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With so much of many people’s days sucked up by commuting, it’s inevitable we turn to our mobiles to get some work done during the time in limbo between office and home.

Don’t do it!

That’s the advice of Carolyn Rook, a lecturer at Henley Business School, and Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, a professor at INSEAD. They note in an article on INSEAD Knowledge that data from more than 50,000 users of the time-management software RescueTime showed that people have only one hour and 12 minutes a day when they aren’t using communication tools or being distracted by them. Indeed, only 20 per cent of employees have a deliberate strategy for dealing with their e-mails and 70 per cent of employees keep their inbox open all day. No wonder they say their day is out of control.

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“Considering this reality, is your commute really the time to check messages or call team members and clients? Or should it be ‘news’ time, a space to disconnect from work while staying abreast of political and economic developments? Could you use this time to read some fiction or just look out the window and enjoy the scenery?” they ask.

You may want to go further and consider spending even more time off your phone. Blogger Jemia Young realized she had essentially become addicted to her phone, scrambling from e-mail to Twitter to other apps in never-ending fashion. She decided to kick the habit.

She says it starts at home. “How many times does this happen to you: You’re watching a TV show when you unconsciously reach over to grab your cell phone, and then start scrolling. Soon, you aren’t paying attention to anything that happens on the TV,” she writes on Fairygodboss.

Start small. She suggests watching an entire TV show without picking up your phone. Another step is to force yourself to walk many steps to use your phone, charging it in an area where you will be forced to get up to use it rather than have it by your side. Purchasing a real alarm clock might also lessen the temptation to check for messages in the first few seconds after being pulled out of sleep.

One of her favourite tips is to shut off all your sound and vibrate tones for everything except phone calls. “This turns your cell phone into a house-like phone. When it is across the room or out of sight and someone calls you, you will be aware. There’s no need to keep it close to you all the time. Because let’s be honest, no one is going to text or e-mail you if it’s an emergency. They’re going to call. If your ringer is on, you won’t miss it,” she says.

She also suggests boundaries at work. For example, after you work uninterrupted for 30 minutes without picking up your phone, reward yourself with five minutes of “free phone use.” Keep your phone in a drawer so you don’t see messages flashing on it (but you’ll still hear the ring).

Debbie Madden, co-founder and CEO of Stride Consulting, has a rule for herself on weekends that might also be handy to follow. On Saturdays, she checks e-mail once in the morning and sets aside one hour at most to respond. On Sunday, she doesn’t check at all.

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Are you a phone addict? Try some of these steps to curb the habit on your commute, at home and, yes, even at work.

Quick hits

  • Can you tell me about yourself? When asked this question in an interview, Toronto consultant Judith Humphrey warns on Fast Company against eagerly offering a dissertation on your fascinating life. Instead, think of one clear message you want to deliver about yourself and then back it up with more information from your life.
  • After that interview, offer to wash your coffee mug or put your Styrofoam cup in the appropriate place. Trent Innes, managing director of Australian accounting company Xero, bases his hiring decisions on what people do with their glass or coffee cup since it says something about their attitude.
  • Consultant Terry St. Marie says an unchangeable budget ceiling on a project given by your boss can be a trap door – budgets can never be final. Don’t close yourself off to an opportunity that the boss would happily change the budget to obtain.
  • Knowledge planner Madylene Planer keeps a picture of a serene beach scene from a family holiday pinned to her cubicle wall. When she starts to feel stressed she spends some time looking at it.
  • Don’t ask whether you are proud of what you’ve achieved. Ask whether you are proud of how you achieved it, says best-selling author and psychologist Adam Grant.

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