Last week I heard a brief segment on NPR about the distracting pull of our smart phones. The statement didn’t surprise me since it validates my own and other’s observed behaviors.
After all, it seems intuitive- the mere presence of our phones beckons us to keep checking it. Not only when we have a beep, ring or tone that alerts us to a new notification but even when it is silent. We check and double check thinking that we must “See if something is going on.” “Did we miss a text?” and even thinking, “It must be broken since I didn’t get anything.”
After hearing the story, I commented to my husband, “No one sits by their land line and keeps picking it up to see if there is someone on the other end.” Of course as I was speaking I was reminded of comedy skits where that is exactly what happens. The protagonist is waiting for an important call and sits by the phone. Every once in a while she will pick up the phone to see if someone is there. In the real old skits, the person on the other line is usually the telephone operator who will patiently explain that no one has called. (For those who aren’t familiar, back in the day- there were party lines. No such thing as direct calling. One had to speak to the operator. “Operator, get me ‘AMherst 355’ and the operator would connect you. Sometimes you had to wait to be connected and so the operator would ring you back with the connection.)
These social scientists realized that even though their phones were parked beside them and not making any noise, they still felt compelled to check them to ensure that they hadn’t missed a call.
I started thinking about my own practice with the cell phone. I, too am guilty of checking the phone for truly no reason. Although in fairness to me, I have missed calls. Either because I put my phone on silent and forgotten to return it to sound when I was expecting a call. Or it is deep in the bowels of my purse and I cannot hear it ringing or if I do, it takes me forever to unearth it. Just when I do the ring stops.
I find that having the phone next to me while working is distracting. I find myself checking to see messages and emails which is exactly what they discovered in their rudimentary experiment. The closer in proximity a smart phone was to a person, the more likely and the more frequent he would look at the phone.
Of course, time management suggests that one batches emails and phone calls at various times during the day. That is an admirable plan. One in which I try to adhere. Still, over the last fifteen years, because of caring for aging parents, I found that I needed to have the phone close. It would never fail that the times that I would forget my phone, have it charging in another room or have it on silence, would be the one time that I would receive an important phone call about their care.
There is something about out of sight, out of mind though that I find appealing. In some ways, by not having the phone in eye shot, it gives me permission to not be burdened by the information through the various forms of communication. For truly, if I analyze the information that I am reading, most of it is not that time sensitive.
It also gives me permission to really concentrate at the task on hand. I can control when I look and when I respond to various messages. It allows me to feel that I accomplished something rather than being harried and beholden to a text, email or message that doesn’t move me closer to completing the task.
I am also giving myself permission to analyze my time this week. I have started keeping track of my days: what I have done with each hour or so. I am looking for patterns of productivity and misuse. Is there something that seems to be taking larger chunks of my time? What is it? And why is it? Is there margin in my schedule? Times of down time? Time for self-care? For care of others? How many times am I checking my phone?
If you wonder where your time is going, you might want to try a time study. You can use your day planner, or just a sheet of paper. [ Of course, the irony of a time tracker app on one’s phone isn’t wasted on me! It is tempting to suggest it though. ] Or, you can download templates. Click here to download either an excel or word time sheet.
I am just using a piece of paper. For each day, I group my time into either hourly sections or into the amount of time it takes me to do an activity. (e.g. tennis= 2 1/2 hours with playing and traveling to and from time.) So far I haven’t found any patterns but I have realized that my days are packed. No wonder I fall asleep so quickly.
What about you? What is your relationship with your phone? Do you keep it in sight during your waking hours? What do you do about meal times? Meetings? I have heard that by putting the phone on the table for meetings or meals is the equivalent of setting other people at the table. Do you want them there or not?