Take Out Your Mobiles, Please: Tips for Project Management in the Age of Digital Distractions

“And before I begin, let me please ask you to turn off your mobiles…”

Over the past ten years, this sort of statement has become standard at the beginning of professional presentations. Of course, attendees often don’t obey this request. In fact, Career Builder found that mobile phones were the single biggest distraction in the workplace. It’s not surprising that mobiles are so ubiquitous, and one can hardly blame project managers for seeking to eliminate mobile devices from meetings and the workplace. But that’s just not realistic.

Mobile devices have carved out an essential niche in today’s business world. Like many of the biggest challenges facing project managers today, mobile phones barely existed two decades ago. Overcoming the challenges mobile devices present isn’t a matter of figuring out how to eliminate them, which is an impossible task. Instead, today’s project managers should turn them into tools that benefit everyone involved. Through the use of mobile project management cloud apps, mobile-oriented projects and tasks, and the formulation of clear policies on the use of mobile devices, project managers can find success by saving time and money in the age of digital distractions.

Use Mobile Apps to Manage Projects

Each and every project manager has a different set of strategies when it comes to creating a plan. From building the right team to developing a budget to setting dates for meetings and milestones, project managers approach their tasks using different tactics.

There is an argument, however, that says some standardization might be helpful. For instance, although PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the use of project management software has a high positive correlation with project success, almost a quarter of project managers still do not utilize project management tools, some of which are completely free. There are many obstacles to the adoption of project management apps. Some feel that instead of saving time, they waste effort by forcing additional responsibilities onto team members. In fact, they argue that project management apps as a whole are sort of pointless, considering that the vast majority of communication will be done over email anyway. This sort of statement can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: project management apps often fail only because no one believes they are useful. Project managers have to challenge conventional wisdom and break the cycle of pessimism.

Mobile project management apps can help overcome a lot of the obstacles to the successful adoption of project management applications. Most mobile project management apps utilize a simultaneous mobile and desktop environment so common tasks like reporting, messaging, and submitting approvals don’t have to be performed redundantly. Additionally, many project management apps integrate with Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, and other common business email platforms. In a world where 66 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices, that’s an important quality. Finally, the onerous task of submitting paper approvals—something 55 percent of people claim is a major hindrance to project completion—can be done with a tap on a touchscreen.

Incorporate Mobile Devices Into Tasks

Beyond the use of project management applications, mobile devices can be utilized to aid the successful completion of important projects. The most obvious place where this comes into play is the meeting room. In many meeting rooms, mobile devices pose a constant distraction. Team members sometimes check emails, send text messages, go on social media, or even browse the web, which wastes everybody’s time. Most of the solutions posed by experts center around how to get employees to stop using their phones during meetings. But this is a difficult task, and even if project managers are able to eliminate phones, it can place a project leader in the uncomfortable role of disciplinarian.

Instead of banning mobiles, turn them into tools for group participation at meetings. For example, after a group member has finished presenting his or her latest idea, have other members of the meeting use text messaging—or even use a mobile project management app— to send feedback to the presenter, eliminating the need to take notes or the confusion that can develop when multiple team members give lengthy verbal critiques. If that doesn’t fit, there are multiple apps that turn mobile phones into ‘clickers’ and essentially cast votes on an important topic or participate in polls created by the group leader. In that way, project managers can understand if their teams have come to a consensus regarding the direction of any given project. These types of tools accomplish a dual purpose by easing the distracting element of mobile technology while offering new and different tools to be utilized during meetings.

Develop Clear Mobile Policies

Whether project leaders choose to integrate mobiles into their management strategies or stick with tried and true methods, one thing is of the utmost importance when it comes to mobiles in the workplace: clarity. Some of the greatest threats to productivity come from employees who do not understand protocol in the first place. In some cases, more than productivity is at stake. The misuse of mobile devices poses a severe security threat to any project that involves the use of sensitive data.

If you do choose to adopt a mobile project management app, make sure that the entire team uses it. The number one reason for the failure of a new app implementation is a lack of user adoption. Often, this happens merely because employees do not understand how important the uniform use of an application is, choosing instead to fall back on familiar options like email. Regardless of your decision, it is important that you communicate your expectations clearly.


Waging a war against mobiles in the workplace is a Sisyphean task. Instead of fighting the future, use mobile devices as tools to help your team work more efficiently and achieve better results by using mobile project management apps, incorporating mobile devices into the everyday activity of your team, and implementing clear policies regarding the use of mobiles in the workplace. They can be distracting, but they’re a lot less harmful if you don’t treat them like an enemy to productivity.