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Smartphone using a productivity app

Quiz: is technology helping or hindering your productivity?

There are very few of us who’d want to turn back time and relinquish our smartphones, laptops or other devices forever.

After all, who would choose to navigate their own way around town, hail an actual taxi, line up at the bank to pay bills and be stuck watching the limited selection of shows on TV?

We jest, but there’s no question technology has made countless aspects of modern life more efficient, while also providing us with more content and information than we could ever have imagined. The flipside? It can also prove an enormous distraction – particularly at work.

Sometimes, its negative effects on productivity can start playing out before we even get to the office, says Dr Sharon Horwood, a lecturer in Deakin’s School of Psychology.

That Netflix show you’ve stayed up late watching on a weeknight? That ‘ding’ that woke you up at 3am? It’s all reducing our cognitive capacity (the amount of information our brain is capable of retaining) and affecting the way we do our jobs the next day, she says.

Once work begins, smartphone notifications can also be the enemy of productivity.

‘There’s that constant switching of attention that means people aren’t staying as focused on the task that they’re doing,’ Dr Horwood says.

Her suggestion? ‘If you can turn off your notifications and even put your phone somewhere so it’s not within arm’s reach, you’ve got a better chance of sustaining your attention on the tasks that you should be doing.’

If we use technology in a mindful way (note: that doesn’t mean checking your Insta feed 300 times a day), technology can help make us more productive.

So yes, you could knock over a few email replies on your commute, or in a boring meeting, but you should also set yourself boundaries, particularly when the workday is done.

While you might use a productivity app – such as one of the many timer apps inspired by the Pomodoro technique – or a mindfulness app to help you relax or stay focused, be wary you don’t undo all your good work by compulsively checking your phone, or being bombarded by notifications.

‘Those cumulative interruptions throughout the day are tiring and distracting, they’re impacting on our work performance and certainly I’d say our wellbeing as well,’ Dr Horwood says.

Do you think technology helps or hinders your performance at work? Take our quiz below to find out.

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Dr Sharon Horwood
Dr Sharon Horwood

Lecturer, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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