For a while now, I’ve been slowly turning off notifications on my devices, but today I made the decision to switch off my email notifications as well.
It all comes down to my growing need to focus.
What’s the Problem?
I’ve noticed a lot recently, that these ever-connected devices that we keep with us constantly, are not always to our benefit. They can actually be a great source of distraction.
Whether it’s emails, Slack messages, Twitter mentions, Facebook likes, or even just random apps/games that want to reel you back in. They never seem to really benefit the recipient.
Sure I like to use a multitude of different apps and services, but when I’m not actively using them, 99.9% of the time I don’t need to know anything about them, or anything they may be doing. For example, if I have some spare time and want to read through my RSS subscriptions, I’ll open up my RSS app, and if there’s anything there then I’ll catch up with as much as possible. But during the day, I don’t want to be told when a new entry is added.
It turns out that this scenario is very common for me with a lot of different services. I don’t need to know things straight away, and if I did, then it would probably something I’m aware of and can check myself. For example, you may of just triggered something like registering for a website or making a purchase, so you want to see that message. But in this case you already know an email is coming, so you don’t really need to be notified that it’s arrived.
I’ve also found that when notifications start to pile up, it has a diminishing effect on whether I’ll perform any action with them. So a fewer number of notifications actually means I’m more likely to respond to them. This is also why Do Not Disturb isn’t a simple fix for me.
How I Deal with Email
I don’t do anything differently in regards to how I deal with my Email, but I do is a lot less than everyone else.
The average user (previously myself) will recieve a notification for an email, and then the majority of times they would do one of these three things:
- Dismiss the email, and then ignore it.
- Open the email, then take no action.
- Perform a quick action, such as deleting or archiving it.
Of course the first two aren’t really helping at all. And for the third case, you could say that because an email suddenly appears on your screen, trying to grab your attention, then you don’t give it a proper thought. And it get’s deleted.
So I don’t have a particular time, or routine in regards to email. But when I have 5/10 minutes, or I just fancy checking my inbox (not very often), I open up my email client and then process my emails! And I mean I really process. Some are clearly junk, and I unsubscribe from these. But apart from that, there’s a few ”rules” that I try to follow:
- If it’s junk, unsubscribe.
- If I can reply to it now, then that’s what I do.
- If I can’t reply to it yet, or I just want to put it off, then it gets snoozed either until that night or the weekend. I try to do this once, then after that I take action, or delete it.
- If it’s a confirmation email for a purchase/booking
- If it’s an email like the MacStories Weekly or another newsletter, then I send this to Pocket for when I have time.
That pretty much covers my email life.
And while I’m not going to write 3000 words on how this changed my life, I do find it less stressful not having the constant badgering of pointless emails. (Especially when I’m trying to catch Pokémon!)
Of course email isn’t the only thing that can have distracting notifications, there are a few other apps and services that can also hinder your attention.
These are the two big social networks, and with that comes a lot of activity. So if a friend likes a post on Facebook, or retweets one of your tweets, then you’ll most likely get a notification. But I’m most cases they’re not necessary.
Sure you may want to know when someone messages you, or comment on something you’ve written. But what annoyed me with Facebook, is the notifications and invites from games that I didn’t even play. You can block invites, or change your settings, but it’s usually a pain. I’ve actually deleted the Facebook app from my devices, because I’m not a heavy user and don’t rely on it at all. That way I can check it whenever I feel like it, and not have it interrupt me at all.
With Twitter it really depends how much you use it, because if you get one reply a day then it’s not that bad. But imagine you get likes and retweets throughout the day, it’s not something you would normally reply to, so do you really need to know instantly when it happens?
If you notice that you’re not doing anything straight away with notifications from social apps, it may be wise to cull them.
This is similar to my use of emails, in that I don’t want to be notified when there’s something new, instead when I have time I will go through my list and take the appropriate action. Most of the time it’s a small blog post that I will read straight away, but if there’s something that will require a longer amount of time, then I’ll send that to Pocket. Also, there’s rarely anything I don’t want to read, seeing as I chose to subscribe to these feeds, but if someone writes an article I’m not interested in, I just mark as read and move on. Ideally every time I open my RSS application, I want to either read, delete, or save every article. I guess it’s the equivalent of Inbox Zero for RSS.
Then when I want to read something, I can just open up Pocket. I use it to collect articles to read, anything that I’ll use for writing, and just websites that I want to save for referencing later on.
Messaging is a whole platform to itself, and can usually be split into personal and business/work use. Text messaging (SMS and iMessage) is the one that I use to contact friends and family, and therefore I want to be notified every time I get a message.
But with Slack, Telegram, and other work related messages, you may not need to know about every new message, especially when you’re not working.
I’m in a few Slack groups, and I certainly make use of their notification option where you can only allow them during a certain time range. I also manage it even further, and mute whole groups and channels if I find I get notified too much.
So this is a more a personal option, and will vary a lot per user. As most text messages do require instant action, or just to be aware of.
Just to say a final opinion on notifications in general, I don’t think that they are always necessary. A lot of times the are enabled just for the sake of not missing anything, but I would urge everyone to have a good think about whether they actually have a purpose.
More importantly, I think there should be a bigger emphasis on the rules have when dealing with things like emails, messages, notifications, etc. Like you saw above with my rules about email, a few simple rules that you try and stick to, will make your life much easier. And then you’ll start to notice what’s important, because there will be certain types of alerts that always get dismissed, deleted, etc. It also makes you deal with things faster, as you build up a type of muscle memory with what action up would normally take.
I would urge you to try and turn your notifications off on your phone, even just your email notifications. Even if you do it for just a week, I’m sure you’ll see a difference.