Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
I was sitting at dinner with my family while on vacation and watched as a family of six next to us spent their entire dinner in unnerving silence. They were all glued to their smart phones, only looking up from the tiny screens when their waitress would come by and ask a question.
I could be extra generous and assume they were all texting each other. Somehow I doubt this, though.
Why Get A Smart Phone?
Most of the people I know have gotten smart phones for one of two reasons: either they wanted the latest toy for the sake of having the latest gadget; or they believed that having a smart phone was a sure-fire answer to productivity issues.
Most people fall into this last camp, claiming that being always available will make their lives (both work and home) easier.
Smart Phones: Master or Servant?
Smart phones are good devices. But when not used properly, they enforce bad habits, or create bad habits that can negatively impact not only our productivity, but our relationships and our time structure. Instead of being a tool, the phone becomes a master. We end up serving the phones with all its little beeps and vibrations.
What Does A Smart Phone Get Us?
I am a late-comer to the smart phone arena, having only gotten my first smartphone in the past three months. The main reason I switched was so that I only had to carry around one device; I had been carrying my iPod Touch and my phone everywhere. My iPhone meant the devices were combined.
What have I been able to do with my smart phone? It means that from anywhere I can look up directions for anything; I can send email; I can surf the web; I can read blogs; I can check my email; I can login to my work computer; I can check for prices and coupons; I can text (my old phone rendered texting impossible); I can Tweet; I can check Facebook.
But it comes with a cost.
What Is The Cost?
With that amount of possible information at my fingertips, I find that I am often more engaged with my phone than the people and situation around me.
I might end up playing Words With Friends instead of paying attention to my daughter and husband at dinner. I might end up surfing while my daughter is recounting her day. I might end up working longer hours or answering work email during vacations because I can access my computer from anywhere.
I might stay up too late as I get caught up in Facebook or Twitter. I might end up checking email from bed. I might end up playing games instead of getting the sleep I need.
Or heaven forbid (and I am thankful to say that I haven’t done this), I might text while driving.
Taming The Monster
I see that having a smart phone gives me greater flexibility, and additional opportunities. I recently saved $10 because I found a coupon while I was in the store.
However, I can see where the smart phone might take over my life.
A recent article at Time Management Ninja made me reconsider this whole thing. And here are ways that I can tame the monster.
We have set a rule in our family for phone- and technology-free meals. The television is turned off. The phones, iPods and Nintendos are left away from the table. When we are eating out, the devices are left in the car, or in a bag.
My husband and I have both set our phones up so that the notifications are the ones we want to see. I only get audio notifications of severe weather events, calendar appointments and phone calls. Everything else is set to text popups, which I do not see if the phone is not in front of me. Even the text popups are curtailed…the only ones I accept are ones where I need to act, such as blog notifications and text messages.
Eyes On Driving
I haven’t texted while driving, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see the temptation. I took care of this by buying a Bluetooth Car Hands-Free Kit
system for my car. My phone doesn’t even leave my purse. I can do whatever I need to do via the one button and Siri, such as make a reminder for myself, “read” a text message (Siri reads it to me), change songs, or answer a phone call.
The eyes-on-driving method means that my eyes don’t leave the road, and my hands are doing nothing other than operating the car. If I can’t make Siri do what I need, then I don’t do it, because it would mean having to dig for my phone.
When I am with someone, I am with that person and not checking my phone. I can tell by listening to the ring tone if a call is from someone I have to take: my daughter’s school and home have distinctive ringtones, and should I receive a call from either, it is going to be urgent. My husband and mother also have their own ringtones, and if I receive a second call from them immediately following a first, I know that it is an emergency.
Other than that, I ignore the phone.
The Phone And Bed
Yes, my iPhone is next to my bed, every night. Why? Firstly, because the charging station is there. Secondly, because I need a phone at hand in case of emergency. And thirdly (and most important), because I use my iPhone as my alarm clock.
The last alarm on my phone goes off one hour before I need to be asleep. At that point, the phone goes into “do not disturb” mode, where only calls from my husband and mother will ring through. I put the phone face-down on the nightstand, and there it stays until the next morning. The only time this may be different is if my husband and I decide to play Words With Friends, but this is a conscious decision rather than a mindless activity.
Smart phones can be a great tool for productivity as long as we remain in control and don’t become enslaved. By setting some ground rules, limiting the device usage and customizing the notifications, you can make the phone a tool and not a tyrant.
Photo by Johan Larsson. Licensed under Creative Commons.