Are Smartphones a Productivity Tool?

When I bought a BlackBerry Pearl two years ago, it was almost revelatory.

“You mean I can check my email or catch up on RSS feeds while waiting at the bus station or standing in line at the grocery store?! Yes, please!”

I quickly discovered that with a BlackBerry, it’s faster to axe a bunch of unimportant emails at once than it is to open them individually, so that reduced my daily email time. The ability to look up an address or live tweet from a conference or wherever is nice, too.

Smartphones are touted as a productivity tool, but are they really? All that 24/7 accessibility has its downsides, too. First, there’s the threat of burnout (you can’t be very productive if your brain is fried) and the constant distractions. All those apps, the endless email checking, and texting can keep you from real work, not to mention that they can keep you from staying in the moment and enjoying time-off.

Do you think smartphones help or hinder productivity? For those of you who own a smartphone, which one do you use? Are you an iPhone fanatic, an Android addict, or a CrackBerry connoisseur?  Let us know in the comments.

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Susan Johnston is a freelance writer/blogger who has contributed to publications including The Boston Globe,’s blog,, and Yahoo! HotJobs. Her own blog,, covers tips on productivity, brainstorming, and more for fellow writers.


  1. Christopher Masiello on the 2nd June

    I’m typing this on my phone while I wait for my colleague to get her lunch. So, yes, it is helping my productivity.

  2. Leslie A. Joy on the 2nd June

    Definitely a productivity helper. It’s amazing how many quick tasks I can knock out while waiting in line, waiting in a doctor’s office etc. Definitely helpful!

  3. Matt on the 2nd June

    I personally find it a great tool. The disadvantages are simply the expectation that you are available 24/7. When you are questioned as to why you didn’t reply to a txt/email or accept a call at 11pm or the like.

    I have had a few Blackberrry, Treo, Samsung, (All Bell – Canada) and am dying to have an iPhone. Refuse to pay my cell company $700 without incentive as I am already a customer. Ridiculous.

  4. MarthaandMe on the 2nd June

    I don’t have one and don’t really want one. I spend most of my day in front of the computer, so time away from it clears my head. My husband has a Blackberry and while in theory it is nice to have a way to access the internet when out and about, we generally find it almost useless – it’s hard to see anything on it or get to the part of the web page you need.

  5. Melanie McMinn on the 2nd June

    It depends. You can get extra work done, but you can also make yourself always “on”. Down time, even waiting for the bus is good for the creative brain.

  6. Roxanne Hawn on the 2nd June

    I think it really depends on where you live. We have ZERO cell service in our rural community. Since I live and work at home 90% of the time, I just don’t see anything smart about having a pricey phone and paying for a monthly service … so that I can sometimes have the convenience and access.

    Sometimes, I like being off the grid when I’m away from my office.

    Maybe those of us who are self-employed have an easier time setting boundaries about when we’re available and when we are not.

  7. климатици on the 2nd June

    Yes they rich my productivity. While ago I had PDA (xda IIs) and it was really great for me, since I broke the display for 2-nd time. I read my reader when I drink my coffe (@ the kitchen), waiting a friend, twitterin’ for cool stuffs around me, mailing etc… It was really great times for me.
    I’ll buy one new HD maybe next month.

  8. Donna Hull on the 2nd June

    The Motorolla Droid has increased my productivity. It’s great, as you say, for screening emails. I use mine mainly for catching up on web reading and taking care of short emails. It’s frustrating to do much more with my baby boomer eyes. I do wish someone would design a smart phone that is more user-friendly for boomers.

  9. Alicia on the 2nd June

    I have a Blackberry Curve and it has been a very beneficial tool. At first I thought I’d be hooked to it, constantly checking my mail, but after the initial set-up phase, I actually check my emails and phone much less on the Blackberry. What works for me is setting my notifications to Ringer only when I’m out with friends or doing non-work related errands. That way…work doesn’t take over, but if there are any emails or messages when I take a moment to check, then I have it all there for me. I like having the options to do what I need to do, but now that it’s within reach, I don’t feel obligated at all.

    I also agree, I save more time with emails because I can delete them here and there as I get them. That way, when I sit down in front of the computer, it’s work time, less messing with emails.

  10. Jennifer Margulis on the 2nd June

    I don’t have an iPhone but my husband does. I fear it’s more of a distraction and a way to NOT be where you are than a real productivity tool, but I guess that depends on how you use it…

  11. Sheryl on the 2nd June

    I just had to replace my Blackberry, and was planning on getting a Droid. But I was so relieved when the salesman told me it could be incompatible with my email system. I knew it would be one more thing to spend time on, one more thing to learn (technology and I don’t have a good relationship:) As it is, just setting up my new Blackberry cost me two hours last night, on the phone with two different companies, trying to work out a glitch. That’s enough for me~!

  12. Gedy Rivera on the 2nd June

    I think that smartphones do help increase productivity, at least they are meant to. However, it’s very easy to misuse them, especially with all these apps that are available. The key is to be proactive and know how to maintain a healthy balance.

    Me: I own an iPhone and love it. It totally helps me be more productive.

    • Ed G on the 26th June

      Agreed, they’re easy to misuse, like the parents waiting for a ride at Disney surfing away while their kids are being crazy, “Shh, quiet honey, mommy and daddy are working”. Pretty sad, really.

  13. Kerry on the 2nd June

    What I see is people being very much *not* present in the present moment when using their smart phones. I’ve had good insights and ideas and conversations while waiting in line at the grocer’s or riding the tram at the airport… but, all in how you use one, I guess.

