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Ditching your smartphone can make you a more effective CEO

4 min read


In a world where 1 billion people use smartphones, many can’t believe that I run a company without one. They can’t imagine life without e-mail, Google, and Facebook in their pocket.

We expect instant gratification and accessibility; a smartphone is considered a necessity, not a convenience. However, keeping my flip phone and saying “no” to constant interruptions was one of my most profitable business decisions.

Why I decided to forgo a smartphone

One of the main factors in my decision was the distraction that smartphones introduce. I’ve seen people stare under the table in meetings, glued to an app rather than contributing. People spend weeks scheduling a meeting, only to find themselves combating iPhones.

This epidemic spreads far beyond the boardroom. Americans reportedly spend more than three hours per day on their smartphones. In an industry that requires 24/7 customer care, I choose to use that time to give people the attention they deserve.

Smartphones have made some less attentive. A salesman came to my office after waiting 43 days; I told him he had 20 minutes. During those precious 20 minutes, he checked his phone four times. I didn’t sign on.

By excluding myself from the smartphone world, I miss out on some things. I can’t immediately answer e-mails, stay current with breaking news or see my friends’ Facebook discussions. But I make up for it with the ability to have real conversations and get things done.

The idea of tossing a beloved smartphone may seem as ludicrous as voluntarily removing an arm. But there are serious benefits to going without a smartphone (or limiting your time on one).

Here are some of the biggest:

  1. Increased efficiency: Freeing yourself from smartphone apps and tools makes you more efficient. One 2011 estimate claimed Facebook alone costs U.S. employers $28 billion in lost productivity annually. Without calendar reminders, e-mails, games, and social media notifications, you’ll have time to complete tasks and lead your company.
  1. Direct communication: Rather than hide behind a keyboard, I call people — and people know they can call me. Most people’s online personalities differ from real life. It’s to your advantage to engage people verbally, by phone or in person, to ensure you understand them. Talking instead of typing also saves time; most tedious e-mail chains can be resolved over the phone in minutes. I also write detailed notes; phone and e-mail conversations are quickly forgotten, but I can consult my notes as often as needed. I handwrite praise so it’s remembered.
  1. More mental exercise: One upside of smartphone-free living is the brain exercise. Without productivity apps designed to make you think less, you’ll do simple tasks mentally (such as calculating tips). This may seem inconvenient, but the old-fashioned way increases your mental stamina.
  1. Business diplomacy: People have hundreds of Facebook friends, but they rarely interact. Teaching yourself to reach out and talk to people offline is one of the best ways to build a solid reputation. You may even gain a few “real” friends.

Avoiding technology dependence has made all the difference in my performance as a CEO. This counterrevolution is gaining traction with others: Haydn Shaughnessy documented his increased revenue and productivity post-smartphone, and Warren Buffett doesn’t carry one. Other successful people sans smartphone include Christopher Walken, Vince Vaughn, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Ditching your smartphone won’t just change how you operate; it’ll also let you set an example that could revolutionize how your colleagues feel about their jobs, improving productivity and quality of life. There isn’t an app for that.

Sheldon Yellen is the CEO of BELFOR, the leader in property restoration and disaster recovery. Sheldon’s episode of CBS’ “Undercover Boss” received an Emmy nomination. His dedication to employees and leadership style make him a sought-after speaker and led to two “Undercover Boss” reunion episodes.

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