why you should stop doing low-value work, your phone is killing your productivity, and more

Over at QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now: why you should stop doing low-value work, how your phone is killing your productivity , and more. You can read it here.

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Lauren

    Smartphones, ha! I must be the only person in America without one (indeed, without any cell phone at all) because I refuse to be that available and lug around something I don’t need. But I am surrounded at work by everyone having one, and my supervisor is one of the worst. That phone rings all day–and most of the calls are not work-related. It’s boring and it’s annoying. I can’t do or say anything but it is such a waste. (In my lonely opinion, I am sure.)

    1. Chinook

      “because I refuse to be that available and lug around something I don’t need.”

      I do have one but I am not available all day and don’t understand why others feel like they need to be. I have one for my convenience (1.5 hours of bus commuting + phone = taking care of emails and other personal business + reading). Anyone calling during work hours will be ignored unless a)they are family (because they never call unless an emergency) or b)I am expecting the call. I have the same rules for sleeping at night, when exercising or even when watching a good show. too many people forget that they can control when they answer the phone, not the caller.

      I have had a cell phone since ’99 and they make working a distance from home so much more relaxing as I don’t feel tied to my landline or computer.

      1. hayling

        Agree! I don’t have push notifications for emails or work chats. Or for many things, honestly. And I turn my phone on silent or DND a lot.

        Honestly, I live in a big city and there is no way I couldn’t have a smart phone. Our public transit system is a mess, and the only way to know when the bus or train is arriving is by checking the app for real-time arrivals. I also use Google Maps to figure out how to get places, Lyft to get home when I’m tired or it’s late or the bus isn’t coming for forrevvvverrrrr.

      2. Lily in NYC

        Thank you! I don’t know when the culture shifted and it became mandatory to answer phones/texts quickly. I never got in the habit, so no one expects it from me. In my view, a phone call/text is neither a summons nor an obligation and I’ll get back to the person if and when I feel like it.

        1. Tomato Frog

          It never shifted — or at least, it shifted long before cell phones. My mom used to unplug the phone/take it off the hook when she didn’t want to be disturbed, and she would not answer the phone if she didn’t feel like it, and people were shocked, shocked! when this was mentioned.

          As an aside, I find it very irritating when people treat my texts or phone calls as a summons. I had a friend answer a call to say he was in a movie theater and couldn’t talk. Dude, you’re being rude to everyone around you, and your rudeness is compounded by the fact that you’re making me feel rude for no good reason.

          1. Natalie

            Yeah, my parents have kept their ringer turned off for decades and when I was younger some of my friends were completely flabbergasted at that.

          2. Artemesia

            The greatest thing ever was when answering machines arrived and we could NEVER answer the phone at home. If it was a family member, we would hear them and pick up, but for junk, we never even stood up.

            We are super late adopters of cell phones and I only got a smart phone last year (super cheap Android) because my husband had a phone system that would work traveling in Europe and I needed to get on his plan; before that I had a flip phone with minutes. I am not a heart surgeon nor awaiting a transplant; I don’t need to be available every moment.

        2. JessaB

          Exactly. There are only a few people I answer automatically. Otherwise I read a lot on my phone and play a few games. It’s very convenient for me if I’m sitting around waiting for things. But it’s not one of those “OMG I am tied to this phone or else.”

      3. Chocolate lover

        I’m with you. My phone is on silent most of the most of the time. Silent or not, if I don’t feel like talking to someone, I don’t answer it (that includes friends/family/everyone). I don’t get so many phone calls that it matters anyway.

        Every once in a while I get one of those annoying people who calls every 2 minutes when I don’t answer the phone. I’m thinking of an optical shop telling me my glasses had arrived. Seriously, leave a message and go away, there’s no crisis. It was a rare moment my volume was on, but I was working. I just shut the phone off.

      4. themmases

        I agree. The whole point of smart phones is they are highly flexible and modifiable. Being always reachable is a characteristic of the user, not the phone. It’s your responsibility as the owner to tell it what you want it to do, same as a computer.

