We’ve all been there – you sit down, telling yourself you’ll get some work done, only to find yourself ten minutes later, scrolling through yet another “cat meme” thread. Trading productivity for essentially doing nothing on our phones, in some cases for hours at a time, has become somewhat of a daily occurrence for most of us. Nowadays hearing that someone is “addicted’ or ‘obsessed’ with their phones is all but uncommon.
But do smartphones hinder productivity? Is smartphone addiction real? A study conducted in Germany aimed to study just that. Researchers Éilish Duke and Christian Montag collected self-report data from 262 participants to locate a link between smartphone activity and productivity.
The study aimed to assess how smartphones, specifically “checking behavior” (looking at your phones at different intervals to see if there’s something new to look at) affects the continuity of the “flow state” of productivity. The flow state is a state in which we are fully absorbed by an activity, forgetting about space and time, whilst being very productive. It was predicted that checking behavior would interrupt the flow state, leading to reduced productivity.
While smartphone addiction isn’t yet recognized as an official disorder, some researchers agree that a behavioral addiction to your phone is possible. It was thus expected that smartphone addiction would be associated with a greater level of daily interruptions by the smartphone and with lower reported productivity at work.
In line with these predictions, the results of the study showed a moderate connection between smartphone addiction (as measured by the Smartphone Addiction Scale) and decreased productivity due to using smartphones at work. The data suggested that the participants themselves realize the negative effects smartphones have on them, but continue to employ harmful and addictive smartphone practices.
This data is consistent with a 2016 study by Chen, which suggested that excessive smartphone users also had low impulse control, thus leading to an increase in checking behaviors. A study in 2015 also showed that we check our smartphones five minutes after waking and five minutes before sleeping.
These studies collectively reinforce one conclusion: smartphones have undeniable benefits, however, there is a clear relationship between smartphone addiction and reduced productivity and reduced occurrences of the “flow state”. This effect holds true both inside and outside of work.
With new research increasingly being published on smartphone addiction, it can be very conflicting to be faced with such information (ironically mostly through our smartphones). However what we should take away from such research is to be mindful about the usage of a tool that is proving to be more and more intrinsic to our lives, perhaps trading in a cat meme for something more productive, like an Area 51 meme.