Many businesses provide leaders with smartphones or reimburse employees for their use of their private phones for business use so that productivity is increased. I have always wondered if this practice actually increased productivity or if having the world at your fingertips was a distraction.

A group of researchers at Kent State University seems to have provided an answer.

Recently, Kent State University published a research study that has gained international attention. The study included 500 volunteer Kent State University students across 82 majors — undergraduate students, graduate students and doctoral candidates — and measured calls made, texts sent and received, Internet usage and total use (excluding listening to music).

The researchers found that as the students' cellphone usage increased, their overall anxiety increased. Additionally, the KSU researchers found a negative correlation between student cellphone use and a student's GPA (productivity). As cellphone use increased, GPA decreased.

I decided to read the study again and replace "student" with "employee" and "GPA" with "productivity." A light bulb went on, and I came up with an interesting idea.

Just for fun, I asked a colleague to keep track of his smartphone use for one week. I did the same. We examined the same categories as the KSU researchers, but we logged phone usage in two distinct categories, productive or a distraction.

Productive was defined as adding useful information to our focus at the time of the usage or emergency situations that needed our immediate attention or response within 30 minutes. A distraction was anything else. The nonemergency calls, checking sports scores, fantasy sports, spouse calls and texts, jokes, unnecessary CC of emails, selfies, Internet searches, you name it.

Guess what? The way we were using our smartphones proved to be very distracting. We have no way to measure the loss of productivity, but the number of distractions was glaring. It was an amazing unofficial study.

I then posed the question, "How can we make our smartphones a productive tool? After much thought and discussion with my colleagues, we decided that we needed to change when and how we use our smartphones.

The following guidelines (rules) were established for our smartphone use for our organization.

Outgoing use:

  • Texts for immediate action in emergencies (note: there are few real emergencies)
  • Phone calls and voicemail for information and 24-hour response
  • Emails for large files of information
  • Smartphone business use prohibited after 6 p.m. unless requested by a client or emergencies like a death, illness or stuck in an airport on business travel
  • Internet is only used for research purposes during business working hours (look up all the cool stuff during lunch break)

Incoming use:

  • Smartphone use only during cybermeetings
  • Face-to-face meetings; all cellphones are turned off and placed in the middle for the table (if your cellphone rings, it is a $100 fine per distraction)
  • Respond to texts within 15 minutes or less if not in a meeting
  • Listen and respond to phone messages during business working hours
  • Secretaries confirm email receipt

We have already discovered a decline in the number of distractions in our organization. Let us know if adopting similar smartphone use guidelines reduce distractions for your organization.

I will admit it is difficult to break my old smartphone use habits. It is tempting to just respond, like a slave to its master, when my smartphone rings. Wish me continued self-discipline and strength.