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Is Your Smartphone Making You Less Productive?

A partner at Y Combinator turns off email on his phone and notices surprisingly positive effects.

If someone asked you why you carry a smartphone, you might mention your particular model's sleek design or cop to a bit of an addiction to one silly, time-wasting game or another. But fundamentally most of us would say that our phones make us more productive. We can email on the fly and respond to urgent business matters no matter where we are. That has to be translate to more work in less time, right?

This logic is thrown into question by a recent post by Harj Taggar, a partner at wildly successful start-up incubator Y Combinator. With a gig like that, Taggar is certainly someone with demanding work commitments and, no doubt, a packed schedule, but he recently decided to disable the email app on his phone.

What effects did this decision have on his busy life?

The complete post is well worth a read in full for Taggar's description of the emotional ride he took weaning himself off mobile email and how Y Combinator deals with email in general. But two surprising consequences of Taggar's decision suggest that entrepreneurs who check email on the go all day might be creating less than ideal side effects for themselves and their businesses. He writes:

The least obvious consequence has been the lengthening of my concentration span, even when I’m at my desk with easy access to my email. I’ve long realized that email is the biggest killer of my productivity e.g. if I’m trying to code I never stop to go and play video games but I did stop and check my email because I could justify it as work (“work” that is both significantly easier and provides a quicker dopamine hit than trying to solve a hard problem). But once I rid myself of the habit of checking email constantly on my phone, suddenly I had less of a habitual urge to check my email in general. It feels wonderful.

[Another] consequence...has been my perception of time. Over the past six months the days have actually started feeling longer to me. If I’m walking from one place to another I actually have time to look around, observe my surroundings (which is actually a great source of cheeriness when you live in Palo Alto, the place has a real cheery feel to it) and most importantly, to think. It only takes a few of these moments to have a considerable impact on stopping the day feeling like it has whizzed by in a blur.

Having time to think is precious to me and it’s also incredibly important if you want to achieve anything close to original thought.

Would kicking your smartphone email habit improve your productivity?

 

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Last updated: Sep 5, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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