Increasing productivity: Be smarter than your smart phone

We touch our smart phones 2,617 times per day (2.42 hours screen time per day) on average*, so it’s no wonder that we struggle with productivity in the office and find it hard to switch off outside of work hours. Phone notifications are one of the main reasons we pick up our phones. Every time it beeps, we stop what we are doing, pick up the phone and look at what it is telling us:

  • You have email (work)
  • You have email (personal)
  • You have email (2nd personal account)
  • You have a calendar update
  • Someone has liked your Facebook photo
  • You have a picture notification from your child’s school
  • You have a text message
  • You have a WhatsApp message
  • You have a FB Messenger message
  • Free listings on eBay today
  • Breaking News: Something bad is happening
  • LinkedIn wants to tell us it’s someone’s birthday

And so on; you get the picture…

With all these notifications vying for our attention, it’s no wonder that our work gets interrupted and we find ourselves juggling multiple projects at once. If we have an approach to work that means that we keep stopping and starting then the work is going to suffer and our stress levels will rise, which doesn’t help anyone.

A lot of businesses recognise this and have policies about personal phone use in the office which means personal phones will be switched off during work hours or when at your desk. The problem is that more and more of us rely on our smart phones to help us with our work life and even if we have work devices that do not have the latest social media apps, the regular beeping to tell us we have mail can be just as intrusive and distracting.

Up until recently I thought that because I switched my emails off at weekends that I was managing my work/life balance well (I recommend more and more people do this). That was until I read the book, Do Breathe – Calm your mind. Find focus. Get stuff done by Michael Townsend Williams, where he highlights the further problems that distracting phone notifications can have on your productivity.

I therefore made the conscious decision to try switching all my phone notifications off for a week to see what impact it had. The results were instantaneous.

Having arrived at work on a Monday morning, I started by writing an important report and two hours later I had finished the report and realised that my phone had not beeped once. This means I had no distractions, and I was able to commit 100% of my time and focus on the report that I needed to prepare. I then logged in to my email on my desk top and saw 19 emails waiting for me, and all were non-urgent allowing me to prioritise the next lot of work that needed to be completed.

What was interesting, was that by 3pm, I had not only completed all my work, but I had still been able to manage my email inbox without any problems. The day was a success, I probably felt like I had achieved a lot more than I would have done had I had a lot of interruptions from my phone and I wasn’t rushing to get everything done by the end of the day.

This pattern continued all week. Productivity increased, I was more relaxed and I felt that I was able to cultivate good habits and devote more time to the projects that have been sat on the back-burner for a while.

Will I be turning my notifications back on? Definitely not. The biggest noticeable change was my time at home in the evenings, where I could sit through dinner or a film and even sleep throughout the night without my phone constantly beeping at me, encouraging me to pick it up. I could still read email, read social media messages and stay in touch with people, but I could do it when I chose to and that made a big impact. My phone battery life also increased a lot, another bonus.

If you find you have similar problems with lots of email and notifications, either for yourself or your workforce, then consider turning the notifications off and seeing if it increases productivity. You might find this simple change allows you to get more done and increase both morale and the profitability and quality of your work. If you do try it and it works for you then let me know.

How to turn off notifications on an iPhone:

  • Go to Settings
  • Go to Notifications
  • Select each notification one by one and turn them off or leave them on




*Source: dscout, 2016:

About the author

Tom has worked at RWA for over 12 years, starting as Operations Manager before taking on roles as Operations Director, CEO and most recently as Director leading the company into the digital age.

Before joining RWA, he was involved in helping develop the operations of one of Wales’ fastest growing utility consultancies as well as leading the Key Accounts team of a major commercial energy supplier.

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