Phones have long become our hand extensions which constantly require attention. On average, people check their phones over 150 times daily, disturbed by notifications. And that’s just their phones!
But do notifications help us or distract and keep us busy? Spoiler alert: this seemingly minor smartphone feature is a major productivity suck.
Let’s look at the root of the problem. Why do we check our phones so much? According to a study by Baylor University, compulsive phone checking was seen as an attempt to reduce the worries and stress of our everyday lives.
Another reason is a desire to feel connected in an era where it’s pretty easy to feel like you’re missing out on something, especially in larger cities.
Scientific researches prove that notifications are mostly counterproductive. According to this study, such brief interruptions only double the number of errors made in a task and urge us to constantly switch between them. It’s not shocking anymore when you find out that multitasking costs the US economy $450 billion dollars each year.
Business experts and entrepreneurs are already aware of this. That’s why they practice single-tasking. Periods of deeper focus are more likely to result in fruitful work – provided that you arrange an environment where notifications have no power over you. For this purpose, using task management software for your team, and having a task management plan, is considered essential for any team, regardless of its size.
We’ve put together this list of tried-and-tested tips to help you tame notifications:
When notifications increase productivity
Let’s be unbiased and admit it – nowadays, the whole work process is more or less notification-centered.
A new urgent task? Catch the notification from the project manager in your inbox.
Important update from your colleague? The team chat notification jumps in.
The challenge here is constantly switching between numerous tools without missing out on something important. In reality, this fuss keeps you away from the things that truly matter.
So how do you stay on top of the latest project updates without losing your mind?
To begin with, integrate all your work apps via team chat to generate a centralized hub for collaboration and enhanced productivity. Almost all team chats like Slack, Chanty, and Microsoft Teams feature integrations with hundreds of third-party tools. Remotely or in-office, now you can receive notifications from your favorite apps in a single place.
A powerful and free Slack alternative, Chanty is a simple AI-powered team chat aimed to increase team productivity and improve communication at work.
Sounds good, right? Yes, except that your team chat might become a melting pot of endless notifications in the blink of an eye.
Let’s move forward and find out the best practices for turning naughty notifications into your trusted assistants.
Identify what you need to know
*DING*—Facebook lets you know there’s an event nearby tomorrow.
*KNOCK KNOCK*—It’s your friend Mark again who posts memes in the group chat every 15 minutes.
How about getting rid of all this annoying noise?
Start by collecting all notifications you have at this point. Remember every place you get notified, including your cell phone and computer. And don’t forget about Mark. He’s a cool guy, but getting one more meme from him will not help you with your work.
Then sort the apps by importance. I bet there are tools whose notifications you always ignore or delete. You might say that’s not a big deal; a swipe to the right, and they’re dismissed. But they take real-estate place: in your short-term memory, which can only deal with so many things. So kill the counterproductive ones before they impact your performance.
Know your numbers
Again, the average person checks their phone 150 times every day. From my own experience, it’s quite an optimistic estimate. If you doubt my opinion, how about a bet?
The latest Android and iOS versions have built-in Screen Time stats, which show you how much time you’ve been using certain apps, graphs, and visuals on how many times you’ve unlocked your phone per day and even how many notifications you received.
The usage data will surprise you. The good news is that this experiment will encourage you to limit your time using technology.
Set up your essential home screen
Think of your home screen as a set of necessary apps. If the tool makes you endlessly check it (Instagram, Facebook, etc.), move it to the second screen. Or the third one… from the end. The point is to prioritize all the apps on your phone into separate buckets:
- Choose your must-have ones—no more than five. Calendar, notes, maps, or whatever you need to rely on instantly.
- Pick the apps you always get lost in, the so-called “time eaters.” Let’s be real and give a long walk to Instagram, for instance.
- Gather useful assistants like book readers, meditation apps, podcast players, etc.
Now, leave only your favorite tools and useful assistants on your first phone screen (buckets #1 and #3). Then, move all other apps to the second or third screen. And voila! Your phone is ready to become a productivity board!
The hardcore move: delete useless apps and disable your default web browser
Let’s think of it as a one-day experiment. If you’re constantly procrastinating on Instagram, you may not need it.
So delete it. Along with every game you have on your phone. Remember: it’s only an experiment.
Is it difficult? Well, you haven’t seen the one aimed at your web browser. Again, conduct a one-day experiment and turn on the parental control that disables access to your browser. You’ll be amazed at how many bad habits you’ll prevent and nip procrastination in the bud.
The good idea here is to test out Firefox Focus, a browser for single-tasking lovers. The app kills mindless web browsing. How exactly? It doesn’t save your history or passwords to all the silly sites you visit and doesn’t keep you logged in either. Long story short, it makes addictive web browsing more complicated and helps you stay away from it.
