smartphones

Should we dumb down our smartphones to stop us becoming more stupid?

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Mike the Psych's Blog

Last September I asked on my other blog: Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections?

aansyq1I described the Light Phone and the fact that the old Nokia 3310 from 2000 was selling well on the internet. Now it’s been announced that the Nokia will be sold again with a larger colour screen but with only basic call and text facilities for around £49 in the UK.

It seems that the smartphone idea was being dumbed-down. Is that a bad idea?

Well in the Times Body & Soulsection last weekend they asked “is your smartphone making you stupid?.

41-epxoutyl-_sx309_bo1204203200_They thought it was – if you count a fleeting attention span, a poorer memory, and a more passive intellect as signs of increasing stupidity.

Arianna Huffington‘s book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life”

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Dumbing down that smartphone

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ulearn2bu

icon_flow_smart_phone_loop_500_wht_9550Have we reached smartphone-peak?

Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections? No more anxiety from FOMO or FOBO?

The NoPhone might have been a prank by two Canadian entrepreneurs having a dig at the latest smartphone upgrade but now there is a real alternative: the Light Phone.

It’s the size of a credit card and can make calls and store 10 numbers and that’s it. Retro or what?

It will be launched in the US by two friends, Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang, who used to design Motorola phones (I loved my flip-top Motorola) but grew jaded with the constant pressure to come up with increasingly addictive and life-consuming apps.

If you believe the statistics – and I find these figures unbelievable and not sure of their source – we tap our phones on average 2,617 times a day…

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Is it really goodbye e?

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laptop_mail_pc_1600_wht_2103People have been predicting the end of e-mail for a while with some companies preferring staff to use social media apps instead (which seem like jumping from the frying pan into the fire to me).

Undoubtedly we spend too much time on e-mails of which 80% are probably of no value whatsoever. Some experts say we spend 36 days a year at work answering them and that there are 2.4 million sent every second.

Some companies have already starting to fight back against this insidious menace. Atos, a French company, has promised to end the use of e-mails by next year.

The Halton Housing Trust in Cheshire is coming to the end of a two-year programme to wean staff off them because staff were spending 40% of their time e-mailing. I actually like their approach limiting “reply to all” and using “cc”. Even better naming and shaming the most prolific e-mailers!

Procure Plus, a property service company, has also introduced e-mail etiquette after finding that staff couldn’t be bothered leaving their desks to speak to colleagues. Now they have to phone or visit in person before they are allowed to e-mail.

Volkswagen turns off its server at 1730 and Daimler stops staff getting e-mails when on holiday. Sensible Germans.

A media management CEO says the problem will resolve itself anyway as use by millennials has declined 50% since 2010 as they are using social media networks instead. And why is that an improvement? I’d suggest getting all staff to lock their smartphones and tablets in a locker when they arrive at work so they can actually do some! It also sounds a bit ageist to me. Do only older workers use e-mails now?

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester Business School who has spoken about the stressful effects of e-mail overload in the past, is working with a number of organisations on e-mail projects. He said “The UK was quick to adapt digital technology and the World Economic Forum says the UK has the highest digital use per capita of the major economies. Smartphones have just made things worse with people constantly checking their inbox wherever they are – during family dinner, on holiday, everywhere. It’s affecting everyone badly, their health and happiness and also their productivity

He says the problem has got so bad that people think doing e-mails is a good day’s work!

FYI there’s a new term for people ignoring you to answer or check their smartphone: it’s called phubbing (i.e. snubbing by phone).

David Burkus, associate professor in management at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma agrees with professor Cooper. “Clearing out your inbox can make you feel like you’re ultra-productive but unless your job description is solely to delete e-mails you’re just fooling yourself

So do you want “e-mail deleter” to be your job title or do you want to take control? How about leaving an auto-message when you go home or on holiday saying you won’t be able to deal with any e-mails and ask them to contact you when you are in work?

And that backlog in your in-tray? Declare a moratorium and tell people you’re deleting them all. If that seems too drastic do what some people do and ignore e-mails that you’re only copied in to. If it’s really meant for you they should have sent it to you directly.

Source for main story The Times

Multi-tasking in Meetings never a good idea

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flipboard_discussion_text_10528You might think you are good at multi-tasking (you’d be wrong by the way) and probably don’t think of the effect it has on your colleagues.

