How often is your smartphone in your hand, or nearby, constantly buzzing with new notifications? If you’re like most modern business owners, you’re never too far from your smartphone, or more than a few minutes away from using it. This hub of communication and productivity promises to revolutionize the way we work, so it makes sense that we want to use it as much as possible; after all, we don’t want to miss an important email, or waste even a few minutes when we could be catching up on task notes.

However, the sad truth is that smartphone multitasking is ruining your business, and in more ways than one.

The Dangers of Multitasking

You probably already know that multitasking is inefficient, yet you do it anyway. That’s probably because multitasking is often compelling, and it’s easy to find an excuse to do it; for example, you might sort through emails in a meeting that seems like it’s not covering anything important. But multitasking is doing more than just temporarily damaging your productivity; according to research from Stanford University, multitasking regularly could be making long-term changes to your brain. Recurring multitaskers have a harder time paying attention to tasks, and recalling information. They’re also slower to switch between tasks.

Distracted Driving

Getting distracted with your smartphone while conducting activities that demand focus, like driving, can be not just counterproductive, but dangerous. As much as 30 percent of motorists in their 20s admit to using their phones while driving immediately prior to fatal crashes. Responding to an email or even looking down to see who called you is enough to pull your eyes off the road for even a few seconds, and that period of distraction is enough to potentially ruin someone’s life.

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Interruptions and Focus

Even if you aren’t deliberately multitasking on your smartphone, if you have notifications turned on, you may be passively multitasking by switching your attention to focus on those noises and visual cues. It may not seem like looking down to check a notification could interfere with your ability to focus on a project, but research shows it takes 23 minutes, on average, to recover from a distraction.

Even if you don’t have notifications turned on, your smartphone could be distracting you. Research shows that participants perform worse on tests of focus when a smartphone is nearby—even when it’s turned off. Ultimately, just having a smartphone could be pulling you away from the business-related activities that matter most.

The Jevons Paradox

The Jevons paradox or Jevons effect refers to the tendency for increasing resource consumption when the efficiency of using that resource is increased. It arose to describe the coal industry; when coal was processed faster and more efficiently in the industrial revolution, we actually started consuming more coal, not less.

The same logic could be applied to your smartphone. It’s a device that enables instant communication with anyone in your contact list, making people falsely believe that it inherently saves time and reduces conversations. In reality, you’re probably having more conversations—many of them unproductive—simply because they’re easier to initiate.

Employee Effects

Getting distracted by your smartphone can also have negative consequences for your employees. If you scroll through emails while in a one-on-one meeting with an employee, they may not feel valued, or may feel ignored. Over time, that results in a drop in morale, which can cause your productivity to tank. On top of that, by using your smartphone constantly, you’ll be setting a negative example for your employees. By creating a culture of multitasking and smartphone obsession, your entire team’s productivity will start to sink.

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The Solutions

So what are the solutions, other than abandoning your smartphone altogether?

  • Turn off notifications. First, consider turning off notifications for all but your most important apps. Almost everything can wait until you have time to check it manually, so don’t let yourself get bogged down by random buzzes throughout the day.
  • Put the phone away when possible. Remember, just having your smartphone nearby can be a temptation and a detriment to your productivity. When you’re not using it, or when you seriously need to focus on something, put it in a drawer or a different room.
  • Trim your apps. Be choosy about which apps you use, and when you use them. Take inventory of the apps on your phone, and seriously consider whether they actively make you more productive. Delete any apps that distract you more than help you.

Smartphones aren’t bad; on the contrary, they’re marvelous tools that, if used properly, can dramatically improve your productivity. However, they shouldn’t be used as an excuse to multitask, and if used irresponsibly, they can do more harm than good. Pay close attention to your habits, and make sure you’re setting a good example for your team.

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