social media may act as a stress reliever for some in highly demanding jobs like finance and medicine who tend to work extremely long hours and may see [social media] as a quick escape,” says Lanna Apisukh, senior marketing manager at RealNetworks.

How to overcome smartphone distraction

Use phones beneficially
Make your screen time productive, while playful at the same time. There are thousands of productivity apps available offering to-do lists, calendars, and reminders to keep you focused. These apps can help dissuade you from using your phone for primarily social media, or non-work tasks. “We’re seeing a stronger need for productivity-based apps and tools from both employers themselves as well as employees,” says Apisukh.

Take breaks
Apisukh says it’s important for workplaces to recognize that distractions are an issue and implement ways to help employees get a handle on them. From encouraging employees to get up from their desks and go for a stroll instead of turning to their phone for a break, to rolling out productivity apps across the company and making devices more work-oriented, there are plenty of ways to provide the mini-work escape employees need without causing them to turn to their phones.

Turn off ringers, alerts, and notifications
If you jump for your phone at the sound of every ping, beep or ring, you may want to turn these notifications off. Adjust your phone’s settings and turn off email, Facebook, Twitter and other social media notifications. You can “Like” your friend’s cute dog picture later.


About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction