Where to keep my smartphone when I’m researching companies?

The longer version of this post’s title was supposed to be:

Where to keep my smartphone while researching companies – How I learned to stop worrying about my notifications & love my work.

Well, it was never meant to be perfect.

Now that I’ve lost your attention, let me bring it back to something much more important.

I’ve always wondered why people used the phrase ‘pay attention’. Why ‘pay’? Why not just ‘give’ attention. Certainly it conveys the same intent. I think it makes a lot of sense when we think of it as a metaphor. We are in a sense, literally paying with our mind’s cognitive capacity to focus on something when we are paying attention.

We have come a long way thinking about attention. We have even coined words like attention economy & so on to suggest that the currency is no longer just money, it’s our attention. It asks for our undivided focus towards something we were not thinking about just a few seconds ago.

We may not know in that moment, but the cost of such momentary distraction can be huge over the long term. One missed connection between all the data we’ve been reading can mean that we may have missed something really important. That also means that going through all that data seems like a waste of time.

Getting distracted by my smartphone was a problem. It was a known problem that I didn’t mind having because I was reasonably disciplined about not being surgically attached to my mobile device. I could easily resist staying away while I was working. But apparently even that’s not enough.

The Problem
I read this very interesting paper recently –

Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity

by ADRIAN F. WARD, KRISTEN DUKE, AYELET GNEEZY, AND MAARTEN W. BOS

The conclusion was amusing but interesting enough to go through it. The paper focuses on particularly the effect of the presence of a smartphone in the vicinity on Working Memory & Fluid Intelligence.

To quote from the paper –
Working memory” refers to the theoretical cognitive system that supports complex cognition by actively selecting, maintaining, and processing information relevant to current tasks and/ or goals.

Working memory capacity” reflects the availability of attentional resources, which serve the “central executive” function of controlling and regulating cognitive processes across domains.

Fluid Intelligence”  is the ability to select, store, and manipulate information in a goal-directed manner.

That sounds pretty important to me. Ability to temporarily store information & connect it to our broader understanding. Both these processes can get easily interrupted if our attention is diverted from them. Imagine having so much to read & not being able to connect it to anything meaningful. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have felt that they’ve not achieved anything during the day despite doing a lot of work. I think the main reason is the fractional distractions which don’t allow these connections to happen easily, as the paper suggests.

Enough about the problem, this post has become long enough for readers to drop their attention just out of boredom.

Here’s a Solution

  • Turn off the phone’s ringer
  • Turn off the phone’s vibrate feature
  • Give your family members your landline number (in case of emergency)
  • Keep the phone in the bag & if possible, keep the bag out of the room 🙂

The first few days will be brutal, we may have heavy withdrawal symptoms, followed by a feeling of a long lost love. Especially for 5.5 inch phone screen users, the hand will slowly regain its natural shape. Frantic typists who send messages faster than the speed of thought can feel restless fingers & may need to tap more on the computer’s keyboard to calm themselves down. So glad to know that apps like Evernote, & others exist to take advantage of the pent up typing need to fill in notes about companies & industries.

Otherwise, once the mind re-focuses on work, it’s easy to forget that we ever used to check our phones so often.

There’s a certain joy of looking at the smartphone after several hours, when all the notifications suddenly populate our attention & the warmth of feeling wanted wins us over.

On the flip side if we have no notifications then the gloom of feeling rejected & ignored takes over. But there’s at least some joy because we got a lot of work done. 🙂

About Raunak Onkar

Raunak Onkar heads the Research department at PPFAS Mutual Fund. He started his career at PPFAS as part of his internship during MBA.

He holds an MMS (Finance) degree from the University of Mumbai.

2 thoughts on “Where to keep my smartphone when I’m researching companies?

  1. Janarthanan Natarajan

    Good article. Some time back read a book titled Deep Work. It had pretty much the same thoughts/views and conclusions as per your article.

    Reply

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