        My smartphone is an improvement for controlling when I am available. The built-in “do not disturb” and contact blocking features are better and I can also install third-party software for that if I want. And I do more mundane things, like having my email and Facebook connected but with notifications turned off so they are always there when *I* actually want to see them. If I want to use it for music but not to be disturbed, like on a run, it has the exact same ability to be turned to silent as any other phone. All of this is extremely easy to set up, I’m hardly a super user.

        Honestly I find it inconsiderate to refuse to have any way that someone could contact you. I have had out of town guests before who refused to have a phone and it was awful. Picture feeling responsible for someone who shows up in downtown Chicago with no map, no information about the CTA, and minimal means to get those things or contact you on the go. Now go find them! A friend’s boyfriend tried to get by long-term with just an iPod Touch and it was the same story. There is nothing self-sufficient or superior about that. It’s just rude.

        1. Anxa

          On the flip side, though, it’s rude to expect someone to conform to another’s idea of what’s normal or convenient because they can’t be arsed to make definitive plans.

          I’m not talking about someone being obtuse or stubbornly difficult. But I’ve been in situations where I’ve tried to make plans and people insisted on “just Uber there” (can’t…too expensive and don’t have a smart phone), “just GPS it.”

          I was perfectly fine to step out of a night where there’d be a lot of venue hopping, last minute changes, etc. But some people act like you’re a major inconvenience for wanted to be slightly inconvenient. Yes, it’s inconvenient to cancel plans and change them, but a little inconvenience isn’t as bad as the implication that you’re not worth setting up real plans for. This predates smart phones, though. Even cell phones. But new technology makes it easier and easier to not commit to a plan with people.

        2. Lauren

          I’m not sure, themmases, if your comment (“Honestly I find it inconsiderate to refuse to have any way that someone could contact you.”) was based on something said. Just in case, I wanted to clear up that people can reach me. I have e-mail at home and work, and I have a landline at work with voice mail and a landline at home with an answering machine. I’m reachable. I will not add a cell phone or any kind of social media; I consider any of those ridiculously over the top. It may feel necessary for others, but I set my limits and stick to them.

          1. Petronella

            Lauren, are you me? I have exactly the same set-up: landlines and email but no cell phone or social media (other than this and a couple of other anonymous message boards). I’ve gone through a couple of cheap non-smart cell phones that people insisted on giving me, but ended up discarding them as I hated using them. I still feel no need or desire to replace them. I couldn’t be happier, and I am one of the most productive and well-organized people I know.

    2. Ad Astra

      I truly cannot conceive of a world in which I would describe a smartphone as “something I don’t need.” But hey, whatever works!

      1. Petronella

        Depends how you define a “need.” Nothing anyone has listed in this thread was a “need” ten or twenty years ago, before smartphones existed. Why are they “needs” today?

        1. Chinook

          “Nothing anyone has listed in this thread was a “need” ten or twenty years ago, before smartphones existed.”

          I respectfully disagree. I was in Japan in the late 90’s where they had smartphones and looked for one when I came back to Canada because they would have been ideal for me as a substitute teacher. In order for me to be available for work, I would have to be next to my landline with my daytimer next to me during business hours (or waking hours). The only phone I could find that would work in my remote area was an expensive, basic cellphone with intermittent reception (not a fancy one like my Japanese friends who could text each other and do other stuff) but it literally freed me to do stuff in town without losing out on jobs.

          I also remember asking the Telus guy if they had a way to use a cellphone to hook up to my laptop to get my email because I heard that oil field guys were running their businesses from their trucks and it would have meant being able to do stuff when I was around town. He told me that it was done using very expensive satellite phones that were hardwired to their trucks. I was sad and resigned myself to using the local internet café.

