Be Present: The Smartphone Edition

Multitasker or unitasker?

Are you a multitasker, or do you need to focus on only one thing at a time to be your best self?

That’s not a trick question, and there is no wrong answer. 

I’ve always considered myself a multitasker. Sometimes I even feel like I need to have some other distraction going on to do my best work. It’s like part of my mind goes to work drowning out the music in the background, keeping the rest of my brain focused on the task at hand. 

I often find multitasking helpful as it keeps me from chasing the next thought that pops into my head for much of my work. Other times, I know I need to unitask to do my best or get the best out of whatever I’m doing.

Contrast that with my husband, a hand surgeon, where the joke in the operating room is that he is so OCD that he’s CDO. When we make our grocery list for the weekend, he even turns down the music to an inaudible level so he can focus. Frankly, that’s exactly what I’d want someone who cuts into my body to put it back together to be like, wouldn’t you?

discovering the importance of presence

His focus has helped me realize the importance of presence with the people we often take for granted. It’s crazy to think that even though we know how good it feels to have someone pay attention to us, we easily forget what that looks like when faced with our place in this uber-connected, fast-paced world.

It was also in these grocery-list-making evenings that I learned how much having my smartphone out and about kept both of us from being present. Even when it wasn’t in use or on, he would stop in the middle of looking at a recipe and say, “I’ll wait,” if I looked at it. I quickly learned that having it sitting out felt the same as me using it.

At first, I thought he couldn’t handle it because he doesn't like multitasking. I was wrong. He’s simply the kind of person that gives you his undivided attention as though you are the only and most important person in existence when you are chatting. It’s something he appreciates being on the receiving end of as well, and I wasn’t very good at that in the beginning.

It turns out there’s more to my husband’s smartphone objection than I ever realized. In a 2014 study named “The iPhone Effect,” researchers watched 100 pairs of participants have a conversation over coffee for 10 minutes. These couples knew each other, and they were given either light or deep conversation topics to discuss. Researchers then observed them from a distance to see if they used a smartphone and its impact on the participants’ quality of time together. 

When the phones were not present, the participants reported feeling more connected and empathetic. All it took was a phone to be out - not in use, buzzing, or even turned on - for them to feel like they weren’t connecting. Putting your phone in the line of sight fractures your brain’s attention, and everyone feels it, like it or not.

How to disconnect to reconnect

If you're ready to disconnect from the hyper-manic, always-on mode that is smartphone use, and become present and create more meaningful relationships with people, then consider making these changes in your daily life. Following these tips will not only improve your relationships but also help you accomplish more during the day.

  1. Offer no apologies. Never apologize to anyone who accuses you of not being instantly available via your smartphone. It is reasonable and sane to assume that you will not pick up your phone or respond to texts when driving, having face-to-face time with important people, or concentrating on a specific task.

  2. Focus on who's in front of you. Use positive, engaging body language toward people as you stay present. Look people in the eyes. Smile, study them and be aware of their entire message. Think about the words they're saying. Then think about, and notice whether the nonverbal actions they're using match their words. Consider what they may be saying. Really listen.

  3. Awareness is important. Too often, we let life pass us by because we're so engrossed in the inner world of our phones. But what are we missing? We're depriving ourselves of essential sensory enjoyment - sights, sounds, and beauty all around us.

  4. Recognize what signals you may be giving with your phone. Checking phone messages or social media and looking at pictures all the time are ways to avoid intimacy when you’re with people.

    Of course, you can do these things if you choose to disconnect. But others do notice, and it sends a message that they don't mean enough to you to have your full attention.

  5. Be inclusive and transparent. If you use your smartphone when in others’ social presence, include them in what's happening. You can take a call and bring them into the conversation, assuming it's with someone whom the both of you know, such as a mutual family member or friend.

    Are you taking pictures with your phone? Tell the person you're with that you'd like to capture these moments to share with them.

    If an interruptive call comes in and you know you must take it because it's something like an update on where you must be at a specific time, explain that.

  6. Be respectful, not rude. Learn how to not be impolite with your phone. People will perceive you as rude when you're disrespecting others.

    If you interrupt an in-person conversation to randomly take a personal call involving casual chit-chat, this is rude. But it isn't rude to take it if you've been waiting on a call from a third person who will be telling you a place and time for you all to meet up.

    It's also rude to be sitting in a restaurant with a friend and suddenly look down and start texting without saying anything. But when you say something like, "Oh, I'm just going to send a quick message to so-and-so to meet us here," that's polite.

a happy ending

As for grocery list night, I now leave my phone in my office unless it’s specifically needed and requested. When I bring that little piece of distraction down to the kitchen, I keep it out of sight unless it’s time to use it. 

Being present is one of the keys to unlocking a body and life you love. If you only walk away with one tip, let it be this: Keep your phone out of sight and out of mind to stay present and deepen your connection to the people who are meaningful to you.

Sending you love, health and happiness,

Marylynn Burrows
Holistic Health Coach
Nutrition Coach
Personal Trainer
Owner: Serenity Fitness LLC
Creator of the Limitless Transformation Program

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