Wait, what was I typing again? The writing of this very sentence was interrupted by an extremely important message:
There’s a two-for-one deal at the local pizza takeaway.
Great. Just what I needed to know.
Is this a familiar story? Phones, tablets and laptops all making themselves known to you right in the middle of some focused work?
You might have even got a notification for this very blog appearing. Sorry.
Not many of us get through a typical week without getting slightly annoyed at an untimely notification coming through and stealing our attention. It’s a huge drain on productivity; it can take up to 25 minutes to get your attention fully back on track after being distracted.
The good news is that we can take back control and make our devices work for us, like they were designed to. Here’s some ways in which you can protect your attention from those dastardly notifications.
How to avoid notification distraction
If you really must stay in thrall to your devices, getting them to shut up and let you concentrate must be a priority.
‘Do not disturb’ mode (also known as appear offline, busy, or silent) is always the best option when available, providing no indication at all that something pressing needs to be known.
Whether it’s your Fitbit, iPad, work laptop, Xbox or other gizmo, they can all steal your attention at random - so make sure you press the shut up button.
Set the timer and it’ll be silent for a number of hours so you can get your work done in peace.
Unsubscribe from the group chats
This goes for WhatsApp, Telegram and iMessage as well as your other group chat apps like Discord and Slack.
Group chats are the worst offenders for notification overload. They bring together a group of people, all on different schedules, who have no idea at what point each other member needs to be left alone. So the default behaviour is to share every thought as soon as it comes in.
Devices these days haven’t really figured out a way to deliver notifications differently based on priority - it’d be nice if you could have group chat messages give a much quieter, softer chime than regular texts or messages. But even if that were the case, your attention would be hijacked and part of you will be curious about what the new message contains. Better off just muting the entire chat (WhatsApp can do this for a few hours at a time, a week, or permanently).
Batch your notifications
You don’t have to completely silence everything to take a break from incoming distractions.
If you’re on Android, you can make use of the Daywise app, which hoovers up all your notifications and delivers them to you at a particular time of your choosing.
So if you normally get emails between 8am and 10am but would prefer to be left to concentrate on your work, you can choose to get them bundled up into a single notification at 10.30 and deal with them in one go when you’re ready.
Integrate this into your personal schedule, and by alternating between focused work and more relaxed distraction-friendly times your mental energy should be nicely balanced through the day.
This sort of thing is so obviously useful it’ll likely get absorbed by Apple and Google into their own mobile operating systems for future versions.
Will it cure your compulsive checking of your phone screen? Probably not straight away, but eventually you’ll get used to the screen being empty each time you check it out-of-hours and it’ll lose its charm. Worth a shot.
Get rid of all but the essentials
Not all notifications are created equal. And that means the vast majority of them can simply be binned.
Here’s a simple system. Any new app you install gets 1 ‘annoyance pass’.
If it pings you with irrelevant updates that you can’t turn off without disabling the whole thing, you can let it get away with it once. Repeat offenders get deleted without question.
Sure, you might consider an incoming LinkedIn message important for your work - but do you need to be told your latest post had 5% more engagement than last week’s? Or that someone has just viewed your profile? These are things the LinkedIn app thinks we need to me made aware of immediately. Many users would disagree.
The more you whittle your notifications down to just the essentials, the more of a peaceful relationship you’ll have with your tech.