Stay in the Moment (Even with Your Phone)

When was the last time you were having a meal with a family member while texting a friend about plans for later that day and glancing at your colleague’s new Insta-story (all at the same time)? We all multitask at one point or another … but this is a unique form of social juggling.

Multi-socialising is when you’re keeping up multiple conversations – both in person and digitally – at the same time.

Are you speed-reading this while requesting an Uber and receiving four notifications from different apps? Then you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Stay Focused

According to neuroscientists, our brains can’t really multitask that well. What we are actually doing when we think we are multitasking is shifting our attention from one thing to another, but it doesn’t mean we are truly able to focus on more than one thing at a time. Furthermore, it’s said that attempting multiple tasks at once slows us down overall.

Then why do we do it?

Sometimes it’s because we are legitimately strapped for time and rushing to do multiple things. Usually though, it’s because our phones are vying for our attention in so many different ways.

Your phone buzzes, the screen lights up, and if you have a notification light, it starts flashing until you check the notification.

And even if you ignore the initial buzz and lights, the app icon will display a red circle, indicating you have unread messages … taking you out of the moment.


If just seeing the images of these notifications makes your heart beat faster, you are not alone! This is all designed to make us feel a sense of urgency or obligation, or even make us wonder “what if this is really important”?

Just because your phone and apps are designed to keep you interested, doesn’t mean all your attention should go to them. There are some steps you can take to check your impulses and ground yourself in the present moment.

Be Here Now

Knowing your phone is designed to make you pay attention to it can help you make different choices when you are balancing your attention between digital and real-life conversations. These suggestions will help you stay present while in the presence of others.

1. Prioritise your attention

This will be different for everyone, and may vary in different situations. Are you having lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in ages while your sister is having a bad day and texting you for support? As soon as you decide who should get your attention first and foremost in that moment, you’ll be able to more clearly communicate your needs to the other person.

If your friend is the priority at that moment, you could text your sister back saying you’re caught up right now and you’ll be able to give her your undivided attention in an hour. Can you suggest that your sister confides in another trusted person in the meantime?

Or if your sister is the priority at that moment, are you comfortable letting your friend know you need to reply to your sister right away because she’s going through something. Is your friend okay with that or should you think about rescheduling lunch?

In the end, you’ll know what’s right for you.

2. Set expectations

Your loved ones may be more supportive of your attention going elsewhere if they have a sense of what’s going on. Communicate openly about what’s going on in your digital life, so they don’t feel like they’re unworthy of your attention.

In that lunch scenario, before writing that text to your sister, you might say to your friend, “Sorry to interrupt. I need to write a quick message, and then I’d like to hear more about your day.”

3. Set up “focus time” rituals

All phones have the option to turn on a silent mode. This means there will be no sound or vibration when you receive a notification or call, helping you to avoid getting distracted by your phone.

If you make it a habit to set your phone on the table, simply flip it so it’s face down. This will mean your eyes won’t be distracted by the flashing lights.

You might even consider shutting off your phone, or physically putting your phone away (in a drawer, in your bag) during a self-designated focus time.

4. Speak up

Have you ever felt stuck in a seemingly endless text chain while trying to focus on something else? Most messengers, like Signal, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, allow you to send voice messages. Voice messages allow you the space to leave audio snippets at your convenience, without the stress of a phone call. Other than the added touch of sending a personalised message, you might find that it’s easier to discuss complicated topics, and you get the added benefit of looking away from your phone screen!

5. Get everyone in on it

Do your part to encourage personal conversations to happen face-to-face, or over private chat platforms like Signal or Wire, rather than on social media.

In a group get-together with friends, a family gathering or a business meeting, you might agree that everyone silences their phones, puts their phones away or does not bring their phones at all.

You can also turn your focus time rituals into fun games with your loved ones. For example, if you’re at a dinner, have everyone put their phones in the middle of the table – the first one to check theirs, pays the bill!

Once you get in the groove of your focus time rituals, check out Smartphones Call for Smart Habits.

Last updated on: 4/15/2020