Become More Productive and Eliminate Notification Overload

Ding! A new mail notification appears.

Chirp! A friend just mentioned you on twitter.

Bleep! Someone just liked your facebook post.

Many of us are bombarded every day by the various sounds, message boxes, and vibrations made by our desktop computers, phones, and tablets when a new notification arrives.

iPad and iPhone

Photo by Noel Schäfer

Many years ago when I first started using a desktop email application, I changed the settings to check the server for new mail in the shortest interval possible, I think it was every minute. I wanted read that new mail the instant I received it.

Later, I clearly recall being in awe of the notification options available to me when I bought my first smartphone. Suddenly, I could receive notifications about text messages, news, weather alerts, sports scores, social network interactions, and more. Nearly every app on my phone provided some kind of notification.

Within a year, I was experiencing notification overload and decided I needed to eliminate as much of the notification distractions from my life as possible. If anything, just to get my some sanity back in my life.

There were two things I did to get the notifications under control and reduce the distractions.

Turn Off Mail Alerts

The first thing I did was turn off my mail alerts on my desktop computers and smartphone. In place of the mail alerts, I began processing my email on my schedule, in batches, and not based on when another person decided to send me a message.

In conjunction with that, I also set my applications to only check for new mail once every hour. I didn’t see any reason to do it more frequently if I wasn’t processing email as often.

Turn Off Smartphone Notifications

I also turned off nearly all notifications from apps on my smartphone. Only a select few were allowed to remain. All are notifications that I decided should be allowed to distract me for various reasons:

  1. Phone – If I receive a voicemail or missed call, I want that notification there telling me about it. I might wait to return the phone call, depending on the caller and my current availability.

  2. Messages – When I receive a text message, I want to know about it. They’re usually short and could possibly contain critical information that I need immediately.

  3. Calendar Events – If I need to be somewhere at a certain time and proactively set an alert to remind myself, I definitely want to be notified.

  4. Reminders – If I set a reminder to do a task at a specific time (like take medications), the whole idea is to break me out of whatever I’m doing and remind me to do that other thing.

  5. Sports Scores – I rarely use these, but when I want to keep up with a game that I’m not watching, I will set up the sports score app alert me on that game, and only that game.

  6. Shopping – I have three apps that notify me when certain items go on sale, when items ship, or when an auction is ending. To be honest, if I take anything off this list, it would probably be the shopping alerts. I really don’t need them. However, they’re staying for now.

Those are the only alerts I receive. You might be sitting there asking why I don’t want breaking news alerts, social network alerts, email alerts, or some other notification. They all break my focus on whatever task I’m working on and I’ve decided that none of those need to be dealt with that very moment. I do take time to read or watch the news, check in and update social networks, and, as I mentioned earlier, I still process my email. However, I do all those things when I’m ready to focus on them.

Notification Overload

Breaking The Notifications Habit

It was a challenge to change my behavior and break my psychological dependence on receiving notifications. However, once my inbox and phone were quiet, it was amazing how much real work I could get done. The best part is that I still had time to process email, check social networks, and read news.

If you are having trouble accomplishing what you want to get done each day, then you might want to ask yourself if you are being interrupted by notifications too frequently. The easy answer is to turn some of those notifications off. A good question you might ask yourself about each notification you receive is, “Does receiving this notification right now make my life better?” If not, then maybe you should turn that notification off.

I turned off many notifications and broke the habit. As a result, I’ve been more productive getting the tasks done that I want to do each day, and am happier overall.

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