addressing the challenge of staying present

Anyone who has owned a smartphone for long enough will know how much it taps into your attention span. Put your smartphone down for a while, and go for a walk: see how many times you feel the twitch to pick it up again, whether it be to check the weather, look up the answer to a trivia question, take a photo, jot down a note or a calendar entry, check social media, or have one more tilt at a particular game you’ve installed.

This is not such a problem when you’re by yourself.

It’s something of a problem: being able to direct your attention from one task to the next is something you would want to control, but the smartphone device tends to win more attention battles than it loses.

How can you stay present? Here are some ideas, in descending order of severity.

  1. Leave the phone behind altogether: hand it to a trusted friend
  2. Set the phone to “airplane” mode to reduce its capability, and to screen out a lot of the notifications.
  3. Turn off notifications on the phone, so the onus is on you, not on the device, to decide its schedule of interruptions.
  4. Delete apps from your phone, to limit the scope of distractions it can offer
  5. Deliberately schedule the time that you’re going to spend on particular tasks, rather than reaching for the phone 

What about when there are other people around you? This is where staying present can be even more challenging. Even if you’re succeeding in leaving your phone in your pocket (or bag), the person you’re with may be checking their phone. And if they’re not going to be present, why should you? 

But no-one wins this kind of battle. If someone you’re with produces their smartphone for whatever reason, stay present. There are situations where sharing on the smartphone can support what’s being discussed: – either illustrating something that’s being discussed (here’s a photo of an entertaining creature in my life) or answering a question (who was the director of the film we’re discussing?) – but if the risk of distraction is too high for you or for the other person, then it’s not worth introducing it.

For me, I struggle to put down the phone again after producing it, and it’s easy to be distracted and go back to some other task than to return to the moment that you’re sharing with the other person.

Best to keep the devices away as much as possible. What’s your strategy?