At the bootcamp course on organization and time management I gave recently, one person, Sam, shared that he wanted to get distracted by his phone less often. We all nodded in agreement.
Most of us recognize this, right? You’re sitting at your desk, working hard, finally in the flow, and suddenly your phone buzzes. Immediately, you need to know what that was. Did you receive a message? An email? Or is it a notification from some app? And just like that, you’re out of the flow.
Separation anxiety from your phone
Sam admitted to being a bit of an extreme case. If his phone buzzed and he didn’t check it immediately, he became very anxious. The thought itself made him so uncomfortable that he shuffled in his chair as he said this.
I asked, “What would happen if you left your phone on silent in another room for the morning?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” he said defensively and brought his phone to his chest. Naturally, his phone had been lying on the desk in front of him during the entire meeting.
But Sam was acutely aware of how much his attachment to his phone was interfering with his work. He said that he was completing significantly less work when he was being interrupted and that he often took rather long breaks as a result of phone interruptions.
“How about if you left your phone with a colleague for 15 minutes? Could you do that?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure. I could even do an hour,” replied Sam, suddenly brave.
“That’s very good, but let’s start with 30 minutes then,” I suggested. “Set your phone on silent and give it to your colleague. In 30 minutes, you can have it back, and you can check all your messages and notifications.”
This was doable for Sam, but for more severe cases I’d start with as short a period as 5 minutes without a phone. Some people experience severe separation anxiety when they don’t have access to their phone, so we need to start small. The key is to start with a manageable exposure to the unpleasant situation (e.g., 5 minutes without access to your phone) and, once that goes well, gradually build it up to longer periods.
My system for dealing with my phone
I am also prone to being distracted by my phone, so I follow a system:
- Put my phone on silent. (If you want important numbers like your family members to be able to call you, you can set this up in Do Not Disturb mode.)
- Place my phone on a high shelf where it’s out of reach from where I sit at my desk.
- Set a timer for 45 minutes.
- Start working.
- Once the timer goes off, get up. (If I need to finish something, I can keep working for 5 more minutes max, for a total of 50 minutes, and then I get up.)
- Check my phone and respond to messages. (I don’t check social media at this time because I find that completely distracts me from my work.)
- Go to the bathroom or take a walk down the hall.
That’s what works for me to avoid being distracted by my phone but to also remain responsive to messages.