Why I hate notification bubbles and what I do to prevent them

I’m a software developer, and part of that is receiving requests for all kind of things, including ideas, feature requests and bugs — all day long.

I generally try to stay away from phones or voice communication in general, because they block my focus 100%. Instead I enjoy text communication the most, mainly through Slack and Trello. Rarely e-mail too, but that’s almost only used for receiving invoices and other “legal” stuff.

Arghhh the bubbles!

The thing with text communication is receiving notifications. My dilemma with it is that when I turn notifications off, I fear that I miss important information. And when I turn it on, I’m distracted on a minutely basis.

I bet you know that feeling. You have your Slack tab open, maybe even pinned so it doesn’t eat too much space, and then suddenly, a small blue circle pops up, asking for your attention. Often I’m able to resist clicking on that damn tab — until the red circle shows up.

No way I can ignore that!

Quiet please

One of the first things I did to solve my dilemma was completely turning off normal message notifications.

Instead Slack only rings the bells when someone mentions my name (e.g. @stsch). And I made the following fact very clear to everyone: You better have something very important to tell me when mentioning me!

Postponing a.k.a. entering stress hell

What happens when I’m being mentioned, though? Of course I almost immediately check what’s waiting for me, and then I take action. 2 useful options:

  1. The request is so important that it justifies stopping my current work and processing it.
  2. I create a Trello card that stores the request in a separate Q&A board for the particular project. Then I return to my previous task.

Under no circumstances shall I use the tempting Slack reminder feature. It’s absolutely great, no doubt, but the result is that I repeatedly click on “Snooze” when I’m being reminded — day after day. Until 10 or more reminders are active. Yuk!

Don’t negotiate meetings

For years, I had always negotiated meetings:

  • Client: “I’d like to talk about X.”
  • Stefan: “Alright, sounds good. When?”
  • Client: “Don’t know, when do you have some free time?”
  • Stefan: “What about Thursday, 10:00?”
  • Client: “Ah nope, not available. Friday 09:00?”
  • Stefan: “Sorry, got something to do then. Friday 14:00?”
  • Client: “Okay, Friday 14:00!”

The thing is: Besides writing all of those totally annoying messages, I have to check my calendar in parallel all the time. And depending on how long it takes for the contact to reply, I have work to do in the meantime.

Today I use Calendly. It’s synced with my Google Calendar and setup in such a way that people can only pick times that I want to. So whenever someone is in need for a talk, I just give them my Calendly URL.

Stress is a productivity killer

For me, stress really comes from interruptions. When I’m not able to focus and concentrate on the tasks I want and have to do, I’m starting to feel stressed. The same happens when I’m focussed and see notifications. They just stay in the back of my head until I get rid of them, resulting in distraction.

Therefore my ultimate goal is to eliminate most of my stress factors, and the tools mentioned above do a great job.

If you feel stressed too sometimes, feel free to applaud/clap this article. :-D