Skip to content
Surprising Science

Smartwatches Bring a Cost to Productivity

Just a mere push notification is enough to divide your attention and decrease productivity.

It was thought that the Apple Watch would disrupt smartphone distraction. A false prophecy and bad news for smartwatch owners who purchased one of these devices under the impression that it would alleviate the distraction of taking out your phone. A new study from a group of researchers from Florida State University suggests that even though “notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance.”

The study contained more than 150 student participants in a test of performance and attention. Participants were shown a series of single digits on a screen. Every second a new number would be displayed, adding to the chain of numbers on the screen. The students, in turn, were directed to tap the keyboard every time the digit changed, unless that digit happened to be the number three. The test was taken twice by everyone. The first time, uninterrupted by any electronic devices to get a baseline reading. The second time, however, the researchers texted or called their phones. Here’s where it gets interesting: Regardless of whether or not the students decided to answer or look at their phones, the notification alone was enough to offset their performance. It doesn’t matter; a ping is enough to take attention and divide it from the task at hand.  

The researchers write in their paper:

“We found that cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task. The magnitude of observed distraction effects was comparable in magnitude to those seen when users actively used a mobile phone, either for voice calls or text messaging.”

One can’t help but think we’re making more devices and apps to act as cures for the symptoms of our productivity woes, when the reality is that it’s taking up our time through distraction. The true way to boost efficiency isn’t more devices — it’s shutting them out while we’re working. 

You won’t see high-wire artist Philippe Petit on his smartphone — he doesn’t own one. Doesn’t own jewelry, doesn’t even wear a watch. These are all distractions that would draw his focus away from his art. And when you’re walking a wire and a millisecond’s loss of focus results in tragedy, perhaps eschewing gadgetry is the way to go.

Read more at Florida State University.

Photo Credit: Michele Tantussi / Getty


Up Next