Want to finish that document you’ve been preparing? Tuck your phone into a drawer or give it to your colleague. By doing so, your performance will improve by a whopping 26%, according to a study released in August by software security group Kaspersky Lab. Social scientists from the universities of Würzburg, Germany, and Nottingham Trent, UK, conducted a concentration test on 95 participants and found that the further away you are from your smartphone, the better you’re able to concentrate. “Just the presence of your phone in front of you lowers your ability to concentrate on the task,” says Altaf Halde, managing director, Kaspersky Lab, South Asia. And given the speed of information these days, it is getting more and more difficult to focus on things, so there should be company processes that allow off-time from phones, he suggests.
Rajesh Sagar, professor at the department of psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, who published a paper on the link between smartphone apps and mental health in the Journal Of Mental Health And Human Behaviour last year, says multitasking with a smartphone can make you lose focus and lead to a loss of efficiency at work. “To counter it, you need to prioritize your work and focus on one task at a time. Verbally and mentally, say no to any other distraction, be it notifications or colleagues. Your productivity depends on this,” he says.
Here are some other benefits of keeping away from your smartphone at work.
You’ll get more sleep
Feeling fatigued or exhausted at work? Using a smartphone after 9pm increases the possibility of you being less engaged at work the next day owing to reduced sleep and anxiety, according to a study by the University of Florida, US, that was published in the Organizational Behaviour And Human Decision Processes journal in 2014. The blue light that smartphones emit interferes with the production of melatonin, a chemical that helps you fall and stay asleep, the study explains.
“Sleep is getting compromised because people sleep with their phone on the bedside, messaging, answering calls, constantly working their brain,” says Amitabh Saha, consultant psychiatrist at the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Vaishali, near Delhi, who does not own a smartphone. “At night, your body and mind are 90% switched off and so get servicing. If you don’t give them snooze time, you’ll get fatigued or burnt out.” He suggests keeping the phone away from the bedroom at night.
Your attention span will increase
The smartphone is a hotbed of distractions, and it has reduced our attention span. A study conducted by Microsoft Canada, and released last year, found that human attention span in the smartphone era is around 8 seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2000), lower than the average attention span of a goldfish, which is 9 seconds. It’s worse for people who are heavy users of social media. So resist those tempting notifications and see if your attention span improves.
You’ll be able to concentrate
The mere vibration or tone of a notification on your phone can cause enough distraction to impair your ability to perform tasks, finds a study published in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology. “You make more mistakes on the task when you receive phone notifications,” says Cary Stothart, a psychology postdoctoral research associate at the Florida State University, and lead author of the study. “The distraction is almost equivalent to that seen when drivers talk or text while using a phone,” he says. Even ignoring a notification doesn’t help—you end up thinking about it and get distracted from your work. If you aren’t expecting a call, put your phone on silent mode. You’ll notice that you finish off tasks more quickly.
You’ll distract others less
Do you tend to talk on the phone a lot in office? You’re not only wasting time, but distracting your colleagues too, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE. The study gave participants tasks while exposing them to a conversation between two people as well as a person talking on the phone and found that the latter was more distracting. “When you overhear a phone conversation, you automatically begin to listen and it distracts you,” says Veronica Galván, associate professor at the University of San Diego, US, who conducted the study that was published in March 2013. She adds that this is why most people find colleagues who’re constantly on the phone so annoying.
So, stay off personal phone calls in your cubicle. If it’s urgent, take the call in the conference room or outside.
You won’t annoy colleagues in meetings
Constant thumb-typing or fiddling with your phone in a meeting annoys colleagues. They consider it uncivil and inappropriate behaviour, according to a study conducted by the University of Southern California, US, published in the Business Communication Quarterly in 2013. The same research found that older people and those with higher incomes (who in all probability are your bosses) get more irritated with this behaviour. “No one in a meeting likes the person who’s tapping away on the phone constantly. You might lose goodwill or even hurt your colleagues,” says Dr Saha.
Want that next promotion? Leave the smartphone on your desk when you head to a meeting.
Your brain will be less exhausted
Talking on the phone while writing an email? Or tweeting in a meeting? Don’t. Recent research suggests that multitasking not only exhausts the brain, it also makes you inefficient at both the tasks you’re doing. Since our brain is made to do one thing at a time, constant fiddling with gadgets distracts us, according to a study released in May at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in California—the brain then takes 50% longer to finish that task. “Every time you multitask, your efficiency and attention goes down as your brain is constantly shifting from one task to another,” explains Dr Sagar, adding that concentrating on one task is the key.
So if you want to finish that Excel sheet, keep your phone on silent mode and check your email and social posts only a few times a day. Otherwise, log off.