          Needless to say, I was an early adopter of reasonably priced smartphone technology because I had a need for this type of thing before it was widely available. I used to download emails and fanfic onto a floppy at an internet café to read at home on my laptop (because I couldn’t figure out how to get home internet in Japan and the internet care lady gave me fresh sushi in exchange for communicating with Norton Anti-Virus in English for her – my first tech support job). In university, I would have to retype my news articles at the newspaper office (45 minutes from where I lived) because I was using an electronic word processor that wouldn’t communicate with the university newspaper’s Macs via internet dial-up. All of things would have been 100x easier to do and done in a more timely manner if I had had a smartphone. I didn’t gain anything (except sushi and coffee) from doing anything the other way and would never want to go back.

        2. AnotherAlison

          This is not completely true. We didn’t “need” this stuff then, but the things we used for information 10 or 20 years ago have slowly been replaced. For a trivial example, when I was a kid, the coach printed up a schedule at the beginning of the season and would call people if things changed. Now, you are supposed to go online for the original schedule, and updates are online, too. (Yes, you could use a computer, not a smartphone, but people expect you can get information remotely, too.)

          Back then, if a game was rained out, it was a given that the decision would be made an hour and a half in advance so you could call the rainout line from home or receive the coach’s call. Now, you better check the website or Twitter or Facebook or the app, and don’t expect it to be finalized until the absolute last minute.

          That’s just one example, but there are lots of things like this.

          1. Turtle Candle

            Yeah. I don’t technically “need” a Facebook account, I guess, in the sense that I won’t drop dead without one–but I actually did feel that I sort of needed to get one, even though I didn’t want one, because I discovered things like “good friend from college had a baby… eight months ago, oh god how embarrassing that I didn’t know that.” And the reason I didn’t know that is that rather than sending notices or cards or calling to tell people, it was just posted on Facebook. Want to know whether the local knitting club meeting has been canceled or the location moved? Facebook. Find out what book the book club is reading for next month? It’s on Facebook.

            It’s not that nobody announced babies, move club locations, or disseminated information about book club books before Facebook. Of course they did; and in that sense, of course nobody “needs” Facebook. And I can continue inhaling and exhaling without Facebook, because baby announcements and book club info are not actually necessary to life, and so in that sense I don’t “need” it either. But if I want to hear those things, then yeah, I do need it–even though obviously I wouldn’t have twenty years ago.

        3. Dangerfield

          I suppose there are two sides to it. Society has changed enormously – where I live, you can’t find a safe working payphone for love nor money – and people who had needs that were going unmet can now meet them.

          When I was a kid I used to think wistfully about how much I “needed” to be in touch with my friends while I spent long stretches in hospital. The nurses used to let me borrow their computer against the rules to chat because they could see how miserable I was. Of course it wasn’t a need on the same level as food or water. But, looking back on it as an adult, I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration to say that my mental health needed me to be able to take part in my communities and not be isolated just because I was unwell.

          Sure, a lot of people don’t “need” a smartphone, as in if they suddenly were banned from having one, they’d find a way around it. But I need a smartphone, as in if I didn’t have one, I would have to make very different arrangements for the way I lead meaningful parts of my life, and my quality of life would be diminished as a result of that.

    3. Elizabeth West

      My phone hardly ever rings, but I need it because we aren’t allowed to stream anything other than Pandora (yuck!) for music. I have over 200 albums on my phone and I have to have something to block people out when I’m editing or putting together a document.

      I rarely spend any time on Facebook or Twitter with it–I prefer to do that stuff when I get home on my laptop.

      1. Sarahnova

        I use white noise from noisli.com for that! Can run it from a browser or app – and for me, it blocks out distractions efficiently and soothingly without becoming a distraction in itself.

    4. Rebecca

      I have an Android Tracfone, and I use it to suit my needs, not those around me. I take it with me when I go on long walks and hikes, in case I need help. I carry it in my purse when I leave the house, but that’s where it stays. I can turn the data on if I need to look something up, but 99% of the time, it sits in my purse. I like the alarm clock feature, and I’ve started using it as my primary alarm clock.

