Notifications Are Killing Your Productivity. Kill Notifications Instead.

Have you ever picked up your phone to perform a task (send an email, reply an SMS, e.t.c), but found yourself struggling to remember what this task was as soon as you actually opened your phone?
This happens to me all the time, and while there may be other reasons for my strange, forgetful behavior, the key culprit I have found so far are the notifications pushed to me by my favorite apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn (I love LinkedIn πŸ™‚ )

Notifications are helpful since they let you know where to hunt for your next media high. A notification from Facebook might mean that your friend has liked your post, created her own post, or replied to a post that you commented on. Lots of possibilities for connection and sharing! However, despite their usefulness, notifications can and do hurt your productivity in significant ways. Here’s two ways notifications kill productivity:

1. Notifications Increase Your Rate of Context Switching: Like Pavlov’s dogs which always salivated at the sound of a bell, we all have learnt to prioritize responding to our notifications in order to quickly receive the variety and pleasure that they promise. The fact that notifications now sit at (or close to) the top of the list of things clamoring for our attention means that we are constantly switching between them and everything else going on in our lives.
What is the cost of all this context switching? An article published by Inc. states that it takes us about 25 minutes to resume a task after being interrupted. Notifications constantly interrupt us, which means that they add lots of 25-minute resumption times to our already overflowing schedules.

2. They Distract You Whether You Respond To Them or Not: Your phone buzzes while you are in a meeting, and you resist the urge to pull it out of your pocket to see what’s up. Congratulations! But guess what? You spend the rest of that meeting wondering what type of media goodness is waiting for you once you leave the room. Whether you respond to them or not, notifications reduce your ability to stay be fully engaged during interactions with others, or to carve out time to do deep, meaningful work.

Taking Charge of Your Notifications
From my personal experience, and the experiences of others, I can think of two options for dealing with notifications and the threat they pose to our productivity:

1. Turn Them Off: Last week, I turned off notifications on all my favorite apps. This turned out to be the most productive thing I did all week as it significantly reduced my rate of context switching. Turning off all notifications can bring about a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). However, my experience so far has been that other internal triggers such as boredom and curiosity keep you going back to your favorite apps with the frequency required for you to not really miss out on anything important.
Also, to remain accessible to close friends and family, I chose to keep receiving notifications from one chat app that almost no ones uses these days (don’t ask me which one ;)). You too can create your own secret communications channel!

2. Find An App For That: As with everything else, apps have started springing up to solve the notifications problem. I haven’t really tested any one of them so I can’t provide any feedback, but according to Trello, examples of apps trying to solve the notifications problem are Offtime, Flipd, and Moment.

Any other thoughts around how to manage notifications effectively?

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