Break your digital addiction

By Katherine Raz

Recent studies challenge the idea that being constantly in touch makes us better workers. The temptation to constantly check our smartphones can stunt productivity. Here are a few ways to help break the habit:

Turn off push notifications. Disable pop-up alerts to stop your phone from interrupting you. Linette George, co-owner and productivity specialist at Spark Productivity, a time management training consultancy, encourages clients to understand how switching tasks equates to lost time. If it takes a minute to refocus on work after checking a text message, she calculates, people checking their phones 96 times per workday (every five minutes) spend nearly eight hours per week on what she calls "ramping up and ramping down time."

Schedule times to check your phone, or at least be mindful about it. Take control by reserving times to check your phone. George recommends setting an alarm every half-hour and checking your phone only at that time. That way, she said, "your time waste drops dramatically. You're also concentrating more on what you're doing, and you're doing a better job because you're focused totally on that task."

Jess Albright, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Collins Oldham Clinical Group in Chicago, encourages clients who want to curb their smartphone use to affix a sticky note to their phone as a visual reminder to use it mindfully and only when needed.

Use a timer to block your usage. George recommends using an app blocker or time tracker such as AppDetox or Forest to restrict your smartphone use. Each app allows you to set rules for engaging with your phone and helps you adhere to them by locking out screens once you've reached your preset limits. If you have a newer smartphone equipped with an up-to-date operating system, you may be able to do this without using a third-party app.

Replace smartphone use with something you value. If you feel the urge to check your phone during downtimes, do something else instead. Albright recommends swapping smartphone use with something that adds value to your life.

Don't take your phone to bed. George recommends charging your phone at night in another room and relying on a landline to wake you in case of an emergency. She warned that taking your phone to bed can cut into sleep time. "Because the tendency is to use it," she said, "so you're probably staying up later than you should, going down that black hole on Facebook."

Set expectations around email response times. Rethink your belief that people expect you to respond to emails right away. George cited a survey she conducts with clients that asks how soon they expect responses to email they send as well as how soon they believe other people expect responses. "The answers are never in line," George said. "Most people don't expect email responses immediately but think others do." Responding to emails by the end of the day is usually fine.

Editor's note: A version of this article originally appeared as "How to Break a Digital Addiction," CPA Insider, Oct. 29, 2018.

— By Katherine Raz, a freelance writer based in Tacoma, Wash. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at


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