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We are becoming increasingly unproductive – are the smartphones to blame?

Lower productivity is now a global problem. Every day we touch our smartphone on average 2617 times. Is there a connection here?

Without our smartphone, it is difficult to leave the house. In the past people wondered if the wallet and the keys were included, today the solid third part is the question of our beloved smartphone. The small, high-performance computer is our constant companion and everyday life is indispensable. But do we own the smartphones or do they own us? There is no denying that we are already in a dependency on our devices. But how does the everyday companion affect our productivity?

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Smartphones in the workplace as a barrier to attention

The Bank of England addressed the question of whether the constant distraction of smartphones would make us less productive. Dan Nixon, Content and Strategy Manager of the Bank of England, discusses the crisis of attention. He assumes that this prevents efficient work and thus the associated economic growth. After all, it’s rare that we forget about our smartphone for a long time. A study has shown that we touch the screen on average 2617 times a day .

Low productivity as a global problem

Nixon emphasizes that low productivity is a problem in many countries. Especially in Italy and in England this is immensely noticeable. Looking at the productivity history from 1970 to the present, it is noticeable that the numbers recorded before the financial crisis in 2008 are far from today’s values. However, economists cannot explain this development.

Nixon observes an interesting correlation over the past decade: productivity is slowing as more and more smartphones are produced and sold. Is there a connection between the benefits of a smartphone and productivity? Nixon leaves this obvious assumption unanswered and open as food for thought.

Distractions at work: Two main problems

Distractions are ubiquitous in the workplace: telephone bells, smartphone notifications and the normal background noise. Nixon mentions two major issues that trigger distraction in the workplace. First of all, he describes interruptions that you yourself are indebted to. This includes private surfing and the use of social media, where it is generally difficult to find an end. On the one hand, private Internet enjoyment inevitably reduces working hours, and on the other hand, we need an additional 25 minutesuntil we can concentrate on the actual task after a distraction. As a result, quality of work and productivity deteriorate due to constant distractions in the office. Secondly, distractions are constantly modifying our ways of thinking. If one is also used to interruptions, one tends rather in the future to distract oneself.

Back to productivity with Deep Work?

So, when multi-tasking and continuous email reading have a negative impact on productivity, the question of optimization is raised. How can you increase your own productivity and improve the quality of your work? Cal Newport, an American computer science professor, developed the concept of deep work in this context. This aims to work without distractions with control over your own time and thus to increase productivity. Newport, like Nixon, shares the view that our increasingly digital environment is counteracting our concentration, leading to distraction and absent-mindedness. With the deep work concept, where you learn distraction-free methods, you also train cognitive fitness.

Are smartphones really the cause of all evil?

In 2010, psychologists at Harvard University made an interesting statement: Our thoughts “wander” on average half the time that we actually want to focus. Even earlier studies have already observed this phenomenon, confirm the psychologists from Harvard. In addition, there were similar debates prior to the smartphone era, dealing with smoking breaks or open-plan offices instead of smartphones. So, if it’s normal for our thoughts to wander off and similar discussions have been present before, are smartphones really the catalyst for the decline in productivity?

Nixon argues this question for more empirical science, which deals with the relationship between productivity and attention. He suggests comparing different concepts of companies. It should collect data from companies that promote the attention of their employees and avoid distractions. In contrast, you have to compare them with companies that live the conventional distraction-rich office life.

Increase attention, increase productivity

Nixon’s observation that low productivity has been increasing since the financial crisis of 2008 and the ever-expanding smartphone market since then still seems interesting. Nevertheless, it is not clear that smartphones are really the only reason for this development. But what is definitely certain: distraction harms productivity and our cognitive fitness! In order to optimize ourselves, it makes sense to leave the smartphone in the pocket at work and to suppress the urge to check any messages. Thereby we give ourselves more concentration and in the long term a good feeling to work productively and efficiently.