“Mr. Watson — Come here — I want to see you”. When Alexander Graham Bell spoke these words on the world’s first telephone he could have not foreseen how his invention would impact on billions of people worldwide. Technology, and in particular mobile communication, has transformed the way we live and work. For many people today work is not just a place we go, but something we can choose to do wherever we are. The emergence of portable computers, tablets, smartphones, and the advent of wireless equipment, has made it easier than ever for workers to work remotely, virtually in any place or anywhere in the world.

Don’t be tethered to your phone

Remote working has many obvious advantages. We can instantly communicate with the office and connect with clients, we can send emails and texts on the way to meetings, purchase goods, and even work on presentations of reports. The downside to remote working however, is that it erodes the natural physical boundary between home and work.

Over the years this division has become fragmented, and there is now no clear separation between the physical working world and the rest of our environment. This has made it more difficult for us to escape from work, mentally switch-off, and stop working as there is always the temptation to check emails or just do a little more work to save us time later. Once you start responding to emails outside of normal office hours, people may well expect you to respond and then become frustrated and annoyed when you don’t. Constantly checking your smartphone also uses a lot of mental energy and prevents you relaxing effectively.

Many of us find ourselves constantly tethered to our mobile devices and this is not good for our health or sanity. Even Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, had serious reservations about it – he thought the telephone was an intrusion by the outside world, and he refused to have one in his own study. He realised that it was important for him to be sometimes left alone with his own thoughts and not to be disturbed.

Top tips for managing smartphone use

Love them or loath them, smartphones are here to stay. But how we use them is something we can manage sensibly. Here are a few simple tips for using electronic devices outside of work.

  • Switch-off the phone as soon as you can when you leave workGet in the habit of refusing to make or/and accept phone calls once you leave work.
  • When you are out with your friends or at home with your family have a technology free night. Try to set boundaries and decide to have a technology free night and interact by speaking to one another.
  • If you need to check emails in the evenings do so judiciouslySet an hour when you can fully concentrate and pay attention to what you are doing and don’t sit in front of the television and try to do two things at once, as this is counterproductive.
  • Don’t be tempted to look at work-related social media sites during your free time. You may convince yourself that it is useful in the evenings to see what your company and others are saying (e.g., blogs, reports etc.) just to ‘keep up-to-date and see what the opposition are doing’. But often it’s more productive for you to just relax, and come to work refreshed the next day.
  • Outside working hours switch off your work emails on your electronic devices. Many of us allow our work emails to be pushed to our personal phones. If it helps during the working day this is fine, but outside office hours, set your device not to download work emails. If necessary, activate an out of office response saying you don’t answer emails outside office hours.
  • Don’t check your phone during the last hour before bed. Many of us take our phones to bed, for safety and security, and use them as alarm clocks. But do try not to make calls or send texts in bed. The bright backlight given off by smart phones and tablets has been shown to cause melatonin suppression, which can disrupt the onset of sleep.
  • Don’t check your phone before breakfast. It is becoming very common for people to check their smartphones/tablets, before they even get out of bed. This teaches your mind to think about work as soon as you wake, so even if you wake up during the night your mind will start generating work-related thoughts. If you start your day by thinking about work issues these thoughts will dominate your time before work. If you can, wait until you have had your breakfast and have gotten ready for work, and then switch on your phone when you’re ready.