8 Ways to Break Bad Smartphone Habits

If we're going to be on our phones all the time, it's time to ditch 'cell yell' and other annoying habits.

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By Jacqueline Whitmore

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The other day when I was on the treadmill at my gym, I couldn't help but notice the woman across the room talking loudly on her smartphone. She was using her speakerphone so I could hear both sides of her conversation. And so could everyone else in the gym.

Smartphone rudeness can be found nearly everywhere we go and it seems to be getting worse. According to the 2013 Internet Trends report, we unlock our phones anywhere between 110 and 150 times every day. At the same time, we run the risk of alienating ourselves and offending others.

Related: Smartphone or Sex: Which Would You Rather Give Up? (Infographic)

In a study of 1,600 managers and professionals, Leslie Perlow, the Konosuke Matsushita professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School, found that:

  • 70 percent said they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
  • 56 percent check their phone within an hour of going to sleep.
  • 48 percent check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • 51 percent check continuously during vacation.
  • 44 percent said they would experience "a great deal of anxiety" if they lost their phone and couldn't replace it for a week.

July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month, an event I founded in 2002 with the intent to teach smartphone users to be more respectful and aware of their surroundings. It's also a good time to break free from your smartphone addiction and claim some of your valuable time back.

Here are eight easy tips to make your smartphone one of your greatest assets — not a source of endless interruptions.

Be in the now. Don't try to multi-task and check email while you're in a meeting or having a conversation with someone. Anytime you're expected to participate or simply listen to someone else, silence your phone. Incessant phone checking breaks your concentration and makes it difficult to get back on track. There's no need to look at your phone every time someone sends you a tweet or comments on a Facebook post. Almost every app on your phone can be tweaked so that push notifications are disabled. The best way to avoid distractions is to turn your phone off, put it on airplane mode, or put it away completely.

Related: 15 Things Successful Entrepreneurs Do Every Day

Keep confidential information private. Be aware of your surroundings. If you need to speak to someone about a private matter, find an empty room or a quiet corner to have your conversation. You never know who might overhear part, or all, of your conversation.

Stay calm. When you're in a public place and receive a phone call you know will be difficult or emotional, let it go to voicemail. If you give yourself some time to collect your thoughts you're more apt to have a calm, rational conversation. Try to keep your cool while you speak to someone on your cell phone in front of others. Emotional outbursts will only embarrass you and intrude on others.

Set your phone to vibrate. Take advantage of your smartphone's silent and vibration settings. Turn your phone's ringer off and keep it out of sight when you attend an important business meeting, a religious service, visit your kids' school, go out to eat, or enjoy a sporting event. If you put your phone on the table, it sends the signal that the potential caller is more important than those you are with.

Avoid "cell yell." Always use your regular conversational voice when speaking to someone on your cell phone. Be mindful of your volume in airports and other busy places where people tend to speak more loudly than usual. The last person you want to attract is an eavesdropper.

Related: Smartphone and Social Media Usage: Men vs. Women (Infographic)

Step away to take a call. If you're at lunch or in a meeting, always let your dining companions know ahead of time if you have to take or make an important call. Excuse yourself and take the call away from the table. Do your best to prioritize the people you're with over unexpected calls, emails and texts.

Be a responsible driver. If you're in heavy traffic or hazardous driving conditions, don't answer your phone. Wait until you come to a stop before you take the opportunity to make a call. Always use a hands-free device so you can focus on driving. Never text and drive. A quick text message is not worth risking your safety or the safety of those around you.

Get unplugged occasionally. If you have an important project you need to complete or you just want to spend quality time with friends and family, leave your phone in another room and try not to check it more than two or three times a day. Give yourself a smartphone break once in a while. Ultimately, you want to be in control of your phone and not the other way around.

Related: How to Make Sure You Still Get Texts If You Ditch Your iPhone

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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