You don’t even have to be on your phone for it to disengage your focus

We now know the pitfalls of being glued to our devices: we’re less engaged with the world around us, conversation and nature. Phones’ blue light and social media, email and texting distractions keep us up later, disrupting sleep and peace of mind. Now, there’s proof that it is impairing our brain’s ability to concentrate too.  

A new study from the University of Texas-Austin shows that even having your phone nearby decreases your cognitive abilities.

Researchers divided 800 people up into three groups:

  1. One group left all belongings in a separate room before proceeding with an experiment.
  2. The second group placed their phones facedown on their desks before the experiment.
  3. The third group of participants kept their phones with them during the experiment, in the place they’d normally carry them—such as a purse or a pocket.

Each group was instructed to leave their phones on silent with no vibration. Still, the group that left their phones in another room performed far better than those with the devices near them. This distinction was even more pronounced for participants who ranked themselves as highly dependent on their phones.

So, even having your phone near you makes you less focused and not as intellectually adept. Why? Researchers say that trying not to be distracted by your phone is, itself, a distraction. The more routinely we check our phones – until the process becomes an automatic habit – the more resources it takes to divert our focus away.

Aside from impairing our cognitive abilities, phones take away from conversations and being present in the moment. How many times have you asked a family member or friend a question, only to be ignored because they were texting someone? And the scariest part of all: they usually aren’t aware of it.

But how can this knowledge help us at work, when we need our phones? Having a designated line for work calls only can help, where you can keep your cell phone turned on silent in another room while you work; then reward yourself by getting up to check your phone every hour or two.

Start today by leaving your phone out of the bedroom when you sleep – get an alarm clock – and keeping your phone in a designated space away from your desk, especially when you need time to catch up on emails or complete a project.

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