If you’re not ready to delete your web browser, it’s okay. I understand. However, you can improve your productivity and concentration by disabling its notifications. There are a few simple steps for this:
- If you’re an iPhone user, go to Settings > Do Not Disturb, configure your ideal silent mode, and turn off access to Safari.
- If you’re an Android user, go to Settings > Apps > All > Chrome, and press Disable.
Remember the downside of turning off notifications
It’s a common fact that people feel less distracted without push notifications. However, experiments show that they also feel less connected to their groups. This makes people more anxious as FOMO (fear of missing out) creeps in.
Will I forget about my crush’s birthday? Or miss getting tickets at that stand-up comedy show that gets organized once every year? All these worries will make you double-check your phone and lose momentum.
So, to snooze or not to snooze? To snooze for sure! But be aware of possible mental traps of limiting push notifications, so you know how to tackle them.
Schedule email time
Email notifications are another notorious concentration-breaker. Office workers now receive an average of more than 100 emails daily and spend more than six hours per week getting through their email mess.
Don’t let email rule your day. Here are a few no-brainer tips to keep you productive and prevent you from checking the inbox every ten minutes:
- Get your hands off the inbox in the morning. Unless you work in a customer-facing role, don’t do it during the first two hours at the office. This time should be devoted to nothing but planning, prioritizing, and performing the most important tasks of the day.
- Stick your nose into the inbox only after you’ve marked something off your to-do list. Pretty simple.
- Turn off email notifications. Email notifications can quickly become a toxic source of stress. It takes people an average of 20 minutes to regain their focus.
- Allocate a time slot for filtering and replying to emails. Check all notifications, grab every coupon code from the Promotions tab, and embrace your inner passion for all the useless spam. Then, unless something crucial pops in, feel free to ignore email for the rest of your day.
Be aggressive with your unsubscribe button
Overwhelmed with annoying spam crowding your inbox? Don’t be afraid to hit the unsubscribe button. Although it may seem easier to quickly delete rather than unsubscribe from a mailing list, it’s a better choice to notify a sender that you never want to receive their emails. As a result, you’ll spend less time deleting useless messages in the future.
If you receive spam or emails you have never signed up for, don’t hesitate to mark them as spam. Thus, you help your communication platforms know what messages you shouldn’t get.
Tools under the belt
Luckily, an ocean of productivity apps is more than happy to rescue you from this notification craze. We’ve put together a short list of these tools, but there are a whole lot more:
- Offtime sets time blocks when notifications are temporarily disabled. Also, it allows you to set special categories like “Work” to remain connected to your essential tools.
- Flipd is similar to Offtime, except it also sets emergency contacts so important people can always get through. Another interesting feature is that they offer an ability to connect with other Flipd users and even compete in productivity levels with them.
- Moment (iOS) offers daily data about your cell phone usage. If you’re brave enough, set a limit you don’t want to exceed, and Moment will turn off your screen automatically.
- Speaking of email enhancers, inbox assistants like Dispatch and Less.Mail limit clutter, generate follow-up reminders, filter spam, and highlight important emails that shouldn’t slip by.
TIP: Read this complete guide to time tracking to help your team manage their tasks in a timely and efficient manner. Or check these simple, online apps for the Pomodoro technique to timebox your work sessions in a healthy manner.
We are “plugged in” almost 24/7. During dinners with our families, we check emails or get notifications from work apps via phones. But what if this ongoing availability is only productivity make-believe?
That’s right. Studies have found that stepping away from technology dramatically increases learning and socializing effectiveness and productivity. Since you can’t honestly give up technology, limit tech overload little by little. For instance, start by checking your email less frequently. This might significantly lower your daily stress levels too.
If you’re working collaboratively, don’t worry. Your team will understand that you are not constantly on call. This prioritization of work-life balance boosts team productivity because it fosters better focus.
Plus, if you have a pressing deadline, the last thing you need is to be distracted by notifications—worse yet, memes and reactions.
The cost of being fuzzy is much higher than we tend to think. The abundance of notifications makes it challenging to concentrate on your real-life tasks or pick out the updates you should care about. The result? More errors and stress, less performance and output.
The key to ultimate productivity is to stay focused while spamming notifications compete in the background for your attention. Don’t let them distract you; stay on top of your most important duties and priorities. The most effective yet simple advice is to eliminate the number of notifications.
First published on December 17, 2018.
With ten years of experience in digital marketing, Julia Samoilenko is on the mission to inspire her audience and create content people actually want to read.