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How Setting Boundaries on My Phone Saved My Desk Job

  |  Rachael Roth

There’s a scene in the British comedy Peep Show where the main character, Mark, is waiting in vain for his date to show up at the bar. To appear less pathetic, he whips out his phone and pretends to engage with it. We hear his inner-monologue: “You’re never alone with a phone.”

I’ve been in Mark’s shoes before. I’ve waited far too long at a bar for a date who wasn’t coming, trying to save face by really going to work on my phone—texting, laughing at memes, even checking the stock market app and sighing audibly—I’m sure I convinced the bartender that going on a date with my phone was my plan all along.

But there are nights when being alone truly is my plan, with the caveat that I’m still accessible by phone. I have various group chats: coworkers, high school friends, roommates, my family—I’m always one dog meme away from talking to 20 people, not to mention the extended social circles I’m constantly interacting with through apps.

While it’s comforting to have my friends a pocket-dial away, it has severely hindered my attention span and productivity. I’m not ready to curb my addiction entirely, but I can set rules in one area of my life: my day job.

Suddenly it’s 3 pm and that deadline I should have met while I was falling down a clickbait rabbithole still looms.

My work is done in isolation at a desk, so I’ve gotten accustomed to having my phone at all times. I’ve even developed a tick where I tap my phone screen every few minutes. I then get stuck in a loop of toggling and swiping—suddenly it’s 3 pm and that deadline I should have met while I was falling down a clickbait rabbithole still looms.

Earlier this year I attended a productivity workshop where participants were asked to put our phones in the next room while we did a “work sprint.” Like magic, I completed something I’ve been putting off for weeks in less than half an hour, largely because my phone was not in my periphery, tempting me with surges of dopamine.

To just up and “go dark” for eight hours, though, is not easy—I get it. My coworkers have young children who call them during the day; I text with friends about fairly personal stuff and I don’t want to simply cut them off. Not to mention that my mom assumes the worst if I don’t respond to her texts.

Here’s what worked for me:

Before limiting my phone time, I had to set some clear boundaries. I told my friends and family what I learned about my own habits, and how it’s necessary for me to be more productive while working. When I start work, I power down, put my phone in my jacket, and put it in the coat closet. I try not to get it until lunch time; after “catching up” with my phone, it’s back to the closet.

I’ve since noticed a huge leap in my productivity. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a big texter, and I still want all the memes. But it’s okay to give your brain one thing to focus on at a time for the betterment of your work. If that means being a little quieter in the group chat for a few hours, your friends will understand.

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