Don’t Get Ph-owned: 5 Tips for Better Work/Life Balance

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Sometimes, it’s hard to remember life before smartphones. How did we find our way to new places? How did we stay in touch with friends, family and complete strangers? How did we take pictures of every meal and share them with the world?

But seriously, smartphones have opened new possibilities for productivity, connectivity and community. The power we carry in our pockets and pocketbooks would have filled whole buildings just a few decades ago. We are fortunate to live in an era when we can stay connected, informed and involved with such ease.

Unfortunately, as with anything really awesome, there’s also a downside. Sure, the perpetually distracted and frantic feeling associated with continuous partial attention existed before we got ph-owned, but it wasn’t nearly as widespread and intense as it is today. How many times a day do you check email on your smartphone? How about Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? Instagram? The weather? When we respond to all these things, we find ourselves constantly dealing with things that seem urgent and giving less attention to the things that are truly important. These nifty devices — which author Gretchen Rubin calls “the cubicle in your pocket” — are filled with more distractions than a carnival at the State Fair. And those distractions are addictive.


Our continual state of distraction and partial attention is no accident, by the way. Folks like B.J. Fogg at Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab are hard at work on ways to use mobile technology to establish new habits. And while Fogg’s research is focused on noble goals, like improving diet and exercise habits, you’re already experiencing how his insights can be used to make you check your FriendFace account every 15 seconds.

How can we harness the enormous power of our smartphones without letting them take the reins? How can we own phones without being owned by them? Here are five easy tips to help you take control and avoid getting ph-owned:

1.Turn off anything that pushes notifications to your phone.

Interruptions – technological or otherwise – are productivity killers. Nothing should make your phone vibrate, light up or play the theme from Mad Men unless you ask it to. Go through your applications and turn off notifications, banners, sounds and even badges that trigger you, like Pavlov’s dog, to respond. You can even set your email to notify you only when you ask it to.


2.   Process emails and social media in batch mode.

The slow drip of incoming and outgoing communications puts a strain on your brain, lowers the quality of your work, and makes you dumber and less attractive. Set aside specific blocks of time – as frequently as you wish – when you process all those emails and Facebook messages, and limit those blocks to 15 minutes in duration.

3.   Observe a technology sabbath.

Recruit your family and friends to set aside time each week when your mobile technology goes dark. Friday evening to Saturday evening is a popular choice, but go with what works best for you. You might even try a whole weekend.


4.   Don’t take your phone to meetings.

What? If I don’t take my phone, how will I take notes? How will I keep track of action items? How will I know what time it is? Instead, bring a pen, a notebook and a watch.

5.   Make it harder.

Fogg’s research indicates that we need three things to make us engage in a behavior: motivation, ability and triggers. You already turned off the triggers in tip #1, and there’s not much you can do about your compulsion to look up singing kitten videos, but you can hamper your ability to do these things. Consider hiding certain applications, use restrictions to make them hard to open, or you can even uninstall them if they aren’t necessary.

Obviously, these five tips won’t completely cure you of your technology-induced attention deficit, but they’ll at least make more room for you to focus on what’s important. Whether you try just one or all five, I encourage you to experiment and let us know how it goes.





About the author

Eryc Eyl

Eryc Eyl is a writer, speaker, coach and consultant who helps individuals and organizations integrate work into a meaningful, fulfilling and fun life. You can learn more about him at

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