How Smartphone Addiction Hurts Productivity
By Samuel Greengard
According to recent studies, the average smartphone user checks his or her device between 150 and 200 times per day. Subtract sleeping hours and this works out to about once every five to seven minutes. Unfortunately, while workers are going OCD scanning social media sites, tapping out text messages and juggling multiple e-mails, their productivity is probably declining.
Psychologists will tell you that the human brain has only so much capacity for information. Overload it with too much minutiae and it fails to keep track of pretty much everything. In other words, at some point people wind up handling a lot of tasks … badly. They forget things, they make errors, and they're unable to see the proverbial forest through the trees.
They also wind up burned out. Leslie Perlow, a Harvard Business School professor and author of Sleeping With Your Smartphone, found that 78 percent of those who disconnected from work at night reported satisfaction with their jobs while only 49 percent of those that used their smartphones at night reported the same level of satisfaction.
The irony is that the more we grasp for knowledge, the more we wind up drowning in information. Sophisticated analytics tools, big data and real-time dashboards are incredibly valuable, but not if individuals and organizations lack time and mental space to identify goals, objectives and desired outcomes. Not if exhausted people are constantly swimming in minutiae and trivia.
USA Today reports that only 20 percent of employers have a formal policy regulating the use of wireless communication devices during non-work hours. Legal problems can also ensue. In Chicago, a court has allowed a class action lawsuit to proceed against the police department because hourly workers who spend off-duty time on their BlackBerrys are essentially putting in unpaid overtime.
Wise CIOs understand the power of technology, but also recognize that running the race faster doesn't necessarily mean running it better. What's more, it's possible to hit all the desired metrics and fail. In the end, taking some time to unplug and think—and giving people time to rest and recover—is likely to yield better results.
In fact, Perlow found that when she put a group of techy consultants at Boston Consulting Group on a smartphone diet and carved out mandatory time for them to unplug every week, they actually performed their jobs much better.
Sometimes, less is more.