      But – don’t expect me to instantly answer it or look at texts, etc. Last night, at 9:30, I saw a text from someone sent 5 hours earlier “call me tonight”. If it was that important, you should have called on my landline. I still haven’t texted or called back.

      I too get frustrated with the constant phone checking, texting, etc. that goes on all day, everywhere I go. I existed for decades on this earth prior to cell phones being commonplace, and fail to see why so many people seem to be so enamored by them.

    5. Melissa

      I have a personal smartphone that I take with me everywhere, but I certainly don’t make myself available 24/7 and barely even look at it while at work except on breaks. I am way too busy with work to be messing around on my phone.

  2. AFT123

    I feel like such a boob if I use my phone while I’m at work. I don’t even like having it out. It’s like the feeling of being a kid who will get in trouble if I get caught. I don’t know why.

  3. Sarianna

    Huh, while I have my phone at my desk (sitting on a charger) I basically only look at it if I’m leaving the office or it’s lunchtime (or to read my work email when desktop Outlook is sloooooow and the mobile client is getting my email 5 minutes earlier than my computer). I can’t imagine playing games during work time!

  4. NJ Anon

    #1 Does filing count?
    #2 gimme some “summer” Fridays!
    #3 I wish my boss would use her damn phone when she is out of the office but working. She rarely answers emails, texts or phone calls!

    1. AnotherAlison

      #3 – This drives me nuts. I don’t have coworkers like this, but my mom is. The only way to talk to her is to call her on the house phone when she’s home (like it’s 1983) or email her at work. She wants you to text her, but never answers and never checks voicemails or answering machine messages. I showed up at a gathering on Sunday, and she was shocked to see me. . .I sent her a text that I was going to make it, but she went a ahead and told everyone that I wasn’t.

      1. Chocolate lover

        That’s how I communicate with both of my parents, and my in-laws. Call them at home. My in-laws both have smart phones, but use their landline to actually talk to people. My father has only a work cell phone that he’s not allowed to use for personal use, and my mother has a pay-as-you-go phone that she only updates occasionally. It doesn’t faze me.

      2. AndersonDarling

        Ha! My mom has a cell phone but will only turn it on to make a call then immediately turn it off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed a call, called back within one minute, and she already turned the thing off!

        1. Pennalynn Lott

          Ditto here, too, but it’s my father. He *hates* cell phones, even though he was an early adopter. He had one of those massive “brick” phones back in the 80’s.

          Also, he is constantly sending me articles showing how smartphones are supposedly dumbing down the population, are a danger to users, and cause otherwise lovely people to be rude jerks [as in, he’s convinced these people would all be delightfully polite *if only* they didn’t own a smartphone.] I’m like, “Dad, it’s just a tool, like anything else in this world. It’s up to the user to define how they use it. Jerks and self-centered people use it to be jerky and self-centered. They weren’t magically made jerky and self-centered because they own a smartphone.”

        2. Windchime

          My mom does this, too. I’ve offered to program in phone numbers, but instead she gets out the phone, puts on her glasses, and looks up the numbers in her tiny little address/phone book that she carries in her purse.

      3. Happy Lurker

        My in laws keep telling my children to text them with a signature so they know who is texting them! They are 70+, bless their hearts.

  5. AnotherAlison

    If I didn’t have my smartphone, how would my boss text me when I’m in someone else’s office? Who would my incredibly demanding client call when he didn’t immediately get me on my desk phone? When I’m at work, it’s definitely a productivity enhancer for me (although I wish I didn’t have those demands on me at all). The same cannot be said at home, sadly.

    1. Edith

      Texting existed before smartphones. You could conceivably get an old Nokia or a flip phone from ten years ago if you wanted to be able to text without having the whole smartphone shebang.

      1. AnotherAlison

        True, but I am fine with having a smartphone.

