Smartphones have, to some extent, become practical necessities for navigating the modern professional world. Your clients and coworkers expect you to be on-call practically 24/7, and with 43 percent of us doing at least some of our work away from the office, there’s a high demand for portable devices that can keep us both connected and productive.
Still, your smartphone may not be a perfect tool for enhancing productivity. In fact, some of your smartphone habits are probably working actively against you.
If you want to maximize your productivity and avoid becoming a slave to your mobile device, learn to proactively recognize (and fix) these common, productivity-killing mistakes:
1. Glancing At Notifications:
If you’re like most people, you have notifications turned on for a variety of apps. You get a brief message and an alert whenever someone sends you an email, or a text, or calls you, or tags you on social media.
These notifications seem innocent enough—after all, you can glance at them and get the gist of what’s going on in the span of a few seconds—but these distractions could be sabotaging your ability to focus. Research shows it takes up to 23 minutes for your mind to fully recover its focus after a distraction, which means if you’re getting notifications more than once or twice an hour, you may never be able to achieve your full productivity potential.
How to Fix It
Turn off notifications. Until you do, your phone’s going to remain in control. Most phones allow you to manage notifications in a submenu under Settings, so you can keep the alerts that are truly important, and silence the rest.
You should know by now that multitasking is bad for your brain. Working on two things simultaneously not only decreases your performance in each of those tasks, but it may also cause lasting damage to your cognitive abilities. To make matters worse, your smartphone can tempt you in multiple ways.
You might switch between apps frequently, playing the right podcast, reading emails, and logging onto your project management platform all in the same span of time. You might cruise through your reading list during a meeting. However you multitask, it’s probably hurting you, and it’s time to stop.
How to Fix It
Unfortunately, there’s no phone setting to prevent you from multitasking, since your phone won’t know what else you’re working on. Instead, you’ll have to practice setting the phone down, and focusing on only one app at a time.
3. Accepting Any & All Communications:
Carrying a smartphone implicitly opens the door to 24/7 communication. Expected email response times have continuously shrunk since smartphones have become popular, and phone calls and texts could come in at any time.
Regardless of whether you’re enjoying a family vacation, you’re falling asleep in bed, or you’re catching up on your favorite show, if a message comes in, you’re inclined to respond—and it’s hurting your productivity. The constant accessibility is preventing you from truly relaxing, and stoking anxiety you may not have been aware you had.
How to Fix It
Turning off notifications is a good start, or you can turn on “do not disturb” mode. Another option is to set proactive expectations with your coworkers. Establish firm, uninterruptible “off hours.” Any messages that come in during this time can wait until you’re back on the clock.
4. Looking Up Miscellaneous Facts:
One of the greatest advantages of smartphones is their ability to let you look up any fact at any time. You can figure out the actor you’re thinking of, or check the price of rock salt, or determine how to get to the grocery store whenever you want.
Unfortunately, this virtual omniscience has a price; it’s destroying your ability to remember things. If you rely too heavily on your smartphone for note-taking and research, you may find your short-term memory in serious decline, making it harder to work on certain tasks and projects.
How to Fix It
The short answer here is to rely on your memory more frequently. Stop looking up random facts, and try to train your brain to remember them. Take notes manually, and only refer to them when you absolutely have to.
5. Keeping Your Smartphone Nearby… Even When It’s Not Needed:
Here’s a depressing thought; the mere presence of your smartphone is enough to interfere with your productivity. Researchers found that participants who had their smartphone nearby (on silent, mind you) had worse cognitive performance than those who had it in a purse or in another room.
That’s right. Notifications and communication can be distracting, but your phone’s mere existence nearby – even if it’s off – is enough to compromise your ability to focus.
How to Fix It
If you can, keep your smartphone out of sight while you work. Keep it on silent and put it in a drawer when you’re ready to relax.
Your smartphone doesn’t have to ruin your life, and you don’t have to fall victim to these all-too-common habits. A handful of setting changes, combined with a greater awareness of your smartphone’s role in your life, can help you get all the productive benefits of having a mobile device on hand without eating into your attention, memory, or focus.
Jayson DeMers is a long-time columnist for Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles, covering marketing & entrepreneurship. He is now the founder & CEO of EmailAnalytics, a software tool that connects to your Gmail or G Suite account and visualizes your email activity — or that of your employees.