E15 - Attention to Phone Presence: [The OSPAN Score]

Why you are dumber with your phone closeby.

Hi everyone,

My name is Lemmy and this is my story of how I became The Attention Master.

In Episode 15, I want to make you aware of the loss of cognitive performance that you suffer when you keep your phone close to you.

Here is what you are going to learn today:

  • How working memory and fluid intelligence contribute to performance.

  • The effect of phone proximity on focus and attention.

  • Actionable tips for reducing distractions.

This week’s community challenge

Follow the "no phone on any table" rule

- Lemmy, the Attention Master

The University of Texas conducted a study to see if it matters how close students hold their smartphones while studying. 548 students participated and were divided into 3 equal groups. One group tested with their smartphones on their desks, the second group tested with their smartphones in their pockets, and the last group tested with their smartphones in another room.

The exercises the students had to solve were designed to measure their working memory capacity and fluid intelligence.

1. Working Memory Capacity

This system is critical to our ability to process information in an active, conscious state. It allows individuals to hold multiple pieces of information in mind while evaluating solutions, making comparisons, and considering alternatives.

Having a high working memory capacity provides several important benefits:

  1. Learning and Comprehension: It allows for the temporary storage of information, which is essential for complex comprehension tasks, such as following multi-step instructions or understanding complex narratives. It also facilitates language learning, including skills such as vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension, and the ability to understand and produce complex sentences.

  2. Problem Solving: High working memory capacity is associated with better problem-solving abilities.

  3. Attention and Concentration: People with higher working memory capacity are generally better at focusing their attention, resisting distractions, and staying on task. This is because working memory plays a key role in controlling attention.

  4. Planning and Organizational Skills: Working memory is critical for planning and organization because it allows individuals to keep track of their goals, the steps needed to achieve those goals, and the sequence of those steps.

2. Fluid Intelligence

Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, regardless of prior knowledge. This type of intelligence is considered one aspect of human cognition.

Fluid intelligence is critical for a wide range of cognitive tasks, including:

  • Problem solving in unfamiliar situations.

  • Abstract thinking.

  • Learning new things quickly and efficiently.

  • Adapting to new situations.

  • Recognizing patterns and relationships.

  • Spatial and visual reasoning.

Unlike crystallized intelligence, which tends to improve with age as individuals accumulate more knowledge and experience, fluid intelligence is thought to peak in early adulthood and then gradually decline.

However, activities that keep the brain engaged, such as solving puzzles, learning new skills, and other forms of mental exercise, can help maintain or even improve fluid intelligence over time.

3. The results of the study

The results of the study revealed two things:

  1. Having your phone near you is a killer for your working memory capacity, even if your phone is in your pocket or your bag. (see left graph below)

  2. Your fluid intelligence drops significantly as soon as you can visually see your phone. (see right graph below)

So for best performance, keep your phone in another room.

(See Source 1 at the end of the newsletter)

4. Why physical distance helps with impulse control

In addition to working memory and fluid intelligence, there is a third benefit to physically disconnecting from your phone: improved impulse control.

Think about sweets. If you have a craving for sugar but no candy at home, your only option is to leave your house and go to the supermarket. This is physical friction, and you will only give in to temptation if your craving is unbearable. In all other situations, the craving will simply go away after a minute. You don't have to ban sweets completely. Just make access much harder.

Similarly, putting physical distance between you and your phone creates friction, and since we're people with lazy brains, we're not going to get up every 3 minutes to walk over to our phone without a valid reason.

To sum it up: Use your natural desire for comfort to resist distraction.

5. Test your working memory

After 15 episodes, I thought I finally need to prove to you that I indeed am The Attention Master. So I did the OSPAN test without my phone in the room. Lucky me, I scored 74/75. Puuhhh, got off the hook this time ;)

Can you beat me?

It will take about 20 minutes. Try it and let me know how you scored.

Here is the free online test I used: OSPAN Test

6. The Protocol to take ACTION:

Here are some best practices from my own life how I keep my phone at distance:

  • I wake up with a physical alarm clock.

  • In the morning, I only allow myself to use my phone in Flight Mode to avoid incoming messages, news and notifications. For instance, I use the timer app on my phone to track my stretching exercises.

  • When I am done, I put my phone in a physical "identity" box. This box keeps me away from my phone until I am done with my first task of the day. It’s an identity box because I put stickers and photos on it. These remind me of my dreams and goals and that I can invest time in them instead of giving in to distractions.

  • After lunch, I charge my phone in another room, turn on a 2 hour timer, and go back to work until it rings.

  • I follow a "no phone on any table" rule for every part of my life (eating, meeting, working).

  • After 10pm, all my media, work, and messenger apps are blocked, except for Audible. If I want to fall asleep with an audiobook, I put my phone at my desk or on my windowsill. Both locations are out of reach from my bed, so they create a lot of friction if I get the impulse to mindlessly reach for it.

My identity box as a reference ;)

Every good action needs a trigger - The lock screen hack

I'm providing a different visual for each community challenge. Add it to your lock screen and you'll see it every time you open your phone.

Then it's your choice: Screen time or life time?

Here's the Episode 15 Visual for DOWNLOAD and below is a video showing you how to add it to your lock screen.

This knowledge comes at 0 cost

If you learned something, be generous
and share it with friends or family.

See ya next week


  • Community Challenge: Follow the "no phone on any table" rule

  • Phone out of reach & sight = better working memory + fluid intelligence.

  • Better working memory + fluid intelligence = performance gains.

  • Benefits for working on tasks: focus + speed + logic.

  • Other working memory benefits: improved learning capacities and organizational skills.

  • Physical distance creates friction.

  • Hack against temptation by harnessing the laziness of your human nature.


  • The mere presence of a smartphone reduces basal attentional performance, Jeanette Skowronek, Andreas Seifert & Sven Lindberg (Nature)

  • Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity, Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos (Source)


We know that mastering your attention is extremely difficult. It's not going to happen in a day. That's why we've created Lemio, an app designed to be your personal buddy on the journey.

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