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Switching off your smartphone at night makes you more productive

Date

Mahesh Sharma

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Researchers have found a link between 'always-on' work and drop in productivity.

Researchers have found a link between 'always-on' work and drop in productivity.

Answering work emails at all hours may seem like productive behaviour but you are robbing yourself of downtime,and risk triggering a downward cycle that could ultimately threatening the very job you're so busy trying to save.

Google considers it a big enough problem that it has dedicated a special team of PhD researchers to gather meaningful data on work/life balance. The gDNA project recently found that 70 per cent of 4000 of the search engine giant's employees could not resist working on their smartphones and laptops once they had left the office. Worse, half of this group wants to switch off but can't.

"[The 70 per cent] not only find themselves checking email all evening, but pressing refresh on GMail again and again to see if new work has come in," said Laszlo Bock, Google senior vice-president of people operations. said.

"The fact that such a large percentage of Google’s employees wish they could separate from work but aren’t able to is troubling,"

In another study Consequences of late-night smartphone use and sleep, researchers from Washington, Florida and Michigan State universities found that using smartphones before bed disturbs sleep, negatively affects work and accelerates "ego depletion", which refers to people's capacity to self-regulate behaviour and act positively and productively.

The study asked managers and workers whether they used their phone after 9pm, before going to bed about 11pm, how they felt the next morning, for example, "I feel very drained", and about their engagement at work, for example, "I forgot everything else around me".

The results supported a number of the researchers' hypotheses, including that "smartphone use for work at night disrupted sleep that night, which was associated with greater depletion the next morning and less engagement during the workday".

It suggested that smartphones are different from tablets and laptops because their always-on, invasive nature means that we don't fully detach from work.

University of Washington assistant professor Christopher Barnes worked on the study and agreed that smartphone use before bed could trigger a downward cycle of ego depletion, where poor sleep causes people to be less productive at work, increasing stress and inducing worse sleep patterns, and so on.

But, he said, there was no data to prove the full cycle repeats.

"We do know that poor sleep harms productivity at work. We do know that problems at work lead to stress that follows employees home. And we do know that stress makes it more difficult to fall asleep. So it is likely many people are caught in such a loop," Professor Barnes said.

"To the degree that the consequences of lost sleep - low job performance, high unethical behaviour, high cyberloafing, high risk for work injury, low work engagement, low helping behaviour, low creativity - put one’s job at risk, smartphones could definitely be a hidden source of risk for losing one’s job."

Professor Barnes said he had a personal policy not to check his phone while in bed but said other people might require more drastic action.

"My own experience has been consistent with what the research literature indicates; I relax more, sleep easier, and wake up the next day with more energy, which I can devote to work," he said.

"One recommendation for such people is to charge their phones overnight in their living room or kitchen - really anywhere but the bedroom. That removes the temptation to check the phone while in bed."

The report also found that employees with less autonomy in their jobs would suffer more from smartphone-disrupted sleep.

Google's Mr Bock said the stress levels of some of its Dublin employees dropped when they participated in a program requiring them to check their devices at the front desk before going home.

"Nudging [always-on employees] to ignore off-hour emails and use all their vacation days might improve well-being over time," he said. 

7 comments

  • Check the phone while in bed?

    Oh, man, they've got it bad.

    My phone is off after 5.

    Commenter
    sarajane
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    April 01, 2014, 6:42PM
    • Addicts, be they addicted to drugs or those with addictions caused by being insecure and feeling they must always be in touch via their phones or computers are unfortunate ill people. They will always make some excuse to feed their addiction and in their addicted minds the excuses will always sound reasonable.
      No matter what you tell them.
      The comments they put on here are perfect examples.
      Just watch them all go with the excuses.
      It's pathetic and rather sad.

      Commenter
      The Realist
      Location
      The Real World
      Date and time
      April 02, 2014, 12:16PM
  • How would I hear my alarm?

    Commenter
    garyjand
    Date and time
    April 01, 2014, 8:04PM
    • Watches have alarms. Can't afford a watch?

      Commenter
      The Realist
      Location
      The Real World
      Date and time
      April 02, 2014, 12:08PM
    • Not my watch it's not a Casio

      Commenter
      garyjand
      Date and time
      April 02, 2014, 1:02PM
  • How would I know the time

    Commenter
    chrisr
    Location
    Perth
    Date and time
    April 02, 2014, 8:52AM
    • If you can't figure out for yourself how to tell the time without a phone then how on Earth do you manage to use a phone?

      Do you have a carer?

      Very odd.

      Commenter
      The Realist
      Location
      The Real World
      Date and time
      April 02, 2014, 1:01PM
Comments are now closed
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