By Stuart R. Levine

Published In, The Credit Union Times

At times it feels like the future has arrived in the palm of our hands. Other times, it seems like we are captives of our devices. The iPhone is now 10 years old. Like a Star Trek Tricorder/Communicator, it puts the world’s people, data and information at our fingertips. But, it can also be triggering an addictive response in our brains. Some studies provide both insights and caution.

Our Smartphones can affect the pleasure centers of our brains just as special time with a loved one, a good workout or a great meal can. Recent research published by Harvard, Psychology Today and others describes how receiving a text message, sharing a social networking post or liking something on-line can cause a pleasurable dopamine response. In fact, some marketing experts recommend making branded social media posts personal and timely to cause this effect. Millennials may appear to be on the front line of this danger, essentially having grown up with computers and mobile devices. But Gen X and Boomers also demonstrate concerning behaviors. For example, a recent Nielson survey showed Boomers are more likely to use technology during mealtimes (52%) than Millennials (40%) or Gen X (45%).

Over-attention to email is an example of a Smartphone activity that can give the illusion of productivity while actually reducing it. Such tasks, associated with the response/reward system, can make you feel you are accomplishing something and even make you feel good, while actually taking time and focus away from goals that will serve you. Yes, answering email within 24 hours is a best practice and reserving dedicated blocks of time to do so will improve your efficiency. Compulsive attention to email can have the opposite effect.

Awareness that technology’s response/reward system may be reinforcing unproductive behavior is the first step in moving from responding to creating. Directing your attention to the “personal dashboard” you have created or should create for yourself is a good place to start. Smartphone apps, calendars, lists and/or reminders, synchronized across your devices, can all be employed as personal dashboard tools. Your personal dashboard should focus on high-level goals and milestones that support making your priority choices become a reality.

Here’s how to make your milestones SMART. They should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Experiment on what works best for you and gauge your progress on a regular basis. Your Smartphone puts your dashboard in your purse or pocket, letting you track your progress conveniently and regularly. Adjust your milestones as needed, in service of your over-arching goals.

Difficult to measure goals, such as your commitment to continuous learning and gaining and maintaining perspective, may be hard to measure, but your attention to them reminds you to incorporate them into your actions. You could set a goal of reading one new book a month, alternating between career-focused topics that will stretch your thinking and personal topics that will enrich your life.   Achieving these goals also produces neurological satisfaction just as the less productive triggers do, but this reward system is aligned with what you have chosen to create.

Are you taking advantage of Apps like FaceTime? Do you arrive at meetings and observe people not interacting, but sitting quietly with their eyes on their screens? Don’t skip opportunities for conversations that can build trust. Invest in relationships. Seemingly everyday conversations about family, personal concerns, hopes and values build relationships that not only will help you to do your job more effectively but will improve job satisfaction. Face-to-face interactions build trust over time, and trust is the foundation upon which successful teams and effective communication are built. Trust is particularly essential when difficult conversations are required. Communication requires a rhythm. Leaders create synergy with regular communication, and employees keep it going. It should be like a drum beat.

The response/reward system applies to your data handling as well. Your devices are a conduit to the world’s data and information. Internet data, however, is neither collected nor organized in a disciplined way. A quick text, tweet or email of data may give a satisfaction response, but remember whatever you share does not speak for itself. Data should be synthesized into useful information. You must determine what is important and applicable while providing any context. Be mindful of your recipients and how they will use your information and whether it will serve them. Is “reply all” really necessary?

Yes the future has arrived in the palm of our hands. And we need to make sure that these incredible tools serve us, not rule us.