Keeping phone at your desk reduces productivity, study finds

If you can’t keep your hands off your smartphone, your work will eventually suffer, a new study has found. 

“People who saw themselves as dependent on their smartphone reported drop-offs in productivity,” says Christian Montag, a psychology professor at the University of Ulm in Germany. “I see a clear connection.” 

Montag conducted the study, in which 262 employed smartphone users were surveyed, together with Eilish Duke, an associate lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. It was published in the Amsterdam-based journal Addictive Behaviours Reports

The reason for the reduced productivity is the fragmented workday, says Montag, referring to the constant interruptions by new push notifications. 

“This keeps you from finding your way into a ‘flow’ at the workplace – a phase of focused work when you’re no longer aware of time and space, and whatever you’re doing is easy,” he remarked. 

Notifications are a problem for all smartphone users, according to Montag. “The human brain can’t help but be distracted by the continual ping of new notifications,” he says, noting that people who are addicted to their smartphone are especially susceptible.  

“The constant fear of missing something on their smartphone keeps them fixated on the device, adversely affecting their productivity.” 

What can you do to improve the situation? Switching your phone to silent or placing it face down on the desk is usually not enough, points out Montag: “As soon as the device is in your field of vision, your concentration drops, since there’s always the thought in the back of your mind that something interesting might come in.” 

So the only thing that really helps, Montag says, is to put the smartphone out of sight – in a drawer or your bag. Or if you’re feeling really brave, you could leave it at home – but the professor doesn’t think this is realistic in most cases, or even advisable. 

“If you use it intelligently, it can make you more productive,” he says. “You find your way to work faster, know that you’re accessible in an emergency and so you work with greater peace of mind in some situations.” — dpa