May 12, 2016

How notifications are wasting your time

This week I turned off all the notifications on my phone and laptop.

Sounds, vibrations, little windows in the corner of the screen: Gone. New email, Facebook comments, Twitter retweets: Silenced. The only way to tell if I had new stuff was to check for myself, and I resolved to (try) to do that every couple of hours. The only interruptions I allowed were from text messages and phone calls.

Can you guess how many opportunities I missed out on, how many important changes I was unaware of, how many times I looked stupid for being the last to know about something?


Nothing would be different in my life right now if I had processed every single email, tweet. and Facebook post when it arrived. I wouldn’t be more aware of the wildfire in Fort McMurray, I would still know that the Raptors’ won, and my replies to work emails wouldn't have been written any better.

Information and connections are so prevalent and ubiquitous now that we live in fear of missing something incredibly urgent or important. The allure of knowing the moment something happens is hard to reject and actually useful in some rare cases. No one wants to miss the important or urgent messages. No one wants to be the last person to know something, to feel left out by your peers for not being part of the discussion.

Here’s the thing, though:

The truly important and urgent matters are few and far between, and probably don’t travel exclusively by Facebook, or Twitter, or even email. For everything that doesn’t fit into the truly important and urgent bucket (and that’s just about everything), I will bet you that nothing changes for you if you wait two hours before finding out. Big news stories will stay trending on Twitter, popular photos will float to the top of your Instagram and Facebook feeds, and email will still be waiting in your inbox.

How many life- or world-changing events have happened while you were in the cinema with your phone off? Not many. And what would/could you have done if you found out at the moment they happened instead of when the movie was over? Not much.

It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get fully back-on-task after being interrupted. 23 minutes!!!

How many times in a day you check email, Facebook, Instagram, etc. because some sort of notification caught your attention? Multiply that by 23 minutes and marvel that any of us get anything done at all.

Think of all the wasted time you can reclaim just by toggling a couple of settings and believing that your time, energy and attention is too important to leave in someone else’s hands.

What do you have to lose?

Edit: The following pages can help you take back control over notifications: