For a little while now, I’ve had almost all notifications on my Nexus, Mac, and PC disabled. This started as a simple experiment, fueled by annoyance. I started with social networks. I turned off every single push notification on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Foursquare. “There,” I thought, “now, only the important stuff.” But not quite.
At work, I get a lot of email. And most of it doesn’t really apply to me. I’m copied on an email about a status change on another team. Or a network outage in another office gets reported to the entire department, and then I receive every update email regardless of whether it has any useful information for me. None of these communications are malicious, or ill intended. But they do have the side effect of being an incredibly annoying distraction when I’m trying to get things done.
After a few months of butting up against deadlines and generally being displeased with the distractions of a toast notification above the taskbar, followed by my phone buzzing, I decided it was enough. So I started by simply disabling email notifications on my PC. A few weeks went by before even the buzzing of my phone fifty times a day was overwhelming. So I disabled email notifications on my phone. Both for work, and for my personal Gmail account.
So, what’s left? The only notifications that I have left are calendar appointments, text messages, and missed phone calls. And let me tell you: It’s been incredibly liberating!
At first, I thought I might miss something: How could I deal with all my responsibilities unless I knew the very instant something changed? That fear turned out to be unfounded. The truth is that rarely is something so important that it requires immediate action. And if something comes across your wire that needs handled “NOW,” you’ll probably get a phone call instead of an email.
By removing the push notifications from all of my devices, I actually became more productive, not less. I can only speculate that it’s because I now have to make the active choice to check my email or facebook. It puts the control back in my hands. This has another side effect. I don’t jump from task to task every few seconds.
Because I don’t get notifications, I check email when I wrap up with some task. Then, I spend as much time as needed to answer my email before moving on to something else. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment and control.
There has been research that shows that human beings cannot multitask as well as we think we can. This is important to keep in mind. We need to remove the distractions and focus on one thing at a time.