The smartphone has become a ubiquitous status symbol of and tool for businesspeople doingoffice-sign-blackberry   business. In offices, on the streets, and in airports, what self-respecting businessperson doesn’t have their smartphone, whether a Blackberry, Windows Mobile device, Palm, or iPhone, at the ready to make the deal, provide support, change the plan, or just stay up to date on their company’s latest developments at a moment’s notice. The smartphone’s ability to provide businesspeople with instant access to others through email, text messaging, and phone has, in theory, saved time and made the business world run more smoothly by keeping everyone in a company connected all day every day. It can truly be a tool for increased communication, efficiency, and productivity.

The Unintended Consequences of Smartphones

Unfortunately, the smartphone also represents a corporate culture gone mad, in which everyone feels they are so needed that they simply can’t be out of touch with work lest the company collapses without their constant input and output. The smartphone has, falling prey to the theory of unintended consequences, become a weapon against businesspeople that actually hurts corporate discipline, focus, and productivity.

It has also created an upheaval in the already fragile balance between work and life. This state of constant connectedness has blurred (or obliterated) the lines between work and life, creating marital and family conflict, and destroying any hope of peace and quiet when away from the office. Perhaps the last refuge on Earth from the imposition of the smartphone may be the airplane, though that final line of defense against the smartphone onslaught will surely fall in the next few years.

Who’s In Charge Here?

So who’s in charge here? Are you master of your smartphone or does your smartphone own you? Here are a few ways to tell:

  • Do you take your smartphone with you wherever you go?
  • Is your smartphone the last thing you look at before you go to sleep and the first thing you look at when you wake up?
  • Do you make or take business calls regularly when away from work?
  • Do your family or friends give you exasperated looks when you pull out your smartphone constantly?
    If you answered “yes” to these questions, you smartphone runs your life.

Yearning For Freedom

Despite the attachment that you have to your smartphone, there is likely a part of you deep inside that resents the power that it has over you. You may feel a subtle, yet delicious, sense of relief when you “accidently” leave it at work or have guilt-laden fantasies of dropping and breaking your smartphone—by accident, of course—requiring you to be without it for a few days while it is fixed or replaced.

If you feel this way, you need to stand up to your smartphone—”I will not let you control my life!”—and choose to reject its captive power over you.

Smartphone Rules to Live By

Despite the obvious tongue-in-cheek tone so far, this unhealthy relationship with your smartphone has real consequences both at work and at home. And there are some tangible things that you can do to break the grip that your smartphone has on you. Here are five simple rules you can follow to help you regain control of your smartphone so it is once again a tool of efficiency and productivity rather than a weapon against your freedom and mental health.

Rule #1: Don’t look at your smartphone in the morning until you get to work. Peeking at your email or phone messages before you have dressed or had breakfast will create unnecessary distraction, worry, and stress. If you’re married with children, it will also prevent you from being engaged with your family during breakfast. In fact, don’t even look at your smartphone during the drive to work; again, it would serve no purpose as you can’t—or, at least, you shouldn’t—be thumb typing during your commute (unless you’re on a train or bus and you can respond to your phone and email messages).

Rule #2: Don’t look at your smartphone during the day unless you are ready to act on it. It’s not uncommon for businesspeople to look at their smartphones as they head into a meeting or just before a conference call. The primary consequence of doing this is that you will be distracted from your next task. You will be thinking about what you found on your smartphone instead of focusing on the task ahead.

Rule #3: Turn off all smartphones during meetings. In fact, every company should have a “no smartphone” rule for all meetings. There are few things more irritating, distracting, and productivity-killing than having people at a meeting looking at and typing into their smartphones. They are clearly not paying attention to the meeting and, therefore, unable to contribute in any meaningful way. It also distracts others at the meeting. It wastes time and prolongs meetings because no one is focusing on the agenda. Quality and productivity suffer too because the lack of full engagement means that effective problem solving and decision making will be nearly impossible.

Rule #4: Don’t check your smartphone less than 30 minutes before you go to bed. If there are calls or emails you think you must respond to you, you will get to bed later and you’ll get riled up, so you’ll have a harder time falling asleep. The reality is that, in most cases, they can wait until morning, so best not to look. At worst, choose a time between 30 and 60 minutes before bedtime when you take a last look at your smartphone. At best, commit to not checking your smartphone at all in the evening.

