There are few hours of the day when I don't pick up my phone for one reason or another. It's been that way for years now. I constantly check notifications, text someone, take a picture, upload a file or some other weird, niche task that only takes a few seconds.
Smartphones and tablets are great time wasters. I'm currently hung up on Slingshot and Letterpress. And I'm on a kick of watching movies from literally wherever I am.
That said, I have written several times about the major boost in productivity mobile devices give me. I'm able to complete tasks on the go that I never thought imaginable before, like writing articles and browsing the Web in full detail at breakneck speeds. Wireless speeds and the capabilities of smartphones have advanced exponentially over the years. I now do things I was never able to do before with ease and in virtually no time.
Last night, David Beren and I were talking about productivity and how he and I both take constant breaks. It made me think back to both an article I wrote last year and when I worked in retail.
Anyone who has worked in retail in the last decade knows how much management hates cell phones on the job. And in many office environments, cell phone use is usually kept to a minimum, if not totally prohibited. Of course I don't have to deal with that now – I work from home most the time and write about cell phones. Playing with phones on the job is … part of my job.
Contrary to popular belief, though, I don't sit around for eight hours each day installing apps and setting up new phones. For the better part of three years now, I have spent the majority of every day tapping away at a keyboard, trying to ignore my phones. Each and every distraction extends my work day by several minutes. Just a ringing phone, even when I don't answer, can derail my train of thought for 15 minutes or more. Add that up several times over the course of a day and I'm wasting hours on top of hours.
So I've managed to cut out as many distractions as possible over the years. And one of those great distractions, ironically enough, is smartphones.
I haven't totally cut smartphone usage while I work. Quite the contrary. I use them to do many tasks throughout the day: take pictures, shoot a quick email, text, stream music and much more. But I have them silenced and turned upside down. Only important calls and notifications get through.
Yet I have a system, a concentration exercise that is meant to maximize productivity. Every 45 minutes I work, I take a 10 to 15 minute break. It was a recommendation of a business efficiency consultant, Andrew Jenson, who suggested short, periodic breaks at work can help boost productivity, long-term memory retention and decision-making. A quote from his site:
"First, 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.”
This information is nothing new; it's been echoed around the Web hundreds of thousands of times. Short breaks boost productivity and efficiency. But constant interruptions, clearly, slow things to a crawl and send my mind on a wild ride of endless hours of distractions and fruitless work.
Despite being my profession, I have to limit my cell phone usage during the hours that I write. I simply get more done in significantly less time. However, I am prone to taking breaks every so often to attend to the mountain of notifications waiting on me.
Do you get short, periodic breaks at work? Are you allowed to use your cell phone during those times? Or can you freely use your phone throughout the work day? What works best for you?