The Dark Side of the BlackBerry

With BlackBerry owners numbering in the multi-millions, and new devices and applications coming on the market every day, mobile messaging devices have become a essential business tool.

Yet these devices represent a larger potential threat to your career success than any economic slowdown, company setback, or aggressive new competitor.

The problem is not with the technology, of course. Having the ability to work on collaborative projects while on the go, and access to information wherever you are, is a real advantage.

The problem with the BlackBerry, or any messaging device, lies in how you manage it.

The very existence of mobile messaging devices – like pagers before them – implies that the messages they carry demand an immediate response.

It doesn’t matter what time of day it is or what else you are doing. A text message, like an email or cell-phone call, can make something seem urgent when it’s not. It can also distract your attention from more important things, whether it’s the project you’re completing, the conversation you’re having, or even the road you’re driving on.

If you’re not suffering from the symptoms of a “Blackberry Addict” who can’t seem to attend a child’s school play, eat a family dinner, or sit through a meeting without acknowledging and responding to messages, you may think you’re OK. But think again.

While rudeness to companions and the inability to ever slow down and relax may be cause to limit your messaging, the major compelling reason is what messaging does to your productivity.

A study by researchers at London’s Kings College found that workers distracted by email and phone calls suffered an IQ drop of 10 points. While the effect was temporary, it was more than double the IQ drop of people under the influence of marijuana.

To many people these findings are astounding, however to psychologists, they are no surprise.

Whenever you engage in multiple tasks, like text-messaging while having a conversation, or driving while talking on a cell-phone, whether you realize it or not, you decrease your ability to perform well in either one. Switching back and forth between activities isn’t much better. It takes time for your brain to shut down one function or thought process and start up on another.

So what can you do to avoid the dark side?

KNOW YOUR GOALS – Decide what matters most in every area of your life. When you know what’s really important, you can decide what to respond to right away and what to defer. Everything isn’t critical!

CHUNK YOUR ACTIVITIES – Set aside a block of time to work on writing that report. After a brief break, review and respond to emails. Schedule another time for phone calls, etc. You’ll increase your productivity and your efficiency when your brain doesn’t have to constantly switch tasks.

KEEP YOURSELF FOCUSED – Be proactive, not reactive. Set clear priorities in advance. Ask yourself, “what’s the most valuable thing I can do with my time right now.” Schedule that task first, then the next most important and so on. Focus in one thing at a time. Shut down message alerts and direct all calls to voicemail until your next scheduled time to check messages.

There’s no denying the advantage of technological tools, but keep in mind their dark side as well. Concentration is the key to productive efficiency. You can’t afford to let every incoming message or call break your focus. Make sure you stay in control.