By Dan Foley, the CEO and co-founder of Tailored Ink, a boutique copywriting and marketing firm based in New York City
This is not an article about hygiene. Yes, it’s gross when you realize that somewhere between 38% and 75% of people take their phones with them to the bathroom — especially in the Covid-19 era.
But, again, this is not an article about hygiene. It’s about happiness, productivity, creativity and the dangers of taking your phone to the bathroom (even in the best of times).
Working From Home? Why You Need A Break From The Screen
Working from home has its benefits. I’ve been doing it since I started my business six years ago, and I’m the first to sing the praises of killing the commute. But I also know all too well the drawbacks of working from home — and they mostly involve screens.
The average American spent as much as12 hours in front of screens each day before Covid-19. I can’t speak on your behalf, but according to my phone, my daily screen time has increased dramatically since February. The biggest reason? I don’t need to meet clients in person anymore.
The average American commute time is around 27 minutes, which is nearly an hour round trip. For a lot of people, that time has been replaced by more smartphone, TV and computer time.
Going out to eat? That, too, has been replaced by screen time. Bar hopping? Zoom happy hours with friends. Hitting the gym? Working out in front of a YouTube video. We are bombarded by screens all day. Every single day. Now more than ever.
So, why do we need to bring our phones with us to the bathroom?
Benefits Of Taking A Screen Break
A lot of research has been done on the harmful effects of blue light and how bad staring at device screens can be for you. I take all of it with a grain of salt, but some of the studies are pretty compelling. Some even claim that constant cellphone use leads to increased anxiety and depression.
A lot of this comes from screen separation anxiety. That’s when you feel uneasy or lonely if you can’t send a message right now or you find yourself grumpy when you’re away from your phone for any period of time.
Some people who experience screen separation anxiety also experience a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. They have a desire to use their phone when they’re supposed to be focused on something else, even if it’s dangerous or prohibitive to do so.
Then there’s the one I see most: using your phone to avoid negative feelings. It’s usually pretty benign on a case-by-case basis: You’re bored for a second and need an Instagram feed fix, or you’re trying to avoid an unpleasant conversation by shifting your eyes to the screen. But then it becomes habitual.
Frankly, your smartphone can actually cause you to withdraw from real feelings, connections and the world around you. You start using it constantly, even in the bathroom. This is dangerous, not only for your personal well-being, but for your business as well.
Screen Breaks For A Business Owner
Constant screen usage can be damaging to two major entrepreneurial pillars: empathy and creativity.
As I covered above, phones can make us lose touch with the world around us. In a study by The Empathy Index, companies that had a higher degree of empathy earned more and performed better than their less empathetic peers. The correlation may be as high as 80% between empathy and performance.
Entrepreneurs are tasked with solving people’s problems and making life work faster, better and smarter. Lacking empathy as an entrepreneur means putting your company’s livelihood at risk.
Furthermore, phone use can stifle the entrepreneur’s other greatest strength: creativity. It’s hard to be bored these days with the endless amount of content you can consume from your phone, television and computer — but boredom is a key ingredient in the creative process. Doing nothing and finding yourself lost in thought (versus lost in a Reddit thread) allows you to take “creative pauses” to create new and exciting ideas.
So, why do you bring the phone into the bathroom? Is another round of Candy Crush worth stifling your empathy and creativity?
No, Not Just The Bathroom
Obviously, the problem extends beyond the porcelain paradise, but it’s a great place to start.
That’s where I began this journey. When I stopped bringing my phone into the bathroom, I had fresh new ideas by the time I started washing my hands. Then it started happening every day. I started thinking more about our sales funnels, considering employee well-being and envisioning what my business would look like in a post-Covid-19 world.
If you’re as much of a screen addict as I am, this small act becomes meditative. Maybe you’ll employ it in other parts of your life as well. I’ve been trying to cut off screens whenever possible.
In place of screens, I’m reading more and learning the guitar. I take time to meditate or sometimes just stare blankly out the window and let my mind wander. I find it makes me happier, more productive and more creative.
This is not a condemnation of screens and a desire to return to the Dark Ages. Personally, I’m pro-screens. They allow me to embrace the digital nomad life I love so dearly. But, all good things in moderation (and out of the bathroom).