Why My Phone is Getting on My Nerves

I can really empathize with the boss I read about last week who lost it and banned smartphones in meetings. But the problem with our smartphones goes way beyond meetings. Just having my phone nearby is enough to drop my productivity and mental acuity.

A few days ago, I committed to an experiment – I was going to put my phone out of sight, out of reach, and out of hearing range. And I did, for an entire … morning. It truly did help me focus, and I got more done in less time and with more clarity of thought. And, as expected, I didn’t “miss” anything urgent.

So, what happened?

Lunch happened. And I jumped back on my phone to check in. And just as quickly, I forgot my intention to use my phone more intentionally.

Looking back on that day, I was astonished at how quickly my brain’s addiction to that device took over. Then I ran across an article that helps explain why.

According to Thomas Oppong writing in Medium, the average adult checks their phone up to 300 times a day. According to a study from dscout, we touch our phones upwards of 2,500 times a day. That’s crazy.

“Every time you pull out your phone to scan your feeds, your brain is building a habit loop that reinforces itself to encourage the habit,” Oppong writes. “Notifications prompt task-irrelevant thoughts and disrupt attention performance even if you don’t interact with the device. The buzzes, beeps, emails, alerts, and notifications never end until you do something about it.”

“It’s a spectrum disorder,” says Dr. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, who studies addiction. “There are mild, moderate and extreme forms.” And for many people, there’s no problem at all.”

But for countless others (self-included, apparently), it is a problem – for our productivity, our posture, even our sleep patterns and mental health. And it’s not just a problem for our kids, although we tend to judge their phone use a bit harsher than our own.

I think it’s time for a digital detox like the one Oppong describes. He recommends the following seven steps to break the cycle:

  1. Turn off your notifications when you start deep work
  2. Resist the urge to check your email when you are in proactive mode.
  3. Check email “on purpose” at your time.
  4. Use your breaks [to] think, meditate, go for a walk or read a physical book.
  5. Keep your phone out of sight for meetings, get-togethers, conversations, and meals involving other people.
  6. Instead of grasping your gadget at every opportunity, replace your screen time with other habits, like starting a conversation, or reading a newspaper.
  7. Tidy up your smartphone (once a month go through your phone and delete any unused app). It’s an essential step to using it more efficiently.

It’s easier said than done, as I know from personal experience. But the more aware I am of how often I touch that device, the more convinced I am that I need to take more drastic steps than the ones above.

Now, at the beginning of my work day, my phone will be in another room. I’ll limit how often I get up to check it, and I’ll be resorting to the old “rubber band on the wrist” technique to wake myself up from the constant cycle.

It can’t help but make me more productive, more relaxed, and a whole lot more focused. My phone is a tool, and it’s about time I started treating it that way.