Nomophobia and the Dream of Productivity: Four Steps Toward Independence

“Short is too long for mobile.  —Jacob Nielson, a.k.a. “the King of Usability,” American technology expert

We’re all the sum of our experiences; we can be shaped by things that happened recently, decades ago, even by instinctual reactions we inherited from our ancestors. For example, there are good reasons why, even in this modern age when most have never seen one in the wild, we still fear snakes.

It makes sense that as we advance into the Information Age, we should develop new fears. One I find alternately amusing and worrying is nomophobia. Despite what it sounds like, this isn’t a fear that tiny people in pointed hats will invade your garden. It’s a fear of being outside of cellphone contact.

Before you laugh, realize this is a genuine fear defined by recent research in the UK, where it was found that 66% percent of people would feel a serious amount of anxiety of they lost or forgot their cell phone, and that average users check theirs on the order of 34 times a day. Researchers have identified the same anxiety in the U.S.

This actually seems reasonable to me. Consider how often you use your phone to check the time, email, headlines, the weather, and your schedule. For many people, smartphones have taken over the roles of PDA, organizer, laptop, and tablet to some extent. So, it makes sense that “no mobile phone phobia,” would be a real issue in the developed world.

Nomophobia is a frightening example of what happens when we let our tools become our masters. Aside from technophobia—the crippling fear of technology—and perhaps the perfectionism high tech lets us pretend we can achieve, it may be the most debilitating workplace phobia, as it literally drives us to distraction.

No 12-step programs exist for overcoming nomophobia, but you can rectify it yourself. As with Obsessive Compulsive Social Media Disorder (OCSMD), you must take control and turn your phone back into a tool serving you. Try these steps to go from nomophobe to productive worker again.

  1. Stop texting at work. Everywhere I go, people are head-down, texting: in cars, stores, airports, even their offices. If you’re not texting a team member about work at work, it’s considered goldbricking. When I was 21 years old, I remember getting in trouble with my manager for using the work phone to make a personal call. Today, boundaries have blurred; however, using your phone to conduct personal business during the day is basically the same. So unless your smartphone IS your work phone (you don’t have an office phone), reserve its use to breaks, personal time, and lunch. Texting during a meeting when you’re supposed to be paying attention to the people around you is a big no-no. If necessary, put your smartphone in a drawer when you’re in the office. Feeling antsy? Turn it into useful energy by focusing on work. If you need to check your phone due to a personal situation you need to monitor, do so rarely. Smokers can limit their craving for nicotine to a couple of short breaks per day, so you can surely control a purely psychological addiction, such as constantly checking Facebook or Twitter, the same way.

  2. Deactivate email and text alerts. If you’re already sitting in front of your computer at work, why do you need your phone to tell you that you received an email? Why do you need your computer to tell you, either? Wouldn’t you be checking your email during the day anyway? Turning off alerts will begin to pull you out of addiction mode. As a consultant, when I’m on the road traveling, of course I have my phone on. But I don’t need my phone to tell me 100 times to check my email. I’ll check it several times a day and handle everything that’s come in at once—not one at a time—that’s highly inefficient. I also don’t get alerts or emails from my social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) that I just received a message, because I’m going to check those anyway. Why duplicate everything. Within each SM platform, turn off the notifications to email and the alerts on your phone. Stopping and checking your phone every few minutes is an obsessive behavior. If you don’t hear the noise, you might have a chance to focus more than a few minutes. YOU decide when the best time will be to check everything.

  3. Use Airplane Mode. Your wifi still works in airplane mode, so you can use the apps and check your calendar and contacts on your phone, but you won’t get calls, texts, and notifications. When you turn off the airplane mode, you’ll get any notifications and can respond in order of importance or at lunch.

  4. Turn your phone off when not using it. A big part of nomophobia is a fear of even turning off your phone, just in case you miss something. Do it anyway. If you don’t see a stock quote or an email for a few hours, so what? Few things require an instant response, especially when you’re working. The world won’t change so drastically you can’t catch up in a few minutes. By this point, you’re back to using your phone as a tool.

No Mo Nomophobia

Nomophobia may sound silly, but what if your Internet service dropped for a whole day, or you no longer had a working car? Wouldn’t you feel anxious not just about getting your work done, but also about all the other important parts of your life that were impacted? Fortunately, nomophobia is something you can avoid; and if it’s already too late, you can ease you way out of it.

Have you ever experienced nomophobia? If so, how did you handle it?


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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