In a world where technology reigns supreme, it’s hard to imagine a day without our phones. We use them for everything from checking the time to communicating with others. Their omnipresence in our daily lives means our phones have uninterrupted power to interrupt us. In today’s day and age, we respond to our phone’s notifications, regardless of whether their mode is set to ring, vibrate, or even silent.
But what happens when we’re trying to focus on something else, and our phone interrupts us with a vibrate or ring tone?
According to recent research, we are more likely to attend to these types of alerts immediately. This constant interruption of notifications can harm our productivity and attention span, possibly contributing to an “increasingly problematic deficit of attention in our digitally connected society.”
Still, while many of us would like to think that we’re able to silence our phones and tune out the world, the opposite is true. Despite promising findings on the causal effects of feeling interrupted by phone notifications and inattention and hyperactivity, silencing phones during critical hours may not be the most effective option for everyone. Some people may check their phones even more to avoid missing important messages such as emails.
Another study by Penn State University found that people checked their phones more often in silent mode. They also stayed on their phones longer. This research suggests that keeping our phones on silent mode can leave us feeling more anxious, contributing to a greater fear of missing out and a feeling of uncertainty. This is especially true for individuals with “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and need-to-belong psychological traits.
Researchers, industry leaders, and developers are still working to determine the best approach for curbing smartphone overuse. Similar to approaches for overcoming addiction or dependency, it’s easy to think that the solution is to go cold turkey – whether silencing our phones or putting them out of sight and out of mind. But for many of us, that’s not realistic or even possible.
Our phones are now essential to our lives; we rely on them for everything. So what’s the solution?
For now, there is no easy answer. But silencing your phone may not be the best option, especially if it means you’re more likely to check it. If you’re struggling to stay productive or reduce your phone use, consider other options, such as putting it on airplane mode when you need to be productive or disabling all alerts and notifications for a set period each day. See if you can focus better without the constant pings and buzzes.
Another more effective option could be customizing your notifications, app by app and alert by alert. For example, if social media notifications tend to distract you, but you feel anxious at the thought of missing an email, consider disabling the former while keeping the latter active (whether sound, vibrate, or silent).
If you’re still struggling to stay focused, consider talking to a doctor or therapist about your anxiety and phone use. There’s no shame in seeking help for something affecting your quality of life. After all, your phone should be a tool that helps you live your best life – not one that holds you back.