It’s pretty obvious that texting or talking on the phone can be a huge distraction when you’re trying to get important work done.
In fact, new research suggests that the mere “buzz” of an incoming text or phone call can make you less productive, according to a study reported by the The Harvard Business Review.
The study, led by researchers at Florida State University, found that people’s performance on a cognitive task was significantly worse when their phone buzzed or rang than when it stayed silent.
The study included two parts: In the first, researchers asked participants to complete an exercise in which they had to press a button every time a number flashed on a screen, except when it was the number 3. In the second part of the experiment, the researchers texted and called some of the participants to see how they would perform with the distraction. (Participants had provided their phone numbers at the beginning of the study.)
Results showed that those who were called during the second part of the experiment but didn’t answer their phone made 28% more errors than they did in the first part. Meanwhile, those who were texted but didn’t look at their phone made 23% more errors. (Those who didn’t receive any texts or calls made 7% more errors, which the researchers say is likely due to the fact that they got tired of performing the tedious task.)
In fact, the researchers say that the effect of having your phone nearby, even if you don’t physically interact with it, is comparable to the effects of texting or talking on the phone while driving.
These results have important implications for work in the real world. As the study authors told The Harvard Business Review, participants’ mistakes are akin to “action slips” — for example, when you’re thinking about lunch and accidentally write “pizza” instead of “plans” in an email to a coworker.
The researchers aren’t sure exactly why hearing your phone buzz can hurt your productivity, but it’s possible that the culprit is mind wandering. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, you’re wondering who could be trying to reach you and why. Another possible cause is prospective memory, or knowing that you need to do something (return the text or call) in the future.
Bottom line: Keeping your phone out of sight and on vibrate won’t necessarily help you concentrate. Unless you’ve got some superhuman capacity to stay laser-focused while you could potentially be receiving a message from a new beau, your mum, or the IRS, you’ll probably have to turn it on silent or hide it.
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