The Impact of Mobile Phones on Productive Study

by | Jan 8, 2024 | 0 comments

I was at a conference recently and the keynote speaker was talking about mobile phone addiction. This prompted me to reflect on my own mobile phone behaviours. When I felt the slightest bit bored, I pulled out my mobile phone. I scrolled my mobile phone when I was in a queue for my coffee, when I was talking a break from work or when I should have been working! When I woke up in the morning, rather than checking in with myself I checked in with my mobile phone. It was also the last thing I did at night. With this realisation I knew I had to change this habit as I was losing hours in my day to doom scrolling!

I then looked at the impact of mobile phone usage through the lens of the student and how smartphones impact on the productivity of study. When I was doing my Chartered Accountancy exams, I had a mobile phone, however I used it for texting and making calls. The phone was not the distraction it is today.

Say you have just settled down to study when your friend sends you some Instagram reels. While you tell yourself that checking out these reels will only take a few minutes, next thing you know 45 minutes of mindless scrolling have passed by. Does this sound familiar?

As you are scrolling, a hormone called dopamine gets secreted from your brain. It makes us feel good. As we all want to feel good, we keep scrolling. Once you realise that 45 minutes has passed, you decide you had better put down the phone and start studying. Your brain was getting all this dopamine from scrolling and you have now moved onto looking at books. It is fair to say your brain finds it difficult to get engaged in productive study after this.

According to Peter Drucker, when we get distracted while studying, it takes our brains three and a half times longer to re-engage in that productive study after the distraction.

In a paper called “The effect of Smartphone Addiction on Learning” the results show unsurprisingly that smartphones negatively impact students learning and overall academic performance. The researchers also found that the skills and cognitive abilities needed for students’ academic success and learning are negatively impacted using mobile phones.

With all of this said, what can we do about this distraction. Here are some reflective questions to consider.

  • How does your smartphone get in your way?
  • What are the benefits of overcoming this distraction?
  • How can you add friction to your distraction to make is less appealing and harder to access?

Here are a few simple tips to make your smart phone less appealing while you are studying.

Remove the Phone from your Study Environment

The easiest way to avoid being distracted by your phone as you study is to remove it from your study environment. Research carried out by Dr Adrian Ward showed that students who kept their phones on the desk while studying performed the worst on their tests. Students who kept their phone in their bag or their jacket but still in the study environment, performed on par with those students that kept their phones on their desk while studying.  The highest performers were the students who left their phones in a separate room while studying.


Make your phone boring!

When I reflected on my own mobile phone behaviours, one of the first things I did was make my phone more boring. I deleted all the social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. I also deleted all the news apps and any other apps that distracted me. When I need to check them, I now use the desktop version.

Take one small step to making your phone more boring. Delete at least one app that distracts you in an unhelpful way. See how this makes you feel and observe your mobile phone behaviour. After a few days, see how you feel about deleting a few more.

Take a break from your phone when you are taking a break from study!

The purpose of study breaks is to give yourself and your brain a rest so you will feel rejuvenated when you return to study. For many of us, it is an automatic habit to reach for our mobile phones when on a break. To give our brains the rest it truly deserves, how about:

  • Sit in silence with a cup of coffee.
  • Take a walk around the block.
  • Get some fresh air in nature.
  • Do a guided meditation or a short yoga.
  • Read a magazine or a chapter of a book.

To conclude, I urge you to consider what is the one small step you can take to curb mobile phone distractions?