Taming Technology: Smartphone Distraction
Technology is two-faced, both a champion and a slayer of productivity. There’s no disputing the wonder and convenience of smart phones. But we all know their potential to side-track and trip us up.
Multitasking is to Blame
Switching back and forth between tasks can decrease productivity by 40%.
Multitasking is not the super-duper, brag-worthy skill it’s touted to be. Dividing attention across two or more tasks causes a slow-down in mental processing, which is problematic for anyone, but particularly for students. High school students are notorious for having multiple devices open and active at once—TV, tablet, laptop, and smartphone—all while “doing” their maths homework.
Smartphones with all their bells-and-whistles notifications are the main attention attackers. A constantly chiming, bur-r-r-ring smartphone lays siege to attention and negatively affects performance.
Researchers at Florida State University report, “Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance. We found that cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.”
Put another way: It doesn’t matter if you don’t read the text message or answer the call. Just being aware of the notification diffuses attention.
Tips for Taming Technology
The good news is almost anyone can make a few changes to their settings to minimise smartphone distraction. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, offers some tips on taming the smartphone.
- Turn off notifications for social media in settings.
- Create a whitelist of important callers. Give those people a special ringtone. Set the ringtone for everyone else to something soft and unobtrusive.
- Keep the smartphone out of sight during times of high focus. Just the sight of the phone can lead to wandering thoughts.
- Post slogans on the lock screen that remind you to be mindful rather than defaulting to device-dependency. For example, “Why are you looking at me?” Or “Smell the flowers, feel the sunshine.” Or “Live the Moment.”
- Delete or turn off distracting apps—the very ones you turn to while standing in long queues or sitting in full waiting rooms. Instead, use those times and spaces to daydream, a far more beneficial use of time because it doesn’t lead to cognitive overload.
Parents – Up for the Challenge?
Can you take up any of Alex’s tips? As always, modelling the desired behaviour is step #1. Talk to your children about the myth of multitasking and its negative effects on academic performance. Help them set up their devices to support—rather than undermine—attention.
Do you have any other ways to reduce smartphone distractions? Please share them in the comments!