How to cure Continuous Partial Attention: Disabling Email Notification Tips

Nov 13, 2017 · 3 min read

One of the things I’m most amazed about is when I see people working on their computer, tablet, or smartphone and I hear a little sound come up that indicates an interruption. This interruption usually comes in the form of a text message or email.

We know that when you get a new computer or install some form of new email software, it’s set up by default to notify you every time a new email lands in your inbox. Although it’s great that all the hard work is done setting up your email, these constant alerts are also distracting. “Continuous Partial Attention” is a term coined by Linda Stone which describes how we are constantly distracted by our devices.

Studies have shown that you lose a lot of time and mental energy when you glance at that little notification; even if you don’t click on it and absorb the full contents of it. It’s still an interruption. Just having your attention divided sucks up the mental energy that you could be using to focus on and be in the flow of what you were doing. It can sometimes take another minute or two to get your attention fully back to where it was before. Over a few hours, with frequent notifications popping up, a lot of time can be wasted simply trying to regain your focus on your tasks.

So what are some tips to eliminate distraction and to ensure that you remain focused and your attention is undivided until you complete your task? It’s actually very easy.

1. Turn off those email notifications. Simple.

Nowadays, the most common email clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, and Google Mail also turn on desktop notifications by default. These are the notifications that pop up on the top of the screen and let you know when a new email has arrived in your Inbox. You can turn off these alerts in the preferences or settings tab in your email client. Within the preferences and settings tab, there will be a section on Notifications and Sounds. Simply untick the box or disable the notifications and sounds when a new email reaches your inbox.

The great thing about it is that you just do it once, and you won’t have to do it ever again. If you’re skeptical, try it for an hour or day and see how much more calm and relaxed you are not seeing or hearing those notifications. All your emails will still be received and you can check this when you complete your task.

2. Set your Email Client to Check for Emails Every Hour

If you’re worried about missing important emails or don’t have the luxury of turning off your notifications for long periods of time, an option is to set your email client to only check for email every hour. If a whole hour is too much, start with 15 minutes. Start small, then work your way up. The beauty of this process is that if you are expecting an urgent email and want to receive this immediately, you can always go into your email client and manually do a send/receive. You may start to notice that through this very basic modification to your email client, there will be an impact on your peace of mind, your focus, and your productivity as you will not see email alerts pop up as frequently.

Both of these tips are related in that they are focused on taking control over minimizing visual and auditory distractions that our devices are throwing at us all the time. Beeps, buzzes, and chimes are constantly going off. Reducing these to make them less frequent so that we are not distracted by them constantly will invariably increase our focus and productivity. Try it and see the difference.

Listen to our latest Technology For Mindfulness Podcast on Digital Detox with special guest Holland Haiis.


Written by

Podcast & Blog with Robert Plotkin. Tips &information on how technology can both promote and impede mindfulness.