Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Smartphones & concentration

In March 2018, HBR announced some research from Duke, Ward, Gneezy & Bos (20 March 2018) showing that even simply having our cellphones nearby reduces our ability to concentrate. Using three interventions - phone face down on their desk; phone in pocket; phone in another room - they had 800 participants perform two different cognitive tasks. The results were rather surprising. Despite all phones having sound and vibration off, the best performers were those whose phones were in another room. The next best were those whose phones were in their pockets. By far the worst performers were those whose phones were on the desk beside them.

The takeaway? If your cell is close-by, it is distracting you. It reduces your ability to concentrate. It will affect your focus, your decision-making and your performance. 

In September 2018, France passed legislation banning cellphone use at school for those under 15 years of age. Cellphone use - or not - at New Zealand schools will be determined on a school by school basis here, as the Secondary Schools Principal's Association have had a robust discussion about it, and have reached a consensus about what suits our culture. They all began by having a conversation.

In business we too need to think about the work culture that we set out to deliberately create. Thinking through and being explicit about what behaviour we expect in meetings, at events and with clients is a good thing. Then we all know what we are trying to do, and why. 

We don't have to be as draconian as the French, but we do need to think about that HBR research. It is clear that we don't concentrate fully if the distraction is close to hand. 



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