When you're bored in the middle of some mind-numbing task (or, in the current situation, a few weeks of quarantine), what do you do? If you're like many modern business owners the answer is a no brainer: you reach for your phone. Five minutes of Facebook or kitten pictures can seem like the perfect break to relieve your brain.
If that sounds familiar, a new as yet unpublished study has bad news for you. Reaching for your phone is likely to leave you feeling even more bored.
The little boredom machine in your pocket
The problem isn't the general idea of taking a break. Previous studies show that we get more done overall if we take regular, short breaks to rest and recharge. The problem is with your phone. New Dutch research shows most of us carry around a little boredom-boosting machine in our pockets all day long.
To figure out the relationship between phones and boredom the research team installed an app on the phones of 83 volunteers to track how often they used their devices. They also asked these volunteers to keep detailed diaries at work for three days, recording their level of fatigue and boredom every hour.
When they looked at the data, the researchers first discovery was no shocker. We're on our phones a lot. "Phone breaks were extremely frequent: in the 20 minutes following each questionnaire, participants picked up their phone 52 percent of the time, spending an average of around 90 seconds on it each time," reports a writeup of the findings on the British psychological Society Research Digest blog.
Equally unsurprising was the second finding: the more tired we are, the more likely we are to reach for our phones. The real kicker was the final finding. While we look to our phones to relieve our fatigue and boredom, screen time actually seemed to modestly increase feelings of boredom.
"Participants actually reported higher levels of boredom after having used their smartphones," notes BPS.
How to take a better break
The research team speculated two different reasons why this might be so. Switching from work to your phone and back again may end up being more mentally tiring than it is stimulating. In other words, that baby goat video was nice, but not worth the cost to your brain in effort and concentration. Alternately, picking up your phone might just serve as a reminder of all the fun and interesting things out there you could be doing if you didn't have to fill out paperwork or proofread that report.
This one small study can't definitively say if either of these explanations is right, but the basic takeaway is pretty clear. You think a quick glance at your phone is going to make you feel less bored, but chances are it's actually going to make your brain feel even more fried.
What should you do instead? Here are a few suggestions for your next break:
Take a walk in a park
Doodle or draw (you don't have to be good at it for it to kill stress and boost joy)
Call someone (yes, my fellow Millennials, on the actual phone). Connection is the best mood booster out there
Take a short nap