How To Control Your "Check-In" Addiction

Have you ever been caught sleeping with your mobile device? Perhaps checking your email first-thing in the morning when you’re still in bed? Given what we know about the emotional voids that are fulfilled by our electronic devices – the search for thrill, the alleviation of anxiety and panic – our intense attachment makes sense. When we wake up we want to be greeted. When we fall asleep we want to do so knowing that all is well. The mobile phone has become the security blanket of the 21st century.

Our ubiquitous connection to everything around us (and everyone we know) presents both a mesmerizing capability and a powerful new set of challenges. We need to be more thoughtful about how we lead a connected life that is both creative and productive. A sound mind and sustained sense of connection come not from looking to our devices for guidance and reassurance, but from using them wisely – from “checking in” with clear intention.Here are some insights to consider:

1. Understand your emotional connection to your device.

In the book Thumb Culture, author Jane Vincent talks about the range of emotions she observed between people and their mobile devices. “Although few people think about their mobile phone in emotional terms,” she noted, “they do appear to be using it to achieve emotional goals.” She goes on to outline the emotional states that are commonly referenced:

Panic: Absence from the device; being separated from it.

Irrational behavior: The inability to control heart over mind (e.g. driving and talking).

Thrill: Novelty, multi-tasking, intimacy of the text received in public.

Anxiety: Fear and desire (for example, wanting to know about others vs. too much knowledge).

The take-away here is to understand what lies beneath our behavior with our mobile devices. Self-awareness is crucial, because how we allocate our time and attention is closely connected to our deeper anxieties and concerns.

2. Tune in with “intention” not “impulse.”

Have you ever just scrolled through your various mobile apps with a blank stare and no actual intention? It’s like when you’re bored at home and you wander over to the refrigerator; you’re not really hungry, you just want to feed your boredom.

Our devices tap into our impulsive side, our penchant for seeking information. If you’re concerned about your business or a loved one, you’ll impulsively glance at your messages. Even if it’s midnight, you might still scroll through your email despite the low probability of a message. Rather than “no news is good news,” we think “any news is good news.”

One solution is to manage our attention with intention rather than impulse. We must strive to tune into our devices only when we have a specific purpose. It should be about acting on our ideas, rather than reacting to other people’s communication habits.

Our devices tap into our impulsive side.

3. Use your device for communication “sprints,” then take a break.

There’s nothing wrong with checking your device. The problem is getting sucked into the device! You decide to quickly check your email or texts, and before you know it you’re checking Twitter, Facebook, or any number of other apps. The extensive options that our devices put at our fingertips are very effective at engaging our attention. To escape their siren song, we must be disciplined in our approach.Taking a page from the Scrum playbook, think of each interaction with your mobile as a mini-sprint. For instance, you need to respond to one urgent client email, and text your web developer about a key decision. Once those tasks are done, it’s time to disengage. One person we spoke with shared the tip that he counts down from 20 when he does a quick check-in on his phone, especially when he’s surrounded by other people. Just the mindset of counting down forces him to quickly check rather than meander.

Think of each interaction with your mobile as a mini-sprint.

4. Observe good “attention etiquette.”

Our devices should empower – not impede – better communication. When you’re alone, it’s no problem to check your device whenever you need to (keeping the above insights in mind). But, in social settings – meeting with a client or going out on a date – it’s time to start contemplating some guidelines for proper “attention etiquette.”Writer Farhad Manjoo crowd-sourced an answer to the “attention etiquette” question on Slate.com, and came up with a great approach. He proposes, “If you’re in a situation where you’d excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, you should also excuse yourself before reaching for your phone.” He goes on to suggest that, if you do feel compelled to reach for your phone, “don’t play with your phone longer than you’d stay in the bathroom.”The exception to this rule would be when engagement with your device actually indicates attention. For instance, gadget lovers might prefer to take notes on a tablet in a meeting, rather than using a pen and paper. In this situation, focusing intermittently on your device can be a positive indication that you are paying attention, documenting notes and action steps in real time.
It’s time to start contemplating some guidelines for proper ‘attention etiquette.’

Every opportunity comes with new responsibilities, and the mobile era is no different. We must commit to using our devices more efficiently rather than more often.For more tips on managing your mobile life, check out our Email Etiquette and Self-Management Superhero posts.

What Do You Think?

How do you maintain a technology-life balance in the 21st century?

What have you done to better manage your mobile device, and what were the results?

More insights on: Disconnecting, Focus

Jocelyn K. Glei

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As Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei leads the 99U in its mission to provide the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen. She oversees the Webby Award-winning 99u.com website, curates the popular 99U Conference, and is the editor of the 99U books, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.

Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making ideas Happen.
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