Less screen time, more productivity? Not necessarily…

Yes, our mobile phones can distract us a lot. We know they can be both bad for studying and for work. But… sometimes, we forget that being distracted also existed before the mobile age. This new study shows that at the same time, mindful use of smartphones, without minimizing screen time, can sometimes enhance productivity. Yes, I’ve just given you an excuse.

From the press release:

According to research recently published by Kaveh Abhari of San Diego State University and Isaac Vaghefi of City University of New York, using existing smartphone applications to monitor cellphone screen time can enhance focused or mindful cellphone usage, which, in turn, leads to higher perceived productivity and user satisfaction. The research was recently published in AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction (THCI).

The Positive Effect of Self-Monitoring

Abhari (associate professor of management information systems at SDSU’s Fowler College of Business) and Vaghefi (assistant professor of information systems at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College) said while there was substantial research establishing the negative effects of cellphone screen time (intolerance, withdrawal, and conflict with job-related tasks), their research was designed to determine if self-regulatory behaviors could lead to modified user behavior for more positive outcomes.

“We theorized that individuals who tracked their cellphone usage and set goals surrounding that usage tended to have enhanced productivity and contentment with their productivity as they met their stated objectives,” said Abhari. “Previous research has shown that goal setting tends to raise performance expectations and we wanted to see if this theory held true for smartphone screen time as well.”

Putting it to the Test

To make this determination, the researchers surveyed 469 participating university undergraduate students in California, New York, and Hawaii. The three-week survey required all participants to complete four questionnaires and about half of them were required to download a screen-monitoring application to their phones. This app allowed users to monitor and set limits or goals with their cellphone screen time.

When the results were analyzed, researchers measured the perceived productivity of screen time reported by those surveyed, as well as the amount of screen time and the fatigue associated with self-monitoring. They also reviewed participants’ contentment with their productivity achieved through cellphone screen time. “Self-monitoring appears necessary to encourage the optimized use of smartphones,” said Abhari. “The results suggest that optimizing but not minimizing screen time is more likely to increase user productivity.”

The Effect of Fatigue

However, the researchers also found that self-monitoring induces fatigue and weakens the effect on productivity, though it was not a significant factor affecting the relationship between self-monitoring and contentment with productivity achievement.

In conclusion, Abhari and Vaghefi determined that while uncontrolled cellphone use (or cellphone addiction) could negatively impact people’s lives, monitored screen time — particularly monitored screen time with specific goals in mind — can result in positive outcomes and higher overall user satisfaction. “This study could lead system developers to embed features into mobile devices that enable self-monitoring,” said Abhari. “These features could improve quality screen time and enhance the relationship between humans and digital technology.”

Abstract of the study:

Over the past several years, much research has examined the negative consequences that can arise from smartphone use. To help reduce these consequences, companies have developed smartphone applications and features to enable self-monitoring behaviors. However, the mechanisms that have caused smartphone-enabled self-monitoring behaviors to emerge and the positive outcomes that might result from such behaviors have received limited scholarly attention. In this study, we ameliorate this gap by proposing a framework that highlights key antecedents and outcomes of screen-time self-monitoring success based on a smartphone-based self-monitoring intervention. Informed by a short-term longitudinal study, our results show how smartphone-based self-monitoring can enhance awareness of smartphone use and, consequently, lead to positive outcomes for users. Our findings reveal that how users perceive smartphone self-monitoring affordances, their outcome expectations, and their smartphone self-monitoring efficacy positively relate to the extent they engage in smartphone-based self-monitoring behavior. In turn, self-monitoring enhances user productivity and leads to an overall sense of contentment with achievement. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that self-monitoring fatigue negatively moderates these relationships. This study offers novel theoretical and practical insights to encourage users to use smartphones in a more regulated manner. More generally, this study contributes to the literature on self-monitoring and self-regulation in digitally enabled environments.

One thought on “Less screen time, more productivity? Not necessarily…

  1. Kom op Pedro. Self reported productivity, self reported fatigue, perceived smartphone self-monitoring affordances, self-reported outcome expectations, and their smartphone self-monitoring efficacy… Gedrocht

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