Researchers at Harvard found that checking your phone, e-mails or social media is more distracting for your colleagues than it is for you.

In fact they blame our obsession with our devices for the unproductive meetings taking place everywhere. I don’t necessarily agree with that having attended my fair share of useless meetings long before we had smart phones and tablets.

But there’s no doubt it’s worse now with the “always on” mentality many people have.

People were asked by Francesca Gino how they would respond if a friend or colleague checked their e-mails or posted on social media during a meeting.

She said “The results suggest that we feel distracted and annoyed when others are checking their phone rather than paying attention to what we have to say in a meeting. Yet we fail to realise that our actions will have the same effect on others when we are engaging in them

She also confirmed that multi-tasking is a myth because other than simple tasks we can’t perform several action at the same time. When we try it takes 50% longer with 50% more mistakes (our brain is switching from one task to another and takes time to recover its earlier position).

Banning phones from meetings might help but also organising the meeting better.

41Rq7xmxm0L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Patrick Lencioni, author of “Death by Meeting” estimates that professionals spend 31 hours each month attending unproductive meetings and almost three-quarters of attendees say they take other work with them. (Professor Gino thinks people take their phones and devices as a back-up plan in case the meeting gets boring or ineffective).

Lencioni says bad meetings not only exact a toll those who suffer in them but also cause anguish in the form of, anger, cynicism, lethargy and lower self-esteem.

The HBR suggests the following rules to get the best out of meetings:

  • Keep it small i.e. no more than 7 people to ensure everyone can pick up on NVC and other nuances
  • Ban devices as unacceptable distractions
  • Keep it short i.e. less than an hour (I remember meetings in the public sector lasting 6 hours)
  • Stand up. Meetings where you’re not allowed to sit down ply last 2/3 as long
  • Never just update. That can be done outside the meeting by e-mail, otherwise it’s a time-waster
  • Set an agenda and be clear about the purpose of the meeting and that there will be a plan of action

FYI Lencioni is also the author of “The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams” which is well worth a readThe5dysfunctionsofateam

 

 

Too many e-mails plus bad management stressing out staff

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laptop_mail_pc_1600_wht_2103Professor Sir Cary Cooper has hit out at the avalanche of e-mails most workers now suffer from at work.

In a speech at the British Psychology Conference in Liverpool he said UK productivity was the second lowest in the G7 group of nations (20% below the average and 40% below the USA) which he believed was due to our embracing technology “too enthusiastically“.

He thinks companies should shut down their servers to discourage employees from checking e-mails in the evening and at weekends and especially when on holiday – which he described as sick. (Some companies are already doing this in Germany).

He would like to ban in-house e-mails between members of staff in favour of face-2-face communication and thought c.c. e-mails a waste of time.

He thinks too may people are just showing up for work (“Presenteeism”) but not doing anything productive.

Research at the University of Sussex confirms that when when staff are given company smartphones they put in an extra day a week checking and responding to e-mails.

Experts say that there may be help round the corner from even newer technology such as Slack and Yammer which provide an open stream of communications not requiring you to open e-mails. (Is that really an improvement?)

employee_diciplined_1600_wht_5635But it’s not all down to the technology. British managers are notoriously poor at praising and encouraging staff. Cooper likens a good boss to a parent figure balancing criticism and praise.

However UK employees don’t have to wait long to be criticised in his view but they can wait a long time to get any praise for good work.

And that could be a problem with younger workers who expect praise and good treatment at work.

Multi-tasking makes you stupider than smoking pot

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figure_juggling_balls_500_wht_430160 years ago Carlson carried out the first empirical study of what managers actually do but it was another 20 years before Henry Mintzberg’s study of Chief Executives, published as: “The Nature of Managerial Work“, made people realise that, among other things; “managers’ jobs are characterised by brevity, variety, and fragmentation”.

And from that study came the message that managers rarely spend more than 15 mins on any one task at their desk before being interrupted. A finding that has been more or less replicated by other researchers since then.

However back then there was no internet, no e-mail, no social networking sites. In his latest book “Managing“, Mintzberg again examines the work of senior managers (he eschews the notion of leaders) and comes to much the same conclusion with e-mails etc just being a means of reinforcing the characteristics of what managers do anyway – and they were already spending 40% of their time on communication back in 1973.

