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The top 10 lessons I learned using my smartphone for only 60 minutes a day

The top 10 lessons I learned using my smartphone for only 60 minutes a day

For the last three months I have only used my smartphone for one hour a day; a tall order considering my smartphone is like another appendage to me. Actually, scratch that – before this productivity experiment, my smartphone was like tapestry, so interwoven into my life that I couldn’t dream of living without it. If I came up with a crazy thought, I would pull out my phone to tweet it out. If I saw a book I wanted to read, I would snap a picture of it with my phone to refer back to later. If I wanted to pass some time at the bus stop.. well, you get the idea.

There is an adage that says great design is invisible, and that holds especially true for my smartphone. Over the last few years, my iPhone has done everything from wake me up in the morning to track my sleep when I went to bed, and over time it became so interwoven into my daily routine that it became invisible to me; such an essential part of what I do and who I am that I couldn’t imagine living without it.

Until I started this experiment.

I’ve boiled down everything I learned over the last 3 months into the 10 points below. This productivity experiment wasn’t as tough as meditating for 35 hours over a week, or living as a total recluse for 10 days, but because it lasted so damn long, it sure wasn’t easy (I used my phone for as much as 3-4 hours a day before starting this experiment). Here are the top 10 things I learned using my smartphone for only 1 hour/day for 3 months!

    10. You meet interesting people when you’re not always on your phone.

    Shortly after I started this experiment, I met a man named Michael at the bus stop, simply because I didn’t have my headphones in. A similar thing happened a couple of other times throughout the experiment.

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    9. Your smartphone is a teleportation device.

    Your smartphone is like a little black hole in your pocket that sucks you into its vortex dozens of times every day. If you pick it up when you’re in an elevator, on a bus, or going for a walk, it sucks up 100% of your attention as you use it, essentially hijacking your attention until it has teleported you to your destination. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but I’m leaning toward bad. Just as a practice like meditation can help you work out your attention muscle, I think losing control of your attention, like when you become completely absorbed in your cellphone, can do the opposite.

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      8. Because of smartphones, people are bored a lot less often, and that’s a shame.

      I find that my best ideas come from completely out of the blue, especially when I’m bored. When your mind is bored, it looks around for excitement and ideas in new places. Your brain also chews on ideas when it’s bored. In my opinion, leaning on your smartphone when you’re bored is, at least in the long-term, a pretty unproductive thing to do.

      7. Using your smartphone distracts you way more than you think.

      Studies have shown that “the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk”. But the thing is, people don’t only use their phones when they drive. They use them when they’re talking to you, when you’re in a meeting with them, when they’re walking down the street, and when they’re working. Know how much of an attention suck a smartphone can be, because people could be paying a lot less attention to you than you think.

      6. Your smartphone is stimulating, but it dilutes your interactions with people.

      If you gave me the choice between having a nice coffee with someone or sending a bunch of tweets back and forth, I know which one I’d pick after this experiment. Texting, Twitter, and Facebook are fun and addictive, but if you really want to invest in your relationship with someone, meet with them in person instead.

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      5. When you meet with someone in person, you should shut your phone completely off.

      Absolutely nobody you meet cares (or can see) what you’re doing on your phone. When I had coffee with a few friends throughout the course of this experiment, the first thing I did after I sat down was shut my phone completely off. Shutting your phone off when you’re with someone is a great way to show them they they’re important to you, and that you’re ready to give them 100% of your attention.

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        4. When people get nervous or anxious about a situation they’re in, they almost always pull out their phone.

        The next time you walk into an elevator, make a make a mental note of how many people pull out their phone, especially if there’s only one other person in there with you. When people are anxious about a situation they’re in, they almost always fidget with their hands and minds.

        3. Using your smartphone is a very low-leverage activity.

        In fact, if you’re like me, most of the things you do on your phone are a waste of time. They involve diluted social interaction, bite-sized status updates, and other things that have a very short shelf-life (but are still stimulating nonetheless). That’s not to say that my smartphone isn’t useful – it is, in fact, it’s one of the useful devices I own. But it’s worth taking the time to identify the activities on your smartphone that will provide you with the highest return for your time, because there are a lot that are a waste.

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          2. You use your phone way more than you think you do.

          If you hire your phone to do as many jobs as me, I’d wager a bet that you use your smartphone a lot more than you think you do. If I had to guess at the beginning of the experiment, I would have said that I used my phone for 30-60 minutes a day. A few days into the experiment I measured exactly how long I used my phone naturally, and I use it for as long as 3-4 hours a day, simply because I hire it to do so many jobs. That’s a lot of time to spend on something as low-leverage as using your phone. If you’re serious about regaining control of your time, track how much you use your phone. You might be surprised by just how much you use it.

          1. Think hard about the jobs that you hire the things in your life to do for you.

          People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole. – Theodore Levitt

          The ‘jobs-to-be-done’ theory is a powerful one. According to the theory, you hire every single device, object, and even person in your life to do a certain job for you. You may hire a beautiful, living room painting to provide you with warmth and pride, your morning coffee to provide you with energy and comfort, your spouse for companionship and to feel loved, and this website to make you more productive.

          Throughout this experiment, here’s the funny thing I discovered: The ease of this experiment depended solely on whether I had other devices around me that could do a given job that I would typically hire my phone to do.

          If you’re like me, you hire your smartphone to do a lot of jobs for you. I hire mine to, in no particular order: access twitter, send and receive email, play music, make phone calls, calculate numbers, browse the web, play video games, be my Starbucks card, give me transit directions, tell the time (and act as a timer), be a pomodoro timer, and a whole lot more. Naturally, the more jobs you hire a gadget to do for you, the more your life will be disrupted after it’s gone.

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          Thinking hard about the jobs you hire your phone to do for you will allow you to truly see the place it occupies in your life.

          Plus, if you’re anything like me, you might find that there are a lot of jobs that can be done better by something else.

          Thanks to Ryan Wang for editing the feature image of this post. Photo credits, in order of appearance: Caden Crawford (phone and hand), Robert Donovan (closeup of iPhone screen), and Richard Lambert (timepiece).

          Featured photo credit: Caden Crawford via flickr.com

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          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

          It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

          Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

          “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

          In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

          New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

          There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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          So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

          What is the productivity paradox?

          There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

          In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

          He wrote in his conclusion:

          “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

          Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

          How do we measure productivity anyway?

          And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

          In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

          But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

          In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

          But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

          Possible causes of the productivity paradox

          Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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          • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
          • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
          • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
          • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

          There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

          According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

          Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

          The paradox and the recession

          The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

          “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

          This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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          According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

          Looking forward

          A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

          “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

          Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

          “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

          On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

          Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

          Reference

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