Rule #5: Don’t do your smartphone when you are doing life. In other words, don’t look at your smartphone if you are interacting with others, doing something that is supposed to clear your mind of work, such as exercise, meditation, having a meal, watching a movie, or hanging out with family or friends.. There is nothing more annoying to family and friends than to be with you when you are making business calls or responding to email—why are you even with them if you’re with them in body only? It’s okay to check your smartphone periodically, but ONLY IF you don’t interrupt more important life stuff and ONLY IF you are expecting something that you may have to act on quickly.

Letting Go

Your dependence on your smartphone is a habit that develops through repeated use. So you can think of separating from your smartphone as a habit as well; it takes commitment, discipline, and repetition to change. You will find that there are many upsides to regaining control of your smartphone. The people in your life will welcome you back from the smartphone precipice and actually want to be around you. You will be more relaxed, more engaged in life, have more fun, be a whole lot happier and, despite your great fondness for your smartphone, you will find much more interesting and enjoyable things to do with your time.

To read more about the Psychology of Technology and other topics, visit my blog.

17 COMMENTS

  1. […] pulled in a couple of the rules to give you a preview. If you want more, you’ll have to go here. Rule #1: Don’t look at your smartphone in the morning until you get to work. Peeking at your […]

  2. […] pulled in a couple of the rules to give you a preview. If you want more, you’ll have to go here. Rule #1: Don’t look at your smartphone in the morning until you get to work. Peeking at your […]

  3. Why does a smartphone=work? I use mine for all sorts of personal tasks. I look up movie info or locations to assist with my real life tasks and interacting with others I am talking to.

    And #1? Silly as hell. Nothing more unpleasant than a casual drive to work to find a disaster waiting for you. I want to know if anything is going on, or I forgot to notice last night I have a meeting this morning, before it gets out of hand.

    The point of these devices, to me, is that they do NOT interrupt the normal flow. I can glance, know everything is okay, or rarely (because I have all knowledge so can nip it in the bud) something is bad and must be dealt with right away. My life is quite casual and my work day on telecommuting days can be a lot like I am not even at work, while I get absolutely everything done.

  4. […] can read Dr Taylor’s post HERE Share and […]

  5. So wise! :-)
    I was just wondering how to cope with my blackberry during next holidays…
    Thank you for the advises you gave me!!! :-)

  6. Your assumption that everyone commutes to work by driving marks this blog out as being very American.

    Commuting is the perfect time to check your smartphone, unless you’re unfortunate enough to commute by sitting in a traffic jam.

  7. […] of Technology: 5 Smartphone Rules to Live By over at Mobility Digest takes an interesting view of the way we use smartphones. A little patronising and not really on the […]

  8. @Richard: Actually, I did mention train and bus commuting because, though many Americans do drive to work, many others take alternative modes of transportation (in San Francisco, for example, many people I know take the ferry) that are are ideal for getting a start on the day.

    @Matteo: I just returned from a week’s vacation and was able to only look at my email in the morning and evening. Felt very liberating.

    @Steve: Good point, smartphones are for life too. I was focusing on the work element. As for your “silly as hell” comment, you are right that a quick check of your email and VM can help you prepare for your day. My point is that to only check when you have the ability to use the information, either with thought or action.

    Thanks to all for great comments and new insights and perspectives.

  9. @MobileSpoon: Just read your post; very funny. Gave me a good chuckle. And I like your Rule #6. Just seeing that flashing email or message indicator or that seductive little chirp of incoming email or message can be an irresistable siren’s call to the smartphone junkie; exquisite pain and pleasure all in one.

    BTW, I couldn’t find a place on your site to add a comment. Am I missing something?

  10. […] Jim Taylor of Mobility Digest has recently posted an article entitled Psychology of Technology: 5 Smartphone Rules to Live By on his Psychology of Technology […]

  11. […] Dr. Jim Taylor from MobilityDigest (a great site in which your humble servant is contributing to every now and then) just published […]

  12. I actually consider this blog , “Psychology of Technology: 5
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