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More and more senior business people are placing limits on their own smartphone usage

More and more senior business people are placing limits on their own smartphone usage

More and more senior business people are placing limits on their own smartphone usage

There appears to be a new business success rule: put down your smartphone if you want to get ahead.

More and more senior business people are placing limits on their own smartphone usage to help stay on top. They're doing so because much of what we do on phones is an indulgent luxury and a waste of time for productivity.

And it's not just old fogeys trotting out this line. A number of the most senior tech galacticos now say that checking your phone every 15 minutes may be a sign of mediocrity rather than potential.

Tumblr's head of strategy, David Hayes, says he "sometimes goes without a mobile phone for weeks". He describes this as stepping "back into the wild."

Meanwhile, Twitter data boss Chris Moody says that he doesn't look at his phone when he "heads off snowboarding". And the chief executive of O2 Germany says he sometimes leaves his phone at home altogether when going to conferences.

It's worth remembering that both Tumblr and Twitter are social media services whose fortunes depend on our screen addiction. And O2 is a mobile phone operator that sells a smartphone-centred world of continuous communication. So when their senior executives feel they are better able to succeed if they stay away from their screens for extended periods, there might be something to it.

This struck me at a dinner I attended with Dropbox chief executive Drew Houston before Christmas. There were no more than 10 people at the restaurant table. Houston didn't look at his phone once in two hours. This, despite being one of the most important people in the world for 'cloud' companies, By contrast, a junior Dropbox associate at the dinner was checking her phone every few minutes.

This is an increasingly common scenario. Go to lunch with a junior sales colleague and it's likely that he or she will reflexively check their phone every few minutes, checking updates. Go with the chief executive and it's a lot less likely.

Can this be explained by a generational difference? Older executives versus younger associates? Not according to some enlightened mobile executives.

"Sharing is why I get up every morning," said Thorsten Dirks, O2 Germany's boss. "Making it easy to share everything that can be shared digitally, that's what Deutsche Telekom tries to do. But at some point, that's got to stop."

What many of these executives are omitting is that a lot of what is on our screens is indulgence rather than information. Following a row on Twitter or a discussion on Linkedin is as much about entertainment as it is about productivity. Being on hand to reply to questions thrown at you isn't useful customer service if it takes up time you are supposed to be using to think of bigger-picture decisions.

Even executives tasked with marketing and communications restrict their screen time as they rise in seniority.

"Twitter is the social media service I use most because I find it useful for communicating," said Karen Quintos, chief marketing officer with Dell. "But I can't reply to everyone."

In practice, Quintos tweets no more than once or twice a day. By contrast, Twitter is full of part-time consultants who tweet 20, 30 and 100 times per day.

Their tweeting is sometimes more a sign of underemployment than achievement. And when they do land a better job, the tweeting cuts down a lot.

"Things tend to go overboard at some point," said O2's Dirks. "I think that's where we are at the moment with new technologies. We are making ourselves dependent in many ways. Everyone has to find their own way of handling that."

Getting sucked in to small screen addiction can happen with the best of intentions. If you are on hand to answer queries or contribute to discussions, the individuals you're interacting with may praise you for doing so. You can then take pride in building a 'community'. But is that always worth the time spent? In an era of sealions (online interrogators who frame questions politely but set out to badger and take up your time), it's easy to find minutes and hours being whiled away on a single point while big offline decisions go unaddressed.

The question is: can we put our phones down?

"It's not like we are going to become Luddites if we do," says Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who ditches her phone regularly. "But we are going to recognise the importance of unplugging from technology, reconnecting with ourselves and our own inner wisdom."

Sunday Indo Business