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12 Mar

Leave your phone in another room if you want to think clearer

Datum: 2024-03-12 15:56
A smartphone is secured with a chain and padlock.

If we see our phone lay­ing on the desk when we sit by the com­put­er work­ing, our cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties (mean­ing mem­o­ry and prob­lem solv­ing) are low­ered tem­porar­i­ly — even if we do not use the phone, it is not ring­ing, buzzing, mak­ing nois­es or flash­ing with notices. At least accord­ing to a study from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas in Austin.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

On the table, in the pock­et, in anoth­er room

The researchers Ward, Duke, Gneezy and Bos let 548 test sub­jects solve two demand­ing tasks requir­ing prob­lem-solv­ing, whilst hav­ing the phone either placed turned off on the desk in front of them, in their purse or bag, or in an adja­cent room. The major­i­ty of the test sub­jects did not think their abil­i­ty to solve the prob­lems would be affect­ed at all by where the phone was placed.

Fur­ther off is better

And yet there was a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in the results. The peo­ple who had left their phone switched off and in anoth­er room man­aged to solve the tasks best in com­par­i­son with the oth­ers, and the peo­ple who had the phone on the desk in front of them scored the low­est. This was par­tic­u­lar­ly true for peo­ple who val­ue their phones a lot and who find it dif­fi­cult to put them away” in their every­day lives as well.

It appears we do best to keep a healthy dis­tance to our phones when we want to focus on com­pli­cat­ed tasks and uti­lize our cog­ni­tive capac­i­ty and abil­i­ties the most. (But let it also be said that we should not do this all the time, since the tele­phone is an impor­tant tool to many of us and help us get many of our tasks done. We need to make and receive phone calls to peo­ple impor­tant to us — both pro­fes­sion­al­ly and per­son­al­ly — all the time. But, most of us have impor­tant tasks to do that have absolute­ly noth­ing to do with our smartphones).

Do this

I have tried to take advan­tage of this research myself and can only tes­ti­fy to that it made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to me as well. If you want to try it out for your­self, this is what you do:

  1. Right now, decide where you will place your phone when you need to con­cen­trate on tasks for which you will not need it — prefer­ably in anoth­er room. I only have a sin­gle room in my office, so I place my smart­phone in the pock­et of my coat which hangs by the door at the oth­er side of the room — as far away from my desk as I can get.
  2. Take a look in your cal­en­dar for today. Have you planned to do any tasks dur­ing the day dur­ing which you could put away your phone? Per­haps you have some­thing you need to focus on today that will demand your full atten­tion and capac­i­ty for an hour or two?
  3. Decide that you will spend this time with­out your phone, and if you feel you need to, set a reminder so that you remem­ber to place it in the loca­tion you chose.
  4. Done!

Out of sight, out of mind

If you place your phone in anoth­er room for an hour or so, you will be able to focus more and solve the task before you with greater access to all cog­ni­tive capac­i­ties, than you would if it was placed on the desk in front of you — if we are to judge by the study I men­tioned above. It is a fair­ly sim­ple way to increase your con­cen­tra­tion and get dif­fi­cult things done, would you not agree?

What was it like?

So, what did you con­clude? Did you notice a dif­fer­ence when try­ing it out for your­self? Share your expe­ri­ence in an email to me, please.

(Have you noticed that you might need to get away from your­self while in a vir­tu­al meeting?)

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