Why You Should Turn Off Your Email Notifications

Let’s admit that if you don’t have a new email in your inbox right now, you will in 30 minutes. If it is a work day, maybe that is more like 5 minutes. You get a lot of email, and you have to look at all of it to figure out if it is important. Most email you just delete, because it is junk or some heads up that doesn’t require any reply.

If your job requires any skill, then you are more productive when you can work without interruptions until you reach natural breaks. Those breaks might be when you get something done, or your body wants food, or caffeine, or to go to the bathroom.

Those breaks are the right time to switch tasks.

When I started using a desktop mail client around 2005 the default setting was to get a notification every time an email was received. The notification included the sender, subject, and a snippet of the message. For about six years this seemed convenient, I knew when I got an email without having to look at my inbox.

Then, I realized that all these notifications were actually causing me to look at my inbox more. The emails were just too much of a tease with the vague details or a truncated subject or message. And every one of these trips to my inbox was breaking my concentration. So, being annoyed with looking at my email all the time, I changed the notifications to only show the sender.

Seeing only the sender discouraged me from looking at my inbox because the emails seemed less interesting, and most senders were not significant. If I’d just sent James and email and James wrote back, I knew to check it out though. But, I was still having to triage all these senders and assess importance. If there is one thing your brain is terrible at it is assessing if a new stimulus is important while continuing to focus on another thing.

So, I turned off my email notifications completely on my desktop but kept the little notification tone on my phone. Now, I knew when I got an email, but had no context. This generally meant there was nothing to assess about the email and just the awareness that there was an email. I could check the inbox or not based on how I felt at the time. There is no pressure there. There is no guilt of knowing you ignored James’ email, because you didn’t know it was his.

Then, my phone died. It died suddenly and completely, leaving me without any notifications at all for four days while a new phone was shipped. At first, this seemed like it would be a problem. I would only know if I had email if I checked a computer. I’d only know if I got a phone call if Google emailed me a voice transcription. I’d be unable to get texts.

But, nothing bad happened. It was relaxing, and I still got all my email. But, I checked email during breaks. That meant that I could focus on work when I was working, and focus on email when I was checking email. The ability to focus for longer periods means working is easier and more enjoyable. It means that when I sit down to reply to emails, I’m not rushing to get back to what I was thinking about, but focusing on the emails.

You don’t need so many notifications either. You don’t need them for email, and you don’t need them for most other types of communication. Being flooded with notifications is negatively affecting your quality of life, quality of work, and even the quality of your communications.

You don’t need notifications telling you to check your email, because you always have email to check. This goes for social networks too.

You are probably disrupting in-person communication daily because your phone is telling you something happened. That isn’t making you more productive. And, it isn’t improving your relationship with the person in the room or the person on the phone.

Beyond notifications, maybe you don’t even need your phone with you so often. Maybe, instead of checking for updates, you could just relax — really relax. You could daydream for a few minutes, then decide if you really feel better or worse than if you’d tried to scroll through 148 new posts in the same four minutes.

There isn’t a magic combination that will make sense for everyone, but try turning off some notifications and see what it is actually like. Give it some time, it might make you anxious at first, but a week or two might go by and you’ll realize, you didn’t need them in the first place.