        I love the GPS, and a lot of the apps can be useful (that are not games). I don’t get push notifications on email, or I would have 100s per day, but I got an app that saved my bacon last week when it notified me that my son’s tournament game was moved just when we were climbing in the car to drive an hour there. I also bought a train ticket with the app, and saved $10 each way for my son and I. I definitely get the reasons for being a hold-out on this, but so many things we need to do day to day have changed from the previous way to some new smartphone-based way. It’s hard to be efficient without one.

        1. Kelly L.

          I recently got my first smartphone because I’d lost my last dumbphone, went to replace it, and found that there was now a smartphone model that wasn’t any more expensive than the dumbphone had been. Having no reason to pick an inferior product on purpose (lol), I figured it was as good a time as any to go smartphone, and honestly, I love it. I’ve been on two road trips recently where unforeseen things arose (closed roads, impromptu side trips, etc.), and being able to pull directions out of the ether at a moment’s notice is awesome.

    2. SpaceySteph

      Yeah I think every manager who complains about smart phone productivity should also consider the ways smartphones increase productivity and keep employees connected. Smartphones blur the boundaries in both directions. Before you get riled up about cell phone personal business impinging on work time, consider if you’d also favor a policy where you don’t use cell phones to insert work into home time either.

  6. Ex Resume Reviewer

    Ooh #1 gets me. I have a low value task that I don’t have time to do, don’t have time to train the employee to take it over to do and don’t have time to make an automation proposal on. In theory it doesn’t take long, but it’s just so much manual work and not a conversation our customers enjoy. Oh and it’s months behind, so when I do get a chance to do it people ask why they weren’t contacted 3 months ago! Every time I get a few minutes to work on it, the high value workload swell and I have to drop this task. I’m just pretending it doesn’t exist at this point.

  7. anon101647

    anybody have advice/suggestions for balancing #1 with yesterday’s discussion around being the Person Who Gets Stuff Done?

    I (knowingly) joined a department in transition from doing Lower-Value, Lower-Skilled work A to Higher-Value, Higher-Skilled work B. I want to do all B. instead I find myself getting slammed with A, because I can do A more quickly and competently than the rest of my team (who have little B skill). part of me knows it’s good to become the go-to, and people seem to like me… but it gives me very little time to devote to my B work, which feels much more important for my future than coworkers’ opinions who will never be in field B!

    I might take this to Friday open-thread :)

    1. Lily in NYC

      I am in the same exact boat. I was moved to a new division to manage compliance but there’s no admin in that department so it all falls to me. And I am just about fed up with doing expense reports for people who are lower on the org chart than I am. I love the compliance work but I feel like I am never going to be able to leave the admin work behind unless I leave this organization – I’ve been pigeonholed.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        Put a sign on your desk that says, “You must be [this high] on the org chart for me to do your expense reports.”

        I’m kidding, and I know what you mean about being pigeonholed once they know you can do admin work.

        1. Lily in NYC

          I wish. But I’m the shortest one in the dept. so that would mean I couldn’t do my own expense reports!

          1. Petronella

            My rule used to be “If you have your own office? I’ll do your expenses. If you’re in a cubicle? You’re on your own, buddy.”

    2. themmases

      I think you have to start trying to say no to that stuff, and treating it as the lower priority that it is if you can’t say no. I believe this is an important part of driving your career– not just learning to say “no” but making sure you are known for the things you actually want to do.

      Being the person who gets stuff done is important, but it’s not all there is. Whatever you get known for being great at, that’s what you’ll get asked to spend time on and that’s where your accomplishments in the future will be. Invest your energy accordingly. Would you still want to be known as the Person Who Gets Stuff Done if the “stuff” in question were something you were qualified to do in high school? Or something you hate? Probably not.

      I would recommend talking to your boss about the lack of balance in how you spend your time. It’s not a good use of resources, including your paycheck, to have an analyst booking conference rooms (or whatever). It’s a mistake to assume something is important (and important for you to keep doing instead of someone else) without hearing that from your boss– they have more information than you and you may be surprised by what you’ll be told you could let go.

