Cell phones are distracting. They keep us from socializing with friends and family at dinner, they bring distractions and interruptions into theaters and have been to blame for a slew fatal wrecks on highways worldwide. In the corporate world, management typically finds cell phone use counterproductive and that they can quickly lead to productivity drain. According to a study performed by the National University of Singapore, however, this way of thinking may be outdated.
Let me begin by stating that this study had absolutely nothing to do with the use of a personal communication device in the workplace. Instead, the study found that taking periodic breaks from your work to check your favorite, work-friendly Internet sites can actually increase productivity and rejuvenate the mind. “Just as taking a short break to get a snack or a coffee can reinvigorate you, taking a very short break to do something other than type or mouse around improves the quality of your work thereafter,” says TechCrunch writer Devin Coldewey.
It is also worth noting that the test subjects were placed doing monotonous, repetitive tasks like highlighting every "e" in a 3,500-word document. The subjects were then broken into groups and told to do different activities: stack sticks in a specific way, do anything except browse the Internet and the last group was told to check a few standard websites.
As you would expect, the group that was tasked with browsing the web were the "least mentally exhausted (according to the infallible questionnaire) and most productive." Likewise, checking email did little in terms of rejuvenating workers, as that is generally still work-related. To those of us who do it on a daily basis, this is no secret. But I'm sure upper management at your place of business begs to differ.
So how exactly is this related to your pocket-sized computer? I'll give you a hint: it isn't the old fashioned theory that carrying a BlackBerry-like device keeps you always-connected and only a few microseconds away from your email. No, this has to do with personal correspondence and use of your phone – checking your favorite blogs and doing things not related to work. A post on Andrew Jensen's blog, a business efficiency consultant, states:
“... researchers suggested that the periodic and brief use of social networking sites (and arguably one’s cell phone and personal email account) amounts to a mental break of sorts, as these tasks require little to no actual concentration or thought. And, because taking regular breaks has been scientifically proven to improve performance, it stands to reason that technology breaks should have the same result. What’s more, socialization (including socialization via cellphones and social networking sites) has been proven to activate the centers of the brain responsible for long-term memory, learning, and decision-making, which also has the effect of improving performance.”
The information traces back to similar research done in 2009 by the University of Melbourne, whose findings are nearly spot-on with the NUS study.
I've worked a handful of jobs that strictly prohibited the use of cell phones, but enforced mandatory breaks – one 15-minute break for every four hours or work and a mandatory, 30-minute "lunch" for an eight-hour shift. I always hated taking breaks, simply because I was limited in what I could do in the time given and felt less productive when I hit the sales floor again. Now I work from home and take breaks periodically for a phone call, text message and my social networking. Browsing the web isn't necessarily a break for me, though, as it is literally a requirement for the work that I do. By taking a few minutes – no matter how short – here and there to respond to people and break from the work trance, I almost always come back with more concentration and a stronger will to finish. This is just something I've noticed throughout my time here at PhoneDog.
That said, it's safe to keep in mind that this is only true to an extent. Too much of anything, especially during the time you should be working, is never a good idea. Dr Brent Coker, from the Department of Management and Marketing, claims that those "who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t."
Is cell phone use (for personal business) permitted at your work? Do you have scheduled breaks where you can do as you please (within reason)? If so, do you feel it helps you focus more and boost productivity?