Learn how to reduce smartphone distractions in practical tips to get more meaningful work done.
For most people, a smartphone is not a necessary tool to do your work, yet you can be sure to see them lying face up on many home or office desks. Since phones are the most common cause of distraction they will be top of our list to reduce time-wasting.
Why it’s important to reduce distraction from your phone at work
Smartphones are designed to grab your attention. The behavioural loops are so strong that even when a phone doesn’t vibrate, it can cause a distraction by feeling it in your pocket or seeing it lying on a desk. Even when a phone is turned off it can still cause distraction when it’s lying on a table between two people having a conversation.
Your phone’s potential as a major distraction also carries over into work. If you want to excel as a marketer, or in any other role, you need to be able to channel your attention into important tasks and away from your phone.
The below are a series of suggestions to help you get away from the distractions of your phone. Read through all of the points and find an order in which to follow them that works for you. You don’t necessarily have to implement them all, but you should try each suggestion at least once.
When you implement these tips, you'll get more done in a day/week and you'll feel more relaxed.
Tip 1: Out of sight, out of mind
Your phone is a distraction (even when it’s turned off)
Your brain is subconsciously checking for notifications on your phone whenever it’s in full or peripheral view.
Reduce distraction by hiding your phone out of sight
Store your phone in a drawer, bag, or behind your back to keep it out of even your peripherals. If that still doesn’t work, try putting it in another room.
How to hide your phone out of sight
My ritual is to ‘hide’ my phone on the window ledge behind my back in my office. This has become a habit, and one that is easy to maintain.
Where will you ‘hide’ your phone?
Tip 2: Turn off notifications for intrusive apps
Our brain is tricked into thinking notifications are life-threatening
Notifications grab your attention, regardless of the importance. How do you know if it’s life-threatening or a free Farmville credits?
You don’t. This loss-aversion principle is in place here to grab your attention.
Fight back by turning off notifications for apps you don’t need.
Notifications sabotage productivity. Marketers have perfected these loops for years and you don’t stand a chance.
Go through the list of apps on your phone and look out for these categories:
Social media notifications
Free games / services
News apps (and breaking news)
Food delivery services - but don’t turn off notifications for driver/delivery updates!
Email notifications - this is an important one - for most professionals it’s unnecessary to see an email the moment you receive it
Trust me, your life will be better if you turn off notifications for Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, & LinkedIn.
Tip 3: Set up a 'Do Not Disturb' / Notifications Timing
Don’t get distracted during working hours by otherwise useful apps
After turning off notifications for apps that don’t add any value, you still have apps you want to receive notifications from sometimes.
Set up a schedule for when notifications are allowed
You want to receive notifications from apps you love, but not all the time. Seeing a promotion from Gorillas might come in handy on Sunday morning, but not when you’re working on that important campaign.
Tip 4: Remove intrusive apps from your home screen
Avoid being distracted by apps on your homescreen
You open up your phone to find something work related. On your home screen you see Instagram and think ‘I’ll just have a quick look.’ The distraction is caused by having the app visible as soon as you unlock your phone.
Place distracting apps out of sight
If you don’t see the app, it can’t distract you. Place distracting apps in a folder (or delete them from the homescreen on iPhone) to make it harder to open them. If you want to have quick access to the app, use the search functionality instead of having a shortcut on your homescreen.
Tip 5: Take email off your phone
Respond to emails on your desktop, not on your phone
Reading an email on your phone, responding in your head and then marking the email as unread, is not really productive, is it?
Adding that read email to a mental to-do list is another way to get distracted.
Don’t use email on your phone
The solution to this habit is simple, but also hard: don’t use email on your phone. The simplest way to not use email on your phone is to simply remove the account from your email app.
Stop receiving email in real-time while still being able to use Google Calendar
As a Google user removing your email account from your phone is harder, because you probably want access to Google Calendar. In that case, you have to be logged into your Google account, so Gmail is still active.
