Eat. Sleep. Use your smartphone. Repeat.
It's the 2020s and, for most of us, our smartphones control every aspect of our lives. The device contains everything from your social media accounts to your fitness log and your emails. It's the all-singing, all-dancing tech none of us could have imagined 40 years ago.
But while smartphones can make our daily lives easier, relying on them too much may be lowering your productivity. In this guide, we take a look at how the devices impact how much we get done each day, the signs of smartphone addiction, and how to curb your use.
How your smartphone impacts your productivity
That tiny computer in your pocket should help your productivity. Yes, there are countless apps, widgets, and wonders that track your workflow and time-management. But - and let's be really honest here - you don't usually use your smartphone for those tasks.
Chances are, you spend more of your screen time doom-scrolling, watching Reels or TikToks of cats being adorable, and live-messaging your friends on WhatsApp. We all do. Sure, you might throw in the odd Duolingo session or check your emails, but that's the bulk of it. So, what would happen if you changed the way that you used your device?
Research from San Diego University reveals that being more mindful of your smartphone use increases productivity and leads to a sense of “contentment with achievement.” To put that in layperson's terms, when you're in control of your smartphone usage, you'll not only get more stuff done, but you'll also feel happier with the amount you do. Win-win.
As part of the study, participants monitored how much they used their smartphones and tried to decrease their screen time. The results found that this approach led to them being able to complete more tasks related to their everyday lives and, of course, their work.
So far, so good. However, there's a catch… If you've ever tried to use your smartphone less, you'll know that it's not as easy as it sounds. Interestingly enough, the researchers found that participants suffered from “self-monitoring fatigue” during the experiment. That means that the longer they tried to control their smartphone use, the more likely they were to get tired of doing so. With that in mind, you need tactics to help you along the way.
How to be mindful of your phone: 6 key tactics to use
Looking to spend less time on your smartphone and more time getting things done? If your screen-time is destroying any chance that you have to be productive, do something about it. While you can't change your habits overnight, it's worth trying some common tactics. Let's take a look at six of the simplest approaches that you can use to lower your usage:
1. Notice when - and why - you pick up your smartphone
First things first, let's talk about when and, of course, why you use your smartphone. Notice when you pick it up and what you're feeling at that moment. For example, you may reach for your device when you're bored, tired, or need a break from the task at hand.
Once you're aware of what's triggering you to pick up your smartphone, you can replace it with another habit. So, if you tend to use your smartphone when you're bored wit work, replace that habit with a brisk walk to get a hot drink. Try to do this wherever possible.
2. Use apps to monitor your smartphone use
Do you know how often you use your smartphone? Have you tried counting up those wasted seconds, minutes, and hours? If you're a chronic user, there are apps you can get to help you to figure out what the deal is. While there are many out there, two of the most popular are the Freedom app and AppDetox. These apps give you a detailed report of how much time you're spending on your phone and also which apps you use most frequently.
3. Choose times to have “smartphone-free” periods
You wake up and check your smartphone. You eat breakfast and scroll through emails. You're working and you grab your device to check Instagram. If smartphone breaks punctuate your every waking hour, you need to change tack. Why not schedule some smartphone-free time into your day? Pick times that are realistic for your routine.
For example, you might choose to not check your device between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. while you're working. You can see any emails on your computer, so this shouldn't hinder your job. Instead, it means that you spend the morning locked into the flow of work. Alternatively, you may start leaving your smartphone in another room while you eat meals.
4. Switch off any unnecessary notifications
Next up, let's talk about your notifications. When you're considering how to be mindful of your phone, this is a big one. The moment that those small red dots appear on your smartphone, they're sure to draw your attention. Everything from the color of them to the annoying *ding* sound has been created to take you away from whatever you're doing.
You may not be able to turn off all of your notifications. Perhaps you want to make sure that you always get messages from important people or that you never miss an email. That's okay. However, if everything from Amazon to YouTube is vying for your attention, you need to turn things down. Go to your settings and switch off some notifications now.
5. Take a break from your phone for the day
When was the last time you went out and left your smartphone at home? No, seriously! The thought of doing so may fill you with dread. However, taking a long break from your device may help you to clear your head and become more productive in the long run.
Spending time in nature is a straightforward way to improve your mental health. However, recent research suggests that if you use your smartphone while you're in nature, it lowers the positive effects you'd otherwise enjoy. Rather than taking your device with you on your next hike in the great outdoors, leave it at home and spend some time away from it.
Of course, you should always consider safety first here. If you are heading out to a huge national park and may need your smartphone to call for help, take it with you. Alternatively, you could take a lower-tech device with you to use only “in case of emergency.”
6. Talk to other people about your smartphone use
Whenever you're trying to establish a new habit, having an accountability partner is your secret weapon. You'll need to check in with this person and let them know how things have been going. So, if you've been using your smartphone too much and want to curb it, reach out to someone you trust. Let them know what the plan is and that you want help. You can speak to them when you need support and update them on your overall progress.
What is smartphone addiction?
Still can't seem to put your smartphone down? You're not alone. As the Addiction Center notes, these devices are designed to be addictive in every sense of the word. Everything from the bright notifications to the unexpected prompts are there to increase your usage.
One of the big problems when it comes to smartphone overuse is that it can change your brain's reward system by impacting the neurotransmitters - gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) - associated with delivering a calming or euphoric effect. Since you get an instant “hit” when you see a notification on your device, you may start to become numb to those feelings. That means that your brain has to work harder to experience that joy.
All of the above means that it's easy to get addicted to your smartphone, as you start relying on it to bring you happiness. If you're concerned about your usage and worry that you can't stop, here are some of the main signs of smartphone addiction:
Isolation. Are you choosing to be on your smartphone rather than see people in real life? If you're feeling lonely and only have your device for company, that's a red flag.
FOMO. Worried that you'll miss something important on your smartphone if you're not looking at it? Are you experiencing Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)?
Accidents. If you're always looking at your device, it can lead to accidents - either in your home or elsewhere. Are you knocking into things when you're on it?
Low productivity. Is your work suffering as a result of your smartphone usage? That's a real problem. Consider whether your device is impacting you here.
Worried loved ones. If your friends and family have noticed how much you use your smartphone and have mentioned it, that may be a sign that something is wrong.
It's hard to stop. Maybe you've tried to lower your device time but found it hard. You may not know how to be mindful of your phone, for example.
If you believe that you're addicted to your smartphone, it's important to do something about it. While you can use some of the tactics we've outlined here, if they don't work, you may want to seek professional help. Working with a cognitive behavioral therapist or a counselor may help you to lower your use and start establishing healthier habits elsewhere.
Smartphones can be wonderful tools - but they can also hinder our productivity. In this guide, we've covered everything you need to know about how to be mindful of your phone. No matter how much you use your device, you can always start looking at simple ways that you can cut back. That choice might just help you to become more productive.
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