  14. Carlos on the 2nd June

    I think they can definitely help. But like guns, it depends on whose hands they’re in. One thing I hate: sitting down to a meal and everyone whips out their phones to “check in.” That’s not productive, it’s alienating.

  15. Ivan Cosic on the 2nd June

    Don’t know yet, getting my first one next week.

  16. James Schipper on the 3rd June

    I have a Blackberry Pearl I bought years ago. I turned off the data package about a year ago. I work online, and spend most of my time on the laptop. Yes, it was convenient to have at times, but not enough to justify the extra expense. I have an iPod Touch I recently got as a gift that makes doing non-work things or Twittering and such an easy thing to do when killing time or not necessarily “working”. And it doesn’t cost anything over wi-fi.

    If I am away from wi-fi, it means I am out enjoying not being in the city, so I don’t want to check my email from a kayak, even if it’s neat that it’s possible.

  17. Kristen on the 3rd June

    Count me as an iPhone fanatic. Overall, it has definitely helped my productivity. I’m not tethered to my laptop anymore. But you’re right that I now feel inclined to be available all the time.

  18. Jesaka Long on the 3rd June

    Great question, Susan! I also have a Blackberry and do consider it a productivity tool. I especially love that it helps me leave the office–I don’t have to worry about missing an important email or phone call when I’m running errands. Since people know I have a smart phone, I do feel some pressure to answer emails during off hours, such as evenings and weekends. For the most part, I know that pressure is from me, so I try to make a point of setting it to ringer only when I need a break.

  19. Meredith on the 3rd June

    I’m so in awe of people who have smart phones of any nature. I, however, would immediately become addicted. I keep my distance from them, yet admire them from afar.

  20. Alisa Bowman on the 3rd June

    I think they help eliminate the downtime that some of us have as we wait. For instance, you are supposed to meet someone for dinner, but that someone is late. Or you are sitting in a stuffy room while your kid does a 30 min gymnastics class. During such times, these phones are a Godsend. But other times, they can be a distraction. Lately, I’ve become better at not checking mine as much, especially if it’s family time. A couple colleagues seemed to want me to be plugged in 24-7, but they’ve gotten over it.

  21. Garret on the 4th June

    I definitely experience less burnout from my phone than from spending the amount of time to complete tasks on my computer. I use my computer still because when available it’s incredibly faster and provides much more control over whatever I’m doing.

    I am also prevented from over using my iPhone thanks to it’s terribly battery life. Who’d have thought I’d ever feel happy about that?

  22. Jasmine on the 4th June

    Like anything else, a tool is what you make of it. The always-available Internet and communications access of a smartphone can be a godsend when wielded properly, but it can also be the greatest timesuck to those prone to distraction. The key is in delegating blocks of time to work, psuedo-work (reading not-work-related news feeds, for example), and play.

    During worktime, disable noisy notifications for things unrelated to the task: If your work requires immediate response to urgent email, then keep that on, but if email can wait an hour or two, then you don’t need to hear a “ping!” every time you get one.

    During moments of downtime, like when standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for a doctor’s appointment, you can do pseudo-work or meta-work: Go through your news feeds or Instapaper, knock out a few quick and relatively unimportant emails, and glance through your to-do lists.

    Then, when you know you have enough free time to work on your Tetris high score or check Facebook, you can do so without the guilty feeling of, “I really should be doing work now.” This concept is the same as doing work on a laptop: You can be productive when you want to be, but only if you decide to focus on doing just that.

  23. sarah henry on the 4th June

    I caved and embraced the 21st Century by buying an iPhone, iPod, and laptop — and also started blogging, tweeting, facebooking, friending & following and all that other, ah, social networking that these tools make easy to do.

    But I’m a Luddite at heart and firmly believe such “advances” just make people on work alert 24/7 and that’s not a healthy, balanced way for anyone to live.

  24. 2Time: Time Management 2.0 on the 26th July

    I am wondering about the same thing — and have delayed purchasing an iPhone or Blackberry while I decide whether a smartphone will be a help or a hindrance.

  25. LV on the 3rd August

    I would agree it has the potential of burning you out being ‘always on’.

    However I recently switched jobs from one that had smartphones to one that won’t allow their employees to get email on their phones. I travel at least 60% of my time for work, and am also expected to be support for customers.

    All it does is keep me out of the loop and frustrate myself and customers. And it forces me to lug my laptop around everywhere and search for internet just so I can access my email/calendar/contacts.

  26. James on the 31st August

    I was against this always on accessibility thing for a long time, until for various reasons I bought a Blackberry. Now I wouldn’t look back. It’s the portability that does it for me. I can write blog posts, tweets, keep lists and notes and all sorts all on one little device wherever I am. Not even the traditional pen and paper approach that I used to use can compete, because all the scribblings and doodles have to get processed eventually. I can write a new article and publish it while waiting around in a queue – you can’t get better than that. I described my current setup over at my blog for those who are interested.

    There is certainly the potential for burnout, but I guess you can always say no. If it gets too much just turn the phone off. It’s not the phone that causes the burnout, but the way it’s used. Easier said than done though.

  27. Smartphones on the 7th January

    In my opinion? I’d say yes and no. Allow me to explain. I say yes, because smartphones today are the new PDA. They allow for us to keep appointments, keep in touch, capture memorable moments with out camera and also be entertained (music, videos).

    At the same time, I’d say know for the exact same reasons. Smartphones allow us to waste time while ironically being productive.

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