      1. anon101647

        >not just learning to say “no” but making sure you are known for the things you actually want to do.

        hits home. i already sucked at saying no before starting here, and my new role has so many more things and people asking me for things. saying yes to all the little things means i’ve let the work that i *would* like to be known for slide a bit — i need to reverse the trend.

        thank you!

    3. Artemesia

      This is a huge problem and often a woman’s problem. I spent my career doing things other people didn’t want to do and that I could do well; it has its moments — saved my job in a merger for example — but you have to be alert to not being everyone else’s admin. The only thing that worked for me was being very clear with myself what the tasks important to my role were. Some of those were in fact things no one else wanted to do and were mine, but I also had other high value work that could easily be swamped by committee work, trivial work and work other people wanted to shovel my way that was not my core mission. I learned to deflect those by focusing on the high value things I needed to get done to advance as well as my core skut work. Another thing that worked for me was that I became the boss of the area that no one wanted to work in; everyone else had to do SOME of that work and so I became the consultant on how to get that done rather than doing it for them. I did the hard stuff and dealt with the conflict (it was an interpersonal task) but advised them on the messages they needed to be conveying on the routine stuff. This worked well and made being in charge of this important but undesirable task area a matter of some authority and prestige rather than seeming like staff work.

      1. anon101647

        yup, doing the grunt work at my prior (first) job was incredibly valuable, since i learned what i like and don’t like about work, learned new skills (work B), and figured out the next step i wanted to take. but now i’m here, and i need to make sure the move i THOUGHT i was making becomes the move i AM making.

        thank you for your comment!

    4. Chaordic One

      It’s not just that you can do A more quickly and competently than the rest of the team (who have little B skill). It’s the lack of recognition and appreciation from your team and from your supervisors who seem to take this kind of work for granted and don’t recognize the very real and considerable effort that goes into doing it and doing it well, and how when it is done well it makes everything else easier for other people.

      I don’t know what to do about it, but it is SO frustrating!

      1. Artemesia

        Ah yes. It is woman’s work and thus easy and valuable in the same way cleaning toilets is valuable but any idiot can do it. Been there. Women get stuck with it partly because they don’t understand how to push back and strategize about their own career development. Once you recognize this, you are in a position to figure out how to move out of this slot. Sometimes you just have to move on, but sometimes you can figure out how to tend your boundaries.

        1. Chaordic One

          I notice it happens to people of color, older people, and to gay men. It probably happens to other people and I don’t notice it.

  8. LibraryChick

    #3 Definitely. I carry my smart phone around with me at work, but I receive my work email and text messages on it. I am a backup person for IT, so people have to get a hold of me immediately if something in the office is jammed or has red lights blinking wildly on it. If they can’t get in touch with me right away they tend to try to fix the problem themselves… *shudder*. It totally drives me crazy though when I see coworkers playing candy crush or some other major time waster, and then complain to me when they aren’t able to get a project done on time.

  9. OlympiasEpiriot

    Well, I can tell you that the intersection of the atrocity in Orlando and my smarter-than-me-phone being present has completely sunk my productivity for the last two days.

  10. Lily in NYC

    I keep my phone on airplane mode tucked away in my purse during work. I think I am the only person in my entire office who doesn’t have it on my desk within view. It’s surprising how many people I see texting all day – and how people seem to think it’s “everybody but them” who abuses it. My favorite coworker loves to complain about her direct report texting too much – but my coworker is even worse and has a blind spot about her own behavior. She replied to two texts while she was bitching to me about the coworker’s texting habits! I jokingly called her out on it and she just said “oh, that was my son”. So what! He’s a grown man and doesn’t need to check in with his mommy after school.

    1. OhNo

      Man, I hate when people justify things that way. It just seems so hypocritical – “Oh, but that was my child/husband/parent”, “Oh, but that was the repair person”, “Oh, but that was important”. The other person you’re complaining about probably thinks it’s important, too. Either it’s important for everyone, and everyone should be allowed to do it, or it’s not important for anyone, and they need to stop, too.

