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Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

    In my recent NewHabits-NewGoals time management programs I have noticed a disturbing trend: now, there is always at least 10% of the class that is unable to comply with my request to turn off their Blackberrys or iPhones for the duration of the class.

    This needs to be put in context, however.

    None of the people sitting in my classes are emergency room surgeons, firemen or policemen. I am not delivering these programs in a war zone, during a hurricane or in the middle of a tornado.

    Yet, they find it absolutely essential to be checking their email every few minutes.

    When I ask the obvious question: “Why?” the response has always been a modified version of the following explanation given to me by a banker with a company headquartered overseas, in Canada. She once failed to respond to an email from Canada within an hour or two. She then received a call from her boss telling her that her lack of responsiveness had been noticed, and that he had been asked by someone in headquarters to intervene, and do something about the “problem.”

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    That this banker was an executive seemed not to matter. She was expected to constantly monitor her email at all times. Period. After all, hadn’t she been given a Blackberry?

    Welcome to the latest technique in micromanagement.

    For aspiring micro-managers, it’s easy: simply give the employee the gift of a Blackberry. Then, send them “important” emails at odd hours (5pm is a good choice.) When you don’t get a response within minutes, make a critical comment, and mention their need to improve their time management skills. Praise them for their responsiveness as they inevitably knuckle under in time, and thank them for becoming a good “team player.”

    For the manager, it’s a case of “mission accomplished.” The employee now understands how important it is to respond to email quickly. The desired behaviour has been put in place.

    We can thank the Blackberry for taking away the last excuse that employees had for not doing exactly what their bosses want them to do, immediately.

    However, what effect does this have on overall corporate productivity?

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    I remember a company I did business with that had a policy of not installing voicemail on their employee’s phones. (This was in the days before cell phones.) In their commitment to serve their internal and external customers, they insisted that whenever the phone rang, even for executives, that it had to be answered.

    This well-intentioned policy had the unintended consequence of pressuring employees to develop the bad habit of dropping whatever they were doing to answer the phone. Back then, they had no idea who the caller was as there was no caller-id provided. A call to a wrong number took precedence over whatever the employee was doing at the moment.

    While that ancient practice would make us smile and shake our heads, the new habit of checking and re-checking email over and over is even more destructive.

    While your phone might not ring every day, the same isn’t true for email — the norm is to receive not just one but several messages per day. An employee that must respond to email quickly must therefore check their email many, many times per day, just to make sure that something more important or more urgent hasn’t just been sent.

    To get at that item, they must read virtually all their email, just in case one of them is critical.

    The manager might think they are getting a responsive employee by giving them a Blackberry, and following the steps I described above.

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    In fact, they are turning their professional into a drone who is incapable of planning their day, and isn’t trusted to decide what to work on from one moment to the next.

    If the author of “Flow” – Mihaly Csikszentmihaly – is to believed, it takes an employee 20 minutes to get back to their most productive state after they interrupt themselves for any reason, including email.

    The professional becomes an unproductive drone.

    What drives this crazy state of affairs is a fear on the part of employees, who knuckle under a regime that they freely acknowledge is destructive because they are afraid of negative repercussions. Better for them to do the stupid thing they despise over and over again, than to be the odd one out who gets called up by their manager for having poor skills.

    Many companies who adapted electronic email devices have seen productivity drop and fear rise, as these bad habits become ubiquitous. They are beginning to ask themselves — how did we get to this place?

    A few are reversing it.

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    They are putting in place smartphone policies that limit their use to certain hours, and banning their use on vacations and public holidays. They are actually training their employees how to manage themselves in a way that expands the amount of “quality time” they spend at their desk each day, by teaching them how to get into and sustain the flow state. They are actively removing the requirement to respond to email by a given time, and are using the phone as a way to communicate emergencies, which is improving the quality of delegation, requesting and promising.

    In other words, they are actively turning the tables on bad habits that have sprung up around the latest technology, and taking charge of the fear-driven culture change that has become the norm in too many companies.

    Image: Cheo70

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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