Office workers however may only have 3 minutes on a task before they are interrupted by e-mails or callers. It can actually become quite addictive e-mailing and texting and waiting to see if people have replied – almost like playing a slot machine, and 15% of people even admit to checking for e-mails in church. And according to John Freeman, author of “The Tyranny of Email“, because we spend so much time checking our inboxes or refreshing Twitter pages, we are less productive because our attention spans are shattered into tiny fragments.

Microsoft found that it can take 25 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted by an e-mail even though it might only take your brain a minute to recover your train of thought. We also get anxious thinking through the consequences of sending a message and waiting for a reply. We may not realise that checking our e-mails every 5 minutes adds up to over 1 day a week but we end up juggling at least two things at once. On the phone whilst checking e-mails, checking messages in meetings, tweeting during union negotiations, driving whilst texting (resulting in over 6o0,000 crashes a year).

It wasn’t that long ago that women claimed they were better at multi-tasking, it was their natural skill set. Now we are all at it. And some of us feel if we aren’t we are wasting our time. But how annoying is it when you are on the phone to someone and you can hear them working on a keyboard.. I recently had a conversation with a NatWest business advisor on the phone and his mobile phone went off 3 times but he wouldn’t turn it off even when I asked him to.

Yet it turns out that multi-taskers are less effective. According to research at Stanford University they focus on irrelevant information and everything distracts them. They remember nothing and get less done. They actually take longer to switch between tasks because they think about what they are not doing. They like to be scanning for and flooded with new information rather than deal with what they already have.

It’s estimated by the University of California, San Diego, that we receive 100,000 words, plus images adding up to 34 gigabytes of information a day. The result of this is that our attention span is being chopped into smaller pieces and we are losing the ability to think more deeply. It may even eventually change the structure of our brains. Edward Halliwell, a New York psychiatrist, believes that people have never had to process as much information as they have to nowadays.

He has coined the term “screen sucker” to describe people who spend so much time in front of a computer screen, mobile phone or Blackberry (which used to be referred to as a Crackberry because of its addictive nature) now replaced by smartphones. One study showed that when knowledge workers were interrupted by e-mails and phone calls their IQ dropped by 10 points – twice the drop reported for marijuana users. And he too thinks people are so busy processing information at a superficial level that they are losing the ability to think and feel and are losing the ability to connect with other human beings.

Times columnist Sathnan Sanghera was moaning about the difficulties of working from home with all the inherent distractions – although spending 3 hours on social networking couldn’t have helped. He then found the same problems working in the office but some of that was down to actually having social interactions with colleagues. But that can only be a good thing!

Originally updated and posted on SGANDA 23 August 2010:

Technology only adds to your stress

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no_cell_phones_PA_3777Smartphones, tablet computers and other digital devices are a mixed blessing.

Having portable data can be useful when you are working off-site but these devices also blur the boundaries between home and work.

No wonder companies are happy to give staff the latest smartphone or tablet that they can take home with them. There is an expectation that they will use them “after hours” for work.

Researchers at the University of Surrey examined 65 large studies involving around 50,000 employees.

Few companies actually spell out what is expected of staff, Is there a cut-off time after which it’s not OK to ring someone on a work-related matter? What about during holiday?

In the absence of a policy written down … employees tend to take guidance from their managers or colleagues. If managers send e-mails late at night, staff feel they are required to answer them” according to one of the researchers at Surrey.

Employees might be happy at first to receive a new piece of technology but they soon realise there is an expectation that they will always be available and it then becomes a burden. They lose a sense of self-control which can lead to being less able to cope with stress.

The researchers believe that having technology such as smartphones has led to white-collar workers working the equivalent of an extra day a week and two day for managers. In other words 24/7.

Family life suffered the most from these distractions as you might expect with not even weekends and holidays protected from digital intrusions.

So technology is contributing to longer working hours, worse work-life balance, and more stress.

We have to look to Germany, the powerhouse of Europe with a strong union involvement in companies, for examples of good practice. Volkswagen, BMW and Puma stop their servers sending out e-mails 30 minutes after the end of the working day and make it clear that employees are not expected to answer e-mails at weekends or when on holiday.

Daimler actually gives its employees the option of automatically deleting any e-mails sent to them when they are on holiday so they don;t come back to a bulging in-box.

And last year France banned interruptions after 1800 and before 0900.

Sadly in the UK we don’t seem so concerned about employees’ well-being,