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Admit It. You Are Addicted.

Most of us know people who have damaged or destroyed their lives by abuse or addiction. Addiction doesn’t only affect the life of the addict, but often has a destructive effect on the people closest to them. In the workplace, any type of abuse and addiction can have a huge effect on productivity.

Whether we are talking about hard drugs, alcohol, gambling, or something more innocuous like caffeine, nicotine, or video games, most of us believe that danger increases as an individual crosses the line from moderation to compulsion. Over time, compulsive abuse is damaging and the symptoms of addiction are universal.

Technology is fabulous. For most of us, it would seem impossible to survive without it. The Internet was one of the most incredible advances in our lives and has created amazing opportunities. But is it possible that we have reached the point of diminishing returns in device use and may actually be losing productivity via abuse? Are electronic devices (EDs) really making us more effective and productive?

There is no doubt that a huge portion of society has become addicted to electronic devices. The statistics are over-whelming. According to new research from GlobalWebIndex, 80% of adults now own a smartphone, up from 21% in 2012. A study of 1,600 managers and professionals from Harvard Business School found that:

  • 70% said they check their smartphone within an hour of waking.
  • 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep.
  • 48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • 51% check continuously during vacation (is that really vacation?)
  • 44% said they would experience “a great deal of anxiety” if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week.

Even more revealing, in a survey of millennials by ME360, the following data emerged in response to the question “At work, how many times per hour do you check your smartphone or e-device for non-work related emails, social media updates, texts, emails or videos?”

  • 90% said they check at least 1-5 times per hour
  • 42% check at least 6-10 times per hour
  • 21% check more than 16 times per hour- that is more than once every 3.75 minutes! And this is at work! One may wonder when the actual work occurs…

Use becomes an addict’s best friend, and we witness ED abuse every day. At the dinner table, it’s become the norm to constantly check for texts, emails, tweets,Facebook, or SnapChat updates. In a theater, you can always find people abusing during the movie.

In restaurants, in church, while driving, at our kid’s performances and even when carrying on face-to-face conversations, the growing trend of smartphone addiction is becoming pervasive.

In the workplace, device abuse creates a focus upon urgent over important, focusing employee behavior on being reactive, not proactive. If you do not happen to be in the fire-fighting or first-responder business, this reactive/urgency focus is likely very damaging to your company value and bottom line.

Before we list addiction symptoms, please consider your own use of electronic devices. Also consider the use of EDs by your employees. Many executives believe that these devices enhance productivity. Used effectively (in moderation), this assertion is nearly indisputable. EDs certainly can improve productivity. Used compulsively (as a growing majority of ED-addicted owners, executives, employees, and their families use them), device use can actually have the opposite effect. In some cases, a devastating effect.

Take a look at the following list of symptoms and behaviors demonstrated by addicts:

  • The addict cannot stop – Loss of Control.
  • Social and/or recreational sacrifices – addicts consistently decline invitations for personal interaction or conversation. Degradation of intimacy.
  • Obsession/excess consumption – the addict invests increasing time and energy focusing on ways of getting another fix.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – in the absence of using, the addict will experience mood-related (and possibly physical) symptoms. These include cravings, moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, depression, frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment.
  • Insomnia – There is a compulsion to use first thing in the morning and last thing before sleeping, and even in the middle of the night.
  • Addiction continues despite health problem awareness – the individual continues abusing regularly, despite possible physical degradation. The desire to exercise diminishes.
  • Taking risks – in some cases the addicted individual may take risks in order to use (such as texting while driving)
  • Dealing with problems – an addicted person becomes dependent upon using in order to deal with their problems. Even worse, they increasingly ignore their problems, missing deadlines and commitments.
  • Secrecy and solitude – many addicts prefer to indulge alone, often in secret.
  • Stress & Anxiety – these escalate when the addict cannot use.
  • Forgetfulness – addiction consumes the mind and saps attention and focus.
  • Increased Narcissism – addicts have difficulty being concerned with anyone but themselves and develop a lack of respect and courtesy for others.
  • Reduced Self-Esteem – as an addict continues to surrender control, their self-worth declines.
  • Denial – most addicts are in denial. They are not aware (or refuse to acknowledge) that they have a problem.
  • Dropping hobbies and activities – addicts choose a fix over almost any other form of pleasure, and over important or productive activities. As addiction progresses, the individual may stop doing things he/she used to enjoy.

Do you know any device addicts that might be exhibiting some of these symptoms? If they work in your company, you may wish to consider an intervention. If the addicted individual happens to appear in your own mirror, if checking and rechecking your phone comes as naturally to you as breathing, or if you feel anxious or restless if 5 minutes pass without a smartphone fix, you are addicted. Depending upon the severity of your addiction, you may not require a full twelve-step program just yet. However, you might want to start with acknowledgement: “Hi, my name is Tom, and I am a device addict.” After making this declaration you may begin the detox and rehabilitation process:

Rule #1: Make a DECLARATION to live proactively. “I will only use my device during the following hours”. Pick 2 to 4 hours per day and shut it off for the rest of the day, perhaps an hour in the AM and an hour in the PM. Add 15 minutes midday, but only if absolutely necessary. Inform your employees, stakeholders, and family members that you are detoxing, and ask for their support. If you seek to improve productivity, it would be a good idea to ask your employees to follow suit.

Rule #2: Don’t text while driving. This rule isn’t only for you, but also for the safety of others. Risking lives just to give a quick response is simply insane.

Rule #3: Keep your phone out of the bathroom & bedroom. I can go on for days with this, but let’s just say that technology is not worth the sacrifice of intimacy or hygiene.

Rule #4: Respect others. Always turn off your smartphone during meetings. Using devices in meetings sends a clear message—“The person that is pinging me is MORE IMPORTANT to me than you are!” When ordering or checking-out, put the phone down and take care of business. There are customers behind you and they don’t want to hear your drama.

Rule #5: When going to bed, no more falling asleep while staring at your screen. Sure it’s fun to tweet, check the lives of friends on Facebook, and play games before zonking out, but overcoming an addiction requires discipline. Pick a shut-down time and stick to it. Turn the phone completely off at that time.

Rule #6: Turn your phone off at meals and when you’re with friends. Not on vibrate, OFF. I promise you will not miss out on anything life-altering. Each time you do this, you will become stronger and it will become easier.

Rule #7: Find a Support Group. This should be easy. Just look around. I would suspect that you know plenty of people who share your device addiction and would also like to get clean.

Rule #8: Go For it! Last but not least, when you’re able to manage these rules without suffering a panic attack, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting, start leaving your phone at home. This is the big, personal-freedom step – graduation day. Set a goal to spend a day each week without technology. If you feel strong and committed, go cold-turkey. If not, you can unplug yourself in small doses. Start off with a couple of hours and then progress to a whole day. Again, I promise, the world will not come to an end.

History has proven that just about anything that can be abused, will be. Technology is awesome. Electronic devices, used effectively in moderation, provide enormous advantages. If you have the discipline and self-control to use EDs without letting them rule your life or hinder those around you, congratulations. However, if you feel like your smartphone is an appendage, think catching up with friends and colleagues can only be accomplished through a screen, or consider Facebook, Twitter, or texting to be your BFFs, I’d encourage you to take some effective action today.

Thanks to Joe Zente for contributing this blog post.

“Too Connected” by Sean Hobson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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