5 Tips to Stop Looking at Your Phone and Engage With the Real World

Having good soft skills means being present and engaging with others. Your smart phone may be extremely helpful in many situations but it often detracts from your ability to pay attention, practice active listening, and gauge another person’s emotional state. Here are 5 tips to turn your phone into a device for productivity instead of distraction:

1. Prioritize your apps

I often find myself browsing the internet when I’m bored. It’s become a bad habit. Until recently, Safari was one of the apps “docked” at the bottom of my iPhone screen. Not any more. I’ve moved it up into the main group of apps.

This reduces its importance in practice and in my mind. Now my most important apps are the three I use for communicating with people: Phone, Email, and Text.

You can do the same thing with your phone. What are your most important apps? Where are they displayed on your phone and what does their arrangement say about you? Are you unconsciously sabotaging your day by putting the most distracting applications front and center?

Try rearranging your home screen to increase the value of your most important apps and reduce the value of distractions.

2. Turn off excess notifications

If you’ve ever heard of Ivan Pavlov’s conditioning experiments, you know that sounds trigger our attention immediately. Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who is known for his work in classical conditioning. He demonstrated classical conditioning in numerous experiments with dogs where he trained them to associate food with the ringing of a bell.

But the experiments didn’t just pertain to dogs, bells, and food. The association between one stimuli (food) and another (bell) was replicated in many other instances. Just take a look at this quick video where a man plays the “new text message” sound as he walks past random people:

These notifications and sounds affect you too, at work and at home. They pull your attention away from the people and situations that are right in front of your face.

Instead of letting these sounds control you, try turning some of them off. For instance, when I’m at work I always have my email client open, so I’ve disabled the audio alert for new email on my phone. In addition, I’ve disabled the audio alert for new email on my email client! Outlook is always open, I have three monitors in front of me, why do I need another sound distracting me?

Additionally, I used to have a Repeat Alert for text messages on my phone, but I’ve turned these off as well. One alert is enough. If there is an emergency or someone wants to reach me immediately they can always call.

Take some time to review your notifications on your computer and on your phone. Turn some of them off and improve your focus on tangible activities.

3. Avoid using your phone in situations where you wouldn’t have a landline

Think about it, just 20 years ago most of us didn’t have a mobile phone. There were no smart phones or good tablets (no, Newton, you were not good), no app store, and no social media. Any time we wanted to talk with someone we had to talk on the phone or communicate via email over fledgling DSL, or that beautiful 56k modem.

Now you can download and view content at broadband speeds on your mobile device while doing anything – walking to a meeting, having dinner at a fancy restaurant, or driving to the city.

In a way, it’s unnatural. Whether we were created or evolved, human beings have not had enough time to adjust to this capability.

Instead of looking at your phone every chance you get, follow this basic rule: If I would be able to use a normal landline 20 years ago, then I can use my phone. That means no screen time when you’re going for a walk, no Candy Crush when you are sitting on the porcelain throne, and no glancing at email during a lunch meeting.

No landline? No mobile phone either.

4. Put it down, or just put it away

We have all seen this: You sit down to lunch with friends or colleagues and at least one of them puts their phone on the table. Whether the screen is facing up or down it doesn’t matter. Their phone has been put in a place of importance: Right in front of all of you.

Simon Sinek expounds on this situation in the above video. It is a recent, dangerous phenomenon.

Instead of allowing your phone to be in a place that commands your attention, simply put it away. Leave it in your pocket, leave it in your purse, leave it in the car. Put it somewhere out of eyesight and focus on the people and activities right in front of you.

Your colleagues will feel more appreciated. Your lunch time will exhibit more vibrant conversation. You will engage more and be free of distraction.

5. Turn it off

Ever since Lithium Ion batteries arrived on the commercial scene in the 90s our devices have been turned on 24/7. Remember when your batteries used to “run out”?

Ah, my batteries are running out, I’ll talk to you later.

These days we have so many charging cables, charging stations, battery packs, and devices to boot that our access to electronic devices never ends. We constantly find ourselves inundated with technology and, for some, it is impossible to find some time without a device demanding our attention.

That’s why, if all else fails, just turn it off. Turn them all off. Turn off the TV, turn off your phone, turn off your tablet, and turn off your computer.

If you are struggling with technology addiction, turn off all your devices for a day. Give your brain some time to reset.

You might find it is exactly the thing you need to fully engage with the real world.

For more, check out 13 Ways to Break Your Phone Addition (That Actually Work) on Thrillist.