With "Quiet for Gmail" you can set time-based rules to stop notifications from your personal/work email accounts (if you have a work phone check with your administrator if you’re allowed to use this app).
“I can’t turn off email notifications or unsync my account, I need real-time emails for X”
It’s a well-established thought that we all need to receive and reply to emails in real time. This is (one of the?) biggest fallacies that prevail in a working environment.
Unless something big is on fire, and you need to put it out, it’s likely that your inbox can wait a couple of hours. Check where the friction of not having real time emails sits for you.
Most issues of ‘needing to access email in real-time’ can be avoided with proper time-management and agreements on how/where to communicate.
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Tip 6: Remove Slack/chat from your phone
Reading chats is detracting focus from what you’re working on
Reading work chat on mobile while in a meeting means you can’t focus on what’s going on and you're not being respectful to the meeting participants. (If you're purposefully distracting yourself on your phone because the meeting is too long, read How to have less (long) meetings).
Remove work chat apps from your phone
Remove instant messaging / work chat from your phone. It’s unnecessary to always be ‘on’.
Before removing work chat apps from your phone, have a conversation with your manager if needed. Explain you’re doing an experiment. Ask what the boundaries are. How can you try this out really small? Maybe try 45 minutes and evaluate with your manager if they don’t agree at first.
Only exception: if you run big-budget campaigns or website up-time and every minute is worth thousands of euros. Otherwise: drop it. If reaching you is crucial, give people your mobile phone number and ask them to call in case of an emergency.
Tip 7: Reduce phone calls when in deep work
Avoid getting phone calls when in focus mode
When you’re in the middle of something, and take a call, it will take you a few minutes to get back into work when you hang up. It’s in those deep focus moments when you get your best work done so you should aim to protect those periods as much as possible.
Turn your phone off or set it to Do No Disturb during your focus time
The easiest way to not get phone calls is to turn on Airplane mode, Do Not Disturb or simply turn on your phone.
Send emails instead of calling people
Start with your own behaviour - how often do you call someone when an email would suffice? The less calls you make, the less calls you’ll receive.
Educate your team / coworkers - and even educate customers . If they want to reach you, they can email. Respond within 12/24 hours. Make calling possible only for important/large customers.
Turn on your voicemail and mention your work email address - To make it easier for people to email you, give them your email address in the voicemail.
Don’t add a phone number to your email footer - If they don’t have your number, they can’t call you.
Schedule calls or add an ‘open for calls’ block to your calendar – let others know your schedule - try and schedule as much as possible. A great way to do this is to set up a Calendly link for quick phone calls. Let your colleagues and clients know when they can reach out over the phone.
If someone keeps calling you when it’s not urgent, give them context - Explain you are removing distractions to get more work done and make more impact. Especially when it’s a manager or a client, tell them you are doing this to move their projects forward more quickly. Once they see that they have something to gain from it, the behaviour will change.
Tip 8: Set time in the evening & morning for ‘phone-off time’
Don’t start the day with email or social media, or you’ll be reactive
The best way to avoid notifications in the morning is to turn off your phone and leave it outside the bedroom. Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake you up.
A good way to automate this behaviour is to have a scheduled power off to turn off your phone automatically.
When you open the email inbox, you start with extinguishing fires. I highly recommend not having your phone on in the morning. The morning clarity is beautiful. With a clear mind you can think about bigger projects and be proactive.
Conclusion on smartphone distraction
Be your phone’s master, not its slave. Set up your phone to serve your goals, instead of the goals of app-marketeers. Minimise the distractions from your phone with the action steps explained above, and the checklist below.
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Ewoud Uphof is an experienced Growth Hacker, certified funnel optimiser and investor.
In the past decade he has co-founded multiple companies. As Head of Growth he has helped grow 50+ companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals. He has worked for Camptoo, NU.nl, Sophia Mae, Koffievoordeel and many more.