Yorgen Edholm is CEO of Accellion, which provides secure file sharing for mobile-device users. So his advice to turn off your smartphone for a minimum of 30 minutes a day--preferably more--may seem counterintuitive. Yet Edholm has learned from experience that sticking your phone and tablet in a drawer for a while will make you a better leader. He's on a mission to get that message out.
Can it really help you to be less in touch with your employees or co-workers? Yes it can. Here's why you should consider it:
1. Your brain will work better.
By now most of you have heard of the many scientific studies that show the brain can't actually multitask. What feels like multitasking to us is actually the brain switching rapidly among tasks. It feels good, and provides lots of stimulation--something the brain tends to like. But it makes us the opposite of productive.
2. You'll have better meetings.
How many times has this happened to you? You're sitting in a meeting. Someone is explaining something you either already know or don't need to know so you wander over to your email or to your social-media accounts. You read a few interesting messages and are just formulating a response when you suddenly realize that the talk in the meeting has shifted to something you very much need to know about--but you've missed an important point. Or worse, someone's just asked you a question that didn't register.
Don't let this occur in the meetings you lead. Edholm has struggled for years to get his executives to come to meetings "naked," i.e. without mobile devices. "I always have a problem with two or three people who are distracted by their iPads," he says.
Try an office version of phone stacking in which everyone puts their devices in the middle of the table and the first person to grab one has to bring snacks next time. More important--make sure the meeting is relevant to every person there, bring everyone into the conversation, and make it lively. Getting people engaged is the best way to keep them off their devices.
3. Your employees will get better at making decisions.
Constant mobile connection enables what Edholm calls "helicopter management." It's similar to helicopter parenting in that employees are in constant communication with their bosses. That may seem like a good thing until you consider that it allows for a situation where the boss makes every decision and the employee can check in with the boss on every question.
That can sound like a great thing until you consider the effect on your employees' development. The less they're able to make decisions on their own, the less they can learn to be good executives. You may fear that they'll make a mistake, but making mistakes is something they need to do if they're going to grow. Too much mistake prevention undermines both you and them.
4. You'll retain top talent.
One big downside to helicopter management is that your A talent won't put up with it. "You're trying to find the smartest, most driven people," Edholm says. "Being a helicopter manager is one of the ways you can drive them away."
5. You'll increase efficiency.
Running a more efficient company is another benefit of turning off your smartphone and empowering employees to make decisions. "Most people say, 'If something goes wrong, I'll be blamed,'" Edholm says. "The way most employees use mobile is defensive."
In other words, they already have a good idea of what to do, but want shared responsibility in case it doesn't work out. "That means we're going to spend three hours of overhead a day making sure information can always flow back and forth and the boss can always make the decision. That's a waste."
6. You'll learn the difference between an emergency and an "emergency."
Everyone likes to feel needed, and few things make people feel as needed and important as interrupting a meeting or conversation to deal with an urgent problem only they can solve. But unless you work as an emergency responder (in which case you already have a radio), there are very few emergencies that can't wait for half an hour, or even a couple of hours while you unplug.
For things that truly can't wait, such as if your child is in an accident, give yourself peace of mind with an alternative method of contact. Perhaps those who need to reach you in a true emergency could call one of your co-workers (you can return the favor so that co-worker can unplug at a different time).
7. You'll sleep better and wake up better.
If you sleep with your phone beside you and set on vibrate, you probably aren't sleeping that soundly. "People routinely tell me they're woken up four or five times a night when the phone vibrates and they think they can handle it," Edholm says. Keeping your phone off at night, or better yet in another room, will help you get the rest you need.
You're also a lot better off if you don't look at the phone--and start checking the weather and answering texts and emails--the moment you open your eyes. In fact, Edholm actually uses a regular old alarm clock to wake up instead of his phone, so he won't be tempted.
8. You'll be open to more opportunities.
What kinds of opportunities? I don't know. But I do know being open to chance meetings with strangers can lead to good things. So can conversations with acquaintances and people you encounter daily. You could be using your smartphone to comb LinkedIn for useful contacts when the customer you need is sitting beside you on the train.
9. You'll get better at solving problems.
Ever notice how many of your best ideas and most effective solutions to problems seem to come to you while you're outside the office, doing something like taking a shower or a walk or mowing the lawn? There's a reason for that. Taking your direct attention away from work and constant interaction lets other parts of your brain go to work for you, with serious benefits.
"When I unplug, it's not because I want peace, it's because I want to think," Edholm explains. "My biggest worry with constant connectedness is that people stop thinking. It's very hard to think when you're constantly interrupted."
Edholm has seen this phenomenon up close in his 8-year-old son, who's an advanced math student. "He can do complex calculations in his head, but the moment someone turns on the TV, he can't. So if we want to work with him, we have to go in a separate room and make sure the door is closed. Then he can do amazing things."
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