What’s the SCORE? Is connectivity destroying your productivity?

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Several months ago, we discussed letting others control our priorities. In the column I wrote that when I see people immediately responding to a phone call, email, instant message or text, I wonder if they are managing themselves or letting others control them.

I quoted a Microsoft and University of Illinois study which found, when interrupted by an email, instant message or text, it takes a worker an average of 17 minutes to get back to what he was doing.

Recent studies have shed more light on how the connectivity of smartphones impacts a person’s productivity. The research identifies a potentially costly side effect of the integration of smartphones into daily life: smartphone-induced “brain drain.” The integration reduces cognitive performance, which involves the capabilities that support fundamental processes such as learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.

A new study shows that the mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power. Your cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when your smartphone is within reach — even if it’s off!

This study, conducted at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, involved nearly 800 smartphone users in an attempt to measure, for the first time, how well people can complete tasks when they have their smartphones nearby even when they’re not using them.

Those who left their smartphones in another room outperformed those who had their smartphones with them.

The researchers also found that participants who were most dependent on their smartphones performed worse compared with their less-dependent peers, but only when they kept their smartphones nearby.

The bottom-line finding was that having a smartphone within sight or within easy reach reduces a person’s ability to focus and perform tasks because part of their brain is actively working to not pick up or use the phone.

Another recent study commissioned by global tech services company Asurion found that people checked their smartphones 80 times a day when they were on vacation, with nearly 10 percent admitting they take a peek more than 300 times daily!

Do we let others control our priorities by reacting to every “urgent” connectivity interruption? As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Techniques to focus on what is important/not urgent instead on not important/urgent are discussed in the Roane County Chamber of Commerce’s Time Management: Strategic Concepts and Practical Time Savers Lunch and Learn workshop.

Do we recognize that the mere presence of a smartphone reduces the capabilities that support fundamental processes such as learning, problem solving and creativity?

What can we do to best take advantage of connectivity without diminishing our productivity? To better focus on what is important instead of what is urgent?

One way is intentional disconnection. Identify periods to be disconnected from your smartphone and other forms of connectivity such as email. If you can’t be totally disconnected, intentionally reduce or control the extent you interact with your connected devices. Think about using phones lacking the advanced functionality of smartphones.

A great example of disconnecting and focusing is how John Grisham, a young rural Mississippi lawyer, achieved his dream of writing novels. Though working 60-70 hours a week, he set aside 60 minutes everyday to write with no interruptions.

His first book, “A Time to Kill,” was rejected by 30 publishers before 5,000 copies were printed. Today his books have sold more than 275 million copies worldwide and been translated into 42 languages.

Another important consideration is to pick a time to disconnect. I recently met with a client who had been working on a critical project for some time. He discussed the importance of completing the project by year end by working on it every day.

I asked when he was most productive. The answer was in the morning. When I asked what he did then, the answer was responding to emails. He was least productive after lunch.

I suggested he focus uninterrupted on his project first thing every morning and handle his emails after lunch.

The goal is to redefine the relevance of our connected devices to both reduce digital distraction and increase available cognitive capacity. A smartphone is more than just a phone. It is a powerful tool. Do you use it to improve your life? Or do your let others use it to control your life?

In the Time Management workshop, we start with a cartoon showing a new arrival at the pearly gates to heaven. St. Peter greets the new arrival by saying, “Actually, you had a pretty good life, but you were looking down at your phone and missed it.” This positions the participants for the critical question: What are you going to do with your one and only life?

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The two-hour Time Management: Strategic Concepts and Practical Time Savers workshop will start at noon July 17 at the Chamber of Commerce; call 376-5572. Lunch is included. Attendance is free for employees of Chamber members and $35 for others.

Is it worth taking a long lunch to learn something that you can immediately use to improve your professional skills?

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Dana Peterka is the regional director of SCORE and a Roane County SCORE counselor. He is on the board of directors of the Roane County Chamber of Commerce. Email him questions about small business-related issues at newsroom@roanecounty.com. Business owners can reach him through the Chamber of Commerce at 376-2093.