      Makes me glad that my current coworkers are as anti-phone as I am. It’s nice to have coworkers who have the same pet peeves – we’re much less likely to get on each others’ nerves!

      1. Lily in NYC

        She is amazing in every other way so I cut her some slack about it. I would love to have phone-averse colleagues. Or at least ones who don’t do speaker phone conference calls in our open floor plan.

  11. AyBeeCee

    I only have my phone out if I happened to set it on my desk instead of in my purse (like now) or if it’s on the charger. I’d rather check the weather online than on my phone, but I also don’t check the weather that often anyway since most days are the same as the day before. I wonder if people use their phones to check the news because it doesn’t feel as taboo as using their phones for games during work time.

  12. Stephanie

    Oof, kind of guilty about the smartphone thing. My job involves pulling lots of data from Access and it’s pretty tempting to whip the phone out while waiting for things to download. I’m also an Excel monkey and listen to podcasts to get me through the more tedious spreadsheets. I’m working on it.

    1. Lily in NYC

      I don’t think it’s a big deal to play with your phone when you have downtime. And if you can concentrate on work while listening to podcasts, go for it! I wouldn’t get anything done but I can’t even listen to music when I work – I’m way too easily distracted.

  13. Brooke

    I work next to someone who spent 90% of last week texting. She does not have a work phone. We bill back by the hour. I know for a fact she reported this time at work as billable working hours, and has been spoken to in the past for texting when with clients.

    I’ve spoken up. God knows what, if anything, will happen. But holy demoralization….. and it’s not as if there’s no work to be done.

    1. Brooke

      I should clarify she doesn’t have a work CELL phone, hence, I know that the texting is personal.

      1. Lily in NYC

        Oh good! I was about to suggest that it would be nice to give her a work phone. LOL.

        1. Brooke

          Interestingly enough this person is in her 60s and not known for her work ethic. so it’s not a generational thing as some might assume.

  14. Cath in Canada

    I have my phone on my desk pretty much all the time, but I use it to run a Pomodoro productivity app and to listen to music to block out the sounds of our completely open office. I just pulled my earbuds out and I can hear two separate phone calls and one in-person conversation right now! So I hereby claim an exemption to the general rule that phones are bad for productivity.

    (I do occasionally text at work, usually late in the afternoon, or use my phone for other purposes like checking the news or the weather. But I have my phone on silent, find a private area to take the occasional call, and never play games or anything like that at work).

  15. themmases

    I strongly doubt the importance or reliability of the item about smartphones.

    It was surprisingly difficult to find a detailed description of the survey methods and findings online (I will share the best one I found in a follow-up comment). But the claim that phones are the biggest productivity killers is based on the reported opinions of hiring and HR managers. How do they really know that, particularly the HR managers? The response also referred to “cell phone/texting”, not just smart phones. Harms to productivity and work quality were related to employees being “distracted”, not solely to phone use. To me it sounds like phone use is just the most visible activity that reads as time wasting.

    On average the surveyed managers believed that 2 hours per day are lost to employee distractions. However white collar work weeks have also gotten longer on average and in some industries our productivity has arguably increased. Is it necessarily a problem that employees aren’t fully focused for a full 8-9 hours if they also work longer hours and are more productive? It’s difficult to say from this survey because it was not limited by industry (other than non-government), and the industries of employees and managers were not reported. It seems to just reflect a heterogenous group of managers’ opinions of their direct reports.

    There was no explanation of how questions about loss of productivity were asked (e.g. were they structured in a way that assumes productivity was lost?) or the purpose of the survey as explained to the people who participated. It’s hard to see what Career Builder thought they would get out of it other than a blog post.

    1. Meg Murry

      Yes, this is a good point. Yes, I am distracted by my phone – because I’m texting my husband to say “staying late 2 hours tonight, can you get the kids from daycare or do I need to call my mother?”. And vice versa – I lose a moderate chunk of personal time at home when my coworkers text me or I check my work email in the evening so there isn’t a backlog to deal with first thing in the morning.

