It’s a pretty safe bet that whenever you take a break, you reach for your mobile phone. It’s such a habit that it is seen as “normal”. Indeed, just stop off at a motorway service station and you’ll see hundreds of people sitting in cars or at the restaurants all on their phone. You only need to go to an office canteen or coffee shop and you see the same thing. People stop work and immediately pick up their mobile.
Part of this is learned behaviour. We do it because we have learned that when we stop work, take a coffee break and pick up our phone we get a little burst of “happy brain chemicals”. Just taking a few seconds to see if anyone has sent you a message or “liked” your latest social media post is returned with a big shot of neurotransmitters that make us feel good about ourselves. We have learned that when we take a break and pick up our phone we are rewarded for doing so.
However, there’s a problem with this habit. It is making you much worse at doing your job.
New research shows that when people use their mobile phone during a work-time coffee break the tasks they need to complete when they get back to their desks are done poorly. The “phone grab” appears to reduce our cognitive capabilities. People who used their phones during the coffee break took 19% longer to complete a task compared with people who did not take a break at all. Furthermore, the phone users were 22% less accurate at the tasks than people who took no breaks.
There is plenty of research to show that taking a rest from a task improves subsequent performance. So, the “phone grabbers” were much worse at performing a task than people who took no breaks and were un-rested and therefore not performing at their best anyway.
This research is yet further evidence of the impact the mobile phone has on our cognitive capabilities. And the news is not good.
Economists are struggling to calculate why productivity is falling in many countries or not rising as it has done historically. More and more evidence is accumulating that suggests the culprit is the mobile phone – or at least our dependence upon it.
When you need a break, take a break. Only check your mobile phone if you HAVE TO. Otherwise, set it to one side, relax and just enjoy your coffee.