Smartphones have integrated themselves into our lives for over a decade now. From checking our emails to writing to-do lists, downloading the latest apps to our (frequent) social networking, they play an increasingly integral role in our lives.
With competition for work at an all-time high, missing an important phone call or email could be fatal, making our phones an essential tool that we can't live without. Yet they're also the root cause of unwanted distractions when we should be at our most productive.
So is it possible to wean ourselves off our addiction, and strike a better balance between life, work and our phones? We spoke to some leading designers to find out...
- Also read: Sony's Tom Waldner on the future of smartphone design (opens in new tab)
Chatting to people in the industry, it soon becomes clear that staying connected is an essential part of a designer's life. Clients demand it, friends expect it, and the obligation to be accessible 24/7 is keenly felt. "Twitter is my virtual office, so it's essential I keep up my interactions," says Jenny Theolin, designer and founder of creative consultancy Soapbox & Sons. "My smartphone is definitely an extension of me, and my business. I pride myself on replying punctually and always 'being there'."
Fashion and burlesque photographer Tigz Rice also relies on her phone, especially when out on location. "Checking my emails whilst travelling helps me keep in contact with clients," she says. "Having reliable internet on the go has certainly made me far more productive."
But others worry that overuse of their phones is making them less productive. As creative director of Bristol agency Fiasco Design Ben Steers says: "My phone is the first thing I pick up in the morning and it's the last thing I check before I go to sleep. I'm so reliant on my smartphone, it does worry me from time to time. These tools should aid your productivity - but it's easy to get distracted by all thsoe ping sounds and flashing messages."
Managing your time
Time management is one of the most common issues freelancers have to grapple with, and arguably the presence of a smartphone should make life easier. However, it's frequently a source of distraction that tempts us away from our to-do list, as illustrator and founder of Red Lemon Club Alex Mathers admits.
"My discipline goes up and down over the year, depending on the self-talk I give myself," he admits. "Some weeks, I'll be much more strict with myself than others, but frequently my phone features a great deal in my day to day activities. I'm looking at it from morning to night, several times an hour."
Getting the balance right
Ammo Magazine founder Dave Hughes agrees that smartphone use can be a problem. "Breaking your concentration even for a moment can seriously interfere with workflow," he says, explaining that he struggled to get the balance right when he first started working from home.
"I found myself frequently jumping onto Instagram and Twitter to reply to comments," he admits. "I quickly realized that even sending quick responses quickly adds up during the course of a day."
Similarly, Alex Mathers relies heavily on social media to drive traffic to his website Red Lemon Club - but finds the habit leeching into non-work too. "I'd say my phone usage is split fairly evenly between time-wasting/unwinding activity and productive activity," he explains. "It takes up a large part of my time."
When to switch it off
To counteract this, Dave recommends a total shut down during busy periods: "When I'm doing client work I switch off all my social networking apps and only reply to urgent emails."
Jenny Theolin agrees the distraction of the smartphone can be a time drain. "It's no longer enough to get away from your desk, you have to get away from your handheld, multitasking device too," she argues.
"While working, my smartphone is constantly on Do Not Disturb, which means it keeps silent. I can decide to catch up on notifications when I get a moment."
Use a scheduling app
But how can you switch off your apps or the phone itself if constant posting social media posting is part of your job? For Rice, a scheduling app is a great workaround. "Hootsuite is great for scheduling posts," she reports. "I can set a full day's worth of tweets and Facebook posts in the morning and then pop in later that evening to reply to any mentions or comments."
Because she has poor reception in her studio, Rice finds it relatively easy to limit her social media distractions, though she is quick to admit it wasn't always this way. "I'd love to say I've always been so focused and productive, but it's been a build up of willpower over several years!" she confesses. Observing a link between her work load and her phone usage, she adds: "The more deadlines I have looming, the better I am at keeping focused on the task ahead."
Hughes, who divides his time between freelance web design projects and Ammo Magazine, a printed publication for emerging illustrators, concurs. "I feel that using Twitter and other networks is part of the 'business' and it's important to post regular updates," he says. "But as a freelancer you need to have a certain level of self management skills and that should include the way you handle your social interactions."
Create a physical distance
One reliable good way to reduce your smartphone use is to create a physical distance between you and your device, says Alex Mathers. "If my phone starts interfering with my productivity I put the phone on silent and move it to another room," he explains.
Steers has a similar tactic: "Simply put it away and focus on the job in hand." But if you'd rather keep your phone on you, Rice recommends adjusting its settings to reduce the amount of distractions.
"Turn off as many notifications on your phone as possible in the settings, and make sure your emails are set to 'fetch manually' rather than pushed to your phone every five minutes" she recommends. "This means your phone will bleep for attention a lot less, as well as doing wonders for your battery life!"
Be a better person
Ditching your handheld device completely may be impossible in today's world, but making a concentrated effort to use your phone less will not only improve your work flow, it might make you a better person too.
Illustrator and co-founder of WHAT IF Decor showroom, Pomme Chan believes that making a conscious effort to use your phone less during downtime can be especially effective. "I never answer my phone if I'm out for dinner," she says. "Everything can wait, but the moment you spend with friends and loved ones won't."
Switching off can have surprising health benefits too, improving your mental clarity and creative nous, as Hughes observes. "It's refreshing to take a break - even if just for a few short hours," says the designer, who regularly takes long walks with his wife and young daughter near the Welsh border. "I've found it's the best way to escape being constantly connected, and often inspires new ideas."
Words: Lisa Hassell (opens in new tab)
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Do you use your phone too much? Let us know in the comments!