      That said, one of the best things I did was sit down and spend some time turning off every single notification that wasn’t urgent, and unsubscribed to a ton of email and text notifications. Do I need the phone in my pocket to buzz every time someone “likes” what I said on Facebook? Or every time Macy’s wants to send me a text to tell me there is a sale? Or Candy Crush to tell me there are new levels available? No. Even if I don’t look at it right then, the buzz causes me to pause when typing or thinking, and lose my train of thought for just a second.

  16. Hlyssande

    Having a cellphone (just a cell, not even a smartphone) has been a godsend to me in regards to family health crises. My father used to just leave his off all the time right up until it took my mother several hours of frantically trying to contact him to let him know that my grandma (his mother, 100+) had fallen and was in the ER. He rarely uses it, but it’s at least on these days so it’s possible to get in touch of him for emergencies.

    I am admittedly distracted by mine and take it everywhere, but it’s also a sort of stim toy for me. I get the fidgets if I’m sitting still and need something in my hands.

  17. Merry and Bright

    I do have a smartphone but don’t text all that much, but when I do it’s usually when I’m commuting or at evenings/weekends. If I have a quiet 5 minutes during the day I’ll sometimes look in on AAM or check a sports score on a sports app. And I often use it to check personal emails and news bulletins on my lunch break.

    When my phone really came into its own, though, was when I was job-hunting. I did phone screens and was available to recruiters without having to sit at home all day. I could also search for vacancies on it.

  18. Rebecca

    I’d like to stop doing low value work, but since we don’t have clerical helpers any longer, we have to do our own clerical work. Back in the not so distant past, we had several competent clerical coworkers, and it was wonderful to have help with document scanning, data entry, etc. but now, those positions have been eliminated and they’re not coming back.

  19. Anonymity

    I dink around on my phone on breaks or on rare occasions when I need a site that’s locked out by our network permissions.

    I am much more distracted by co-workers who cannot remember what I told them the last 3 times they asked the same question and completely random external client calls I am not trained to take but have to anyway.

  20. AliceBD

    I wish I could just put my phone to the side and not look at it at work all day! The issue with that is I will then miss posting on and responding to people certain social networks that like their apps better than their websites. When websites don’t have full functionality, you have to use your phone. And since social media is a large component of my job, my phone needs to be out and near me.

    (This is not theoretical. If I forget to take my phone out of my bag in the morning and put it near me, I end up being late on doing work things on it.)

  21. Milton Waddams

    #3: Weather apps being such a major draw seems like it might be a drawback of the workplace design; if you are in a windowless cubicle all day, I can see the appeal of a quick glance at the closest access someone might have to the outside world. :-) A nice alternative (although I doubt it would ever be implemented) would be a webcam stream from the roof, so that people without windows could at least open up an artificial one.

    If the problem is with taking eyes away from the monitors, it seems like the most straightforward way would be to allow limited instant messaging at work — if you’re not going to stop it anyway, might as well limit the distraction to a quick alt-tab on the computer rather than disengaging entirely. Would probably also be a minor morale boost knowing they didn’t have to sneak around.

  22. Fed Up

    I have a cell phone which is a dinosaur, and better than 99.5% of the time is turned off as I’m walking in the door to work.

    I also have a smart (not a phone) which only works on wi-fi, and I can check the weather or email on breaks, but mostly I use it to listen to audio books while I work. Those I download at home, on my own wi-fi (free books from the library, and some from Amazon, or LibriVox). It helps with the monotony, as well as covering up my “co-worker’s” near-constant chatter on her phone, or texting, or watching soap operas.

    Company policy is not to use personal phones at work, other than on breaks. The (self-appointed) assistant manager ignores it, even interrupting others (who are working) to show pictures from his latest adventure. My “co-worker” ignores it all day every day, even in front of the boss.

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