The smartphone is a device of limitless possibilities, holding the power to make your workday run more smoothly. With the tap of a few buttons, it can provide directions to an off-site meeting, receive and reply to email, dial in for a conference call, and manage your daily routine better than you ever could.
But the blessed union becomes problematic when work assignments are put off in favor of a lengthy visit to a favorite social networking site, when you decide to toy around with a new app, or when you pay more attention to the device's screen than the words coming out of your co-worker's or manager's mouth.
Perhaps your smartphone is even a refuge for visiting sites branded "off limits" by your employer.
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A recent survey by OfficeTeam, an administrative support staffing company, revealed that more than 1 in 5 employees use their mobile devices to frequently browse social networking, shopping, and entertainment sites blocked on their company computer.
If you're demonstrating these behaviors or more, it may be time to not only re-examine the relationship between you and your handheld friend, but also take these four steps to reassert control over it.
1. Have a set time period for checking the device. The mere thought of missing a Facebook notification or text message is one that drives you mad.
It's not an addiction, explains Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University--Dominguez Hills and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us, but an "anxiety reaction" to the idea that something is being missed in the virtual world. Rosen recommends a "technology break" in both group and individual settings. Here's how it works: At the beginning of a meeting, all employees spend about a minute checking their phone. When it comes time to discuss the agenda, everyone places their phone on silent mode and turns it upside down on the nearest desk or table. When 15 minutes have passed, employees turn it over to see what they may have missed. "It removes the distractor," Rosen says, noting that a timed reunion vanquishes the anxiety.
2. Make it invisible. Nearly half of all smartphone owners frequently or occasionally check their device for updates, even if it doesn't ring or vibrate, according to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project report.
Sitting at a lonesome desk or in a meandering meeting may only drive the impulse to pull your smartphone out of your pocket, even if it's in a soundless or motionless state. "Just the very existence of the phone at work becomes a distraction to your focus," says Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.
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If the device's presence overwhelms your attention span, give it the cold shoulder for an hour by turning off all alerts, Bregman suggests. "Go spend an hour at work without your phone and see if you're [more] focused," he advises, adding, "If I'm really working, I'll just turn the phone off."
3. Put friends and family on notice. Controlling your own urges to browse certain websites is a battle all its own. But add an avalanche of texts, tweets, and Facebook messages from friends and family throughout the day, and the problem becomes compounded. Let those closest to you know that responding to work-related emails and phone calls will take precedence over their efforts to reach you while you're on the clock, unless it's an emergency. "That's the 911 and 411 approach to it," explains Robert Hosking, executive director at OfficeTeam.
4. Keep appearances in mind. You may be a solid employee with no blemishes on your work record, but the constant sight of you on your smartphone could rub co-workers and higher-ups the wrong way. "Even if you are reaching deadlines or meeting goals, it could be a perception that you're not working as hard," says Hosking.
To ensure you're perceived as a disciplined worker, try spending more time on the keys of your company desktop rather than those of your iPhone or BlackBerry.
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