Your smartphone is a repository for an infinite wealth of information, an organisational wunderkind, a gifted communicator for whom geographic and linguistic barriers are virtually obsolete.
There’s a reason why we call them smartphones – when used correctly, they can truly feel like a super-powerful extension of your own brain.
Yet without your brain to tell your smartphone what to do, it’s a pretty inert object – nothing more than an attractively-designed, high-tech paperweight.
Now, I know that you don’t need me to tell you how your phone works, but have thought about how your brain works in conjunction with your phone?
It’s a symbiotic relationship like no other. Our brains and our devices need to work in perfect harmony. When we get it right, we move faster than light…but when the balance is wrong, the result is a cognitive tug-of-war between your brain and technology, with no winner.
If you want your devices and your grey matter to sing in unison, here are three things to think about…
Mindfulness means paying active attention to what you’re doing in the moment, and considering how it’s making you feel. Very often we act without thinking, whether through habit or instinct.
How often do you find yourself reaching for your smartphone without even thinking about it, responding to a notification sound as if it was life-and-death, when in reality it could wait until you have finished your current task?
Is your approach numbing your concentration, or making you feel anxious? Try changing tack. Make a decision to silence your device for an hour or more. If you’ve hit a wall with a particular task, change location for an easy boost in motivation. There’s a reason mobile technology is ‘mobile’: it’s so that you don’t have to be tethered to your desk all day!
As long as you’re maintaining an awareness of your internal cause-and-effect, then you should always remain in control of your brain.
The ideal working goal should be to reach ‘flow’. Flow is the mental state where you are fully immersed in your work, feeling energised, focused and completely engaged in what you’re doing.
Of course the most precious commodity within a flow state is your attention, and one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining attention is its polar-opposite – the modern malady known as ‘hyper-attention’.
Defined by literary critic N. Katherine Hayles as “switching focus rapidly between different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom”, hyper-attention will probably seem all too familiar to the vast majority of us.
Splitting your attention between multiple feeds at once – simultaneously checking Twitter while maintaining three or four email threads, keeping an eye on the news, and trying to write a document – is a sure-fire recipe for failing at all of those tasks.
Just because technology makes it easy to multitask, doesn’t mean that it’s always advisable to do so.
One of the most masterful decisions you can make is to devote your mind exclusively to only one task. You’ll sail through it with ease and arrive happier with a vastly superior final result.
Literally meaning ‘thinking about thinking’, metacognition means having an overt understanding of and control over how your mind works.
The two key aspects to metacognition are knowledge/awareness, and metacognitive regulation. At the most basic level, knowledge/awareness concerns the close analysis of the way you (and those around you) think, while metacognitive regulation is the ability to flex the mental muscles of concentration, planning, evaluation, and self-monitoring.
In relation to your devices, this means recognising when you’re are using its features unnecessarily or inefficiently, as well as checking yourself for procrastination or those occasions when you find yourself browsing the web for distraction.
Being constantly connected to the internet (and therefore the rest of the world) can at times be not just an escape-hatch from pressing work, but a serious mental drain. Growing levels of ‘connection fatigue’ result in poor concentration, increased stress, and the very real danger of professional burn-out.
But don’t worry, you’re already on your way to making sure your smartphone is a rocket-boost for your brain – not a rod for your back. With just a little bit of mindfulness, metacognition, and flow, you can be a mobile master of the highest order.
This article is part of Nokia’s Smarter Everyday programme, which aims to inspire you with the latest ideas on productivity, collaboration and technology adoption. Download our free Mobile Mastery ebook here.