I often listen to people talk about having a difficult time balancing work and family and about wanting to feel more connected to their loved ones. For most, one small adjustment can bring about a resolution to this problem: put away your phone.

We have become addicted to our phones. The need for people to think for themselves is at an all time low. Technology is teaching people to think less, and that is a really bad thing. We live in the golden age of information. We have access to almost anything we could possibly need at our fingertips. Our cell phones have become our personal assistants, our entertainment, our social circles, our virtual offices, and the list goes on and on. While this is a great luxury, this convenience puts us in the position to miss out on incredibly valuable opportunities if we are not careful. People are much more connected to their phones than they are to other people.

While having your world accessible to you on your hip through your phone would seem to allow you to be more productive, often times our phones get in the way of the most important aspect of our existence: being present. That "quick check" of current events can turn into 45 minutes of web surfing. Allowing yourself five minutes to browse through Facebook can turn into an entire evening of being tuned in to social media and closed off to your family.

This is not a small problem. People are literally becoming less involved in their personal relationships because they can't pull themselves away from a piece of plastic. If that is not considered to be a damaging addiction, I don't know what is.

Set these 3 guidelines to regain control of your productivity and your personal relationships:

  1. Make a commitment one time per week for three hours not to use any electronics--no excuse. A client of mine has set this time for his family every Saturday from 9:00am to noon. As a family, they have had to learn to navigate their world without their smart phones, and this has resulted in great adventures and experiences.
  2. Commit to completing one of your top 3 most important activities for the day before you even allow yourself to open email. Checking email is usually a mindless task that helps people feel like they are easing into their day. In actuality, they are starting the day on defense. Start each day with your mind and plow through the most important task on your to-do list. Rarely is responding to email the most important item on your to-do list. Start prioritizing what is really most important.
  3. Make the rule: No phones at the dinner table when trying to have family dinner. Technology can rob us of incredibly valuable time connecting with our friends and family. Set clear boundaries of exactly when you will not allow phone usage. The dinner table is a great place to start.

Most people would agree that they spend too much time glued to a screen, but backing down from this behavior can be one of the hardest adjustments for a person to make. I hear time and time again, "I need to work on putting away my phone once I return home from work to give my family my full energy," but this seems to be incredibly difficult to put into practice. Setting these three guidelines will build time into your day for prioritizing the important. Remember, your phone won't think for you, and it definitely won't experience life for you. Don't let it become a cheap substitute for "being present."

Published on: Sep 28, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.