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Surprising Results – Does Reducing Screen Time Increase Productivity?

The study found that using existing smartphone apps to track mobile screen time may improve focused or mindful mobile phone use, leading to higher perceived productivity and user satisfaction.

New research suggests that mindful use of smartphones may boost productivity.

Have you ever been accused (or someone else) of spending too much time staring at your phone? It seems that time may not be completely lost after all.

A recent study by Kaveh Abhari San Diego State University And Isaac Fghifi from City University of New York found that monitoring mobile screen time with the help of existing smartphone applications can improve focused or mindful mobile phone use, which in turn increases perceived productivity and user satisfaction. The study was recently published in the journal AIS Transactions on Human Computer Interaction (THCI).

The positive effect of self-monitoring

While much of the research has focused on the negative effects of mobile screen time (tolerance, withdrawal, and conflict with work-related tasks), Abhari and Vaghvi’s study sought to find out whether self-regulatory behaviors could lead to change in user behaviour. Abhari is Associate Professor of Management Information Systems in the Fowler School of Business at SDSU. Vaghefi is Assistant Professor of Information Systems at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College.

“We hypothesized that individuals who tracked their mobile phone use and set goals surrounding that use tended to have enhanced productivity and satisfaction with their productivity as they achieved their stated goals,” Abhari said. “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.”

Put it to the test

To make this decision, the researchers surveyed 469 participating college students in California, New York, and Hawaii. The three-week survey required all participants to complete four questionnaires and almost half were asked to download a screen monitoring app on their phones. This app allowed users to monitor and set limits or goals with their mobile screen time.

When the results were analyzed, the researchers measured the perceived productivity of screen time reported by those surveyed, as well as the amount of screen time and fatigue associated with self-monitoring. They also reviewed participants’ belief in the productivity achieved through mobile phone screen time. “It appears that self-monitoring is necessary to encourage optimal smartphone use,” Abhari said. “The results indicate that improving screen time rather than reducing it is more likely to increase user productivity.”

fatigue effect

However, the researchers also found that self-monitoring causes fatigue and a weakening effect on productivity, although it was not a significant factor influencing the relationship between self-monitoring and satisfaction with achieving productivity.

In conclusion, Abhari and Faghvi determined that while uncontrolled mobile phone use (or mobile phone addiction) can negatively affect people’s lives, monitored screen time—particularly monitored screen time with specific goals in mind—can lead to Positive results and increased overall user satisfaction. “This study could lead system developers to include features in mobile devices that enable self-monitoring,” Abhari said. “These features can improve the quality of screen time and enhance the relationship between humans and digital technology.”

Reference: “Screen Time and Productivity: An Extension of Goal-Setting Theory to Explain Optimal Smartphone Use,” by Kaveh Abhari and Issac Vajvi, September 30, 2022, Available here. AIS transactions on human-computer interaction.
DOI: 10.17705/1thci.00169

The authors have not received any financial support for research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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