Is your smartphone making you silly?


I spend many hours each week meeting with Breathe clients, some in workshops, some face to face and some by Skype. Increasingly, I’m noticing that the habit of taking notes amongst our clients is dying. Very often I’m the only person holding a pen (although everybody is always within a metre of their smartphone or tablet).

Strangely, although I always take notes, I rarely re-read them but I have long suspected that note taking was in some way helping me process the information and process it more effectively than typing.

Recently, I’ve been reading a new book called The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, which contains many insights on how the mind works.

According to Dr Levitin, the part of the brain in the motor cortex and affiliated areas required when writing something by hand requires deeper processing, way more so than selecting an item from a drop down menu. Levitin says that as you write, you are thinking about what you are writing and your mind moves ahead in a sort of day-dreamy state, giving your brain the opportunity to discover links between ideas that you didn’t see as linked before.

Even Sheryl Sandberg, chief executive of Facebook, admits to carrying a notebook and pen to keep track of her to do list. Both of us have noticed that when writing with a pen, thoughts and ideas flow more freely and that writing on paper deepens our focus!

Dr Levitin also has a pop at the epidemic of multitasking and the justification that it is in some way more effective than uni-tasking. We are surrounded by people suffering from a compulsion to fill every minute of their time fiddling with gadgets and screens, multitasking by tweeting, emailing, Facebooking, texting and ordering groceries from Tesco while supposedly working.

Levitin refers to multitasking as a “diabolical illusion”. He says that every email read, text sent, and tweet tweeted competes within our brain with important items such as how to grow your business and how to deal with a relationship which is failing. By multitasking we deny the brain its natural day-dreaming state and instead we overtax it with frivolous information.

It gets worse; giving ourselves permission to multitask makes us more stupid. If you check your email every five minutes, you are checking it 200 times a day and your brain is struggling to understand just what it needs to know and what it doesn’t. Levitin discovered that when somebody was working on a task and knew there was an unopened email in their inbox, their IQ dropped by 10 points! Multitasking also produces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline which raise blood pressure and can create brain fog.

Paradoxically, the digital revolution was supposed to free us from the drudgery of everyday tasks, freeing up our time. Yet in reality, we now have less time, not more. Clearly, it’s not the technology that is harmful, it’s how we use it. Taking our screens into the bedroom within an hour of trying to go to sleep can double (from 30 minutes to more than an hour) the time taken to get off to sleep (thought to be down to the blue light emitted by all screens, fooling the brain into thinking that it is early morning and time to wake up!).

The habit we are really denying ourselves with these common contemporary behaviours is the habit of reflection. The most successful people I meet are thinkers and have found a way of using reflection as a tool to enhance their success. The retreats we run every year encourage reflection and uni-tasking, even if this means getting our clients to switch off their laptops, disconnect their phones and pick up a pen. When they put all their attention onto one thing, possibly for the first time in a while, the results are simply astonishing!

Best wishes,


The next Breathe Business Retreat is 23-26 April 2015. To book a place or for more information call Simon on 07770 430576, or email

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