Yes, I Can Hear You Now: Thoughts on Controlling Your Smartphone

Amber Johnson Care for people

Amber Johnson is the CVDL’s corporate relations advisor and a non-profit and small business communications specialist. 

Last week my smartphone had an unfortunate encounter with my kitchen floor. The face was completely shattered, which rendered the touchscreen device useless. It was late on a Sunday night, and I had a busy (and now phone-less) week ahead of me. Crisis!
Like many working parents, my smartphone is my lifeline to my kids when I’m not with them. And it’s my lifeline to my work when I am parenting. I rest easier knowing that my boss or my kid’s teacher can reach me when I’m needed. I rely on the calendar on the phone to tell me where I’m supposed to be, the mapping app to tell me how to get there, and the email function to get me the latest meeting notes right before the meeting starts.
Like many of you, I presume, I am utterly and totally dependent on my phone. And that’s the problem, of course.
In a recent survey of leaders in the design industry, all respondents reported that they had a smartphone. And more than 60% of those said they check their phone during off time at least once an hour. (I read about this survey in Talent Management. Find the link here.) Guilty.
Taming the smartphone habit takes conviction and determination. Here’s how to start: 
Take an honest look at your phone habits. 
Have you ever found yourself replying to email on the computer, a text on your smartphone, and talking on a conference call simultaneously? Did you miss seeing your daughter’s first soccer goal because you were sending a quick email reply back to the office? Do you check your phone before you shower in the morning and right before turning out the lights at night?
Unfortunately, we haven’t learned how to disconnect at appropriate times. And so we miss big moments, or waste little ones returning messages that really could have waited for the morning. 
Worse, as leaders, the email reply you sent from your Blackberry at 11:45 p.m. communicates a message to your team: the boss expects you to work around the clock.
You can get a quick read on your own smartphone addiction with these three questions: 
  • In my off time, how often do I check email? Be honest. Is this reasonable? Is it the message I want to communicate to my team?


  • Do I ever offend others by multi-tasking when they (or the project at hand) deserve my full attention?



  • Ask your family or friends, Do you feel like you have my attention when we’re together, or does my phone distract me too frequently


If you don’t like the answers to these questions, then take the next steps: 
Make the person in the room the priority.
Have you ever waited at the counter of a store, ready to check out, while the salesclerk had a prolonged conversation with someone else? Even if it’s clearly a work-related conversation, you probably felt your blood pressure rising. No one likes to be ignored by someone in the same room. Be courteous of your colleagues and clients by putting the phone down and having a face to face conversation instead.
A few years back an organization I worked for invited senior leaders of the organization to join significant donors for a summit. In a private moment one donor expressed disgust at the distracted attention of the organization’s executives in the room, “I’ve never seen a group so addicted to their Blackberrys,” she said.
What was really going on in this situation? I don’t think the executives had made the summit a priority, and it showed in their choice to work on their phones instead of participate.
If you can’t make the person in the room a priority, then ask (politely) to leave the room. Don’t waste your time or theirs. 
When your focus is needed, put a plan in place to minimize your smartphone use.
We sometimes think we are more effective when multi-tasking, but solid research shows otherwise. Moving back and forth from a primary task to a secondary task adds 25 percent to the time it takes to complete the initial task. (For more on multi-tasking and focus, download the white paper at 
Put your phone in your desk drawer when you need to focus, and establish a phone-free meeting policy whenever possible. 
When this isn’t possible, talk with your team about why they should keep their phones in their pockets. A senior director from a medical device company explained how and why she does this during training events: 

“With the increased use of smartphones (my entire sales force has them), it is not just phone calls and texts you are managing in a training event. It is all access to the way they now communicate – Facebook, email, blogs, Twitter – that can interrupt the training flow. We explain the first day how the brain works and the myth that is ‘multi-tasking’ and ask them to keep their minds focused on what we are teaching throughout the week. We even do a quick group exercise the first day to drive that point home. The only device they are allowed to have out is a phone on vibrate and for emergency calls only (active surgical cases).”

True leadership is rarely done by phone. Set yours aside and lead. 
For more details on the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, visit our web site,
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