Why do notifications damage productivity?

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I’m sitting on my laptop with my phone beside me as I write. I’m sure it’s a setup familiar to most of you. If you’re like me, you’re always aware that the phone is there. When it buzzes or pings with some notification or message, I’m forever having to force myself to finish the sentence I’m writing before attending to it. Even that, I fail to do more often than I care to admit.

Before we know it, this becomes a habit that is devilishly difficult to break.

But never fear! Later in this post, I’ll give you some tips on how you can manage the never-ending deluge of beeps, vibrations and pop-ups.

First, why are notifications so damaging to productivity?

Notifications damage productivity for three main reasons. They are a distraction that has been designed to catch your attention, so they are nearly impossible to ignore. They are often call-to-action of some sort, which compels people to respond. Lastly, notifications can be addictive. Social notifications are designed to give us a dopamine hit when we get one. Thus we learn to anticipate them with pleasure and and can even become slightly anxious if they don’t arrive when expected.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the subject together.  

Why are notifications a problem?

Work culture today — especially in the Anglophone world — has normalised notifications. Developers have worked out that alerts encourage people to keep using their software. Thus notifications continue to become ever more pervasive. Gone are the days when only phone calls, text and emails set things a-buzzing.

We all know that we are alerted about everything from automated bill payments and social media activity to the latest time-management software update.

In some cases, notifications are very useful. When an email hits your inbox, for instance, you can find out if something is urgent and needs to be dealt with immediately.

The main downside of this convenience is that it creates a general feeling that notifications can’t be that bad. This leads us to underestimate their power. The upshot is that we often end up feeling like servants to notifications and our productivity diminishes because of that.

A bit later on, we’ll take a look at how distracting notifications can be. For now though, let’s find out what we can do to tackle the problem of notifications.

How can I be the master of my notifications?  

Now we’ve established notifications are a bit of problem, how best can we deal with them?

Here are some useful tips.

  • Disable all notifications on your desktop and mobile. Don’t be afraid you’ll miss out on something important if you switch them off.
  • Put your phone on Airplane Mode, so that you’re less likely to be interrupted. You can use the Do Not Disturb feature for this as well.
  • Use the Do Not Disturb function on your Mac or the Focus Assist on your PC.
  • Hide notifications on your lock screen.
  • Manage notifications from apps in the setting menu.
  • Delete apps you never use to rid yourself of obsolete notifications.

Later on, we’ll investigate why task-switching is so bad for productivity.

Right now, I can practically hear you wondering if notifications are really all that distracting. Is it really worth the bother of turning them off? Let’s find out.

How distracting are notifications?

When a notification announces its arrival on your phone, laptop or other device, guess what? You lose full focus and your efficiency begins to decrease. You’ll also start to become less effective immediately after having been distracted. Research conducted by Gloria Mark of Irvine University —as well as Gudith and Klocke of Humboldt University — has shown that it can take about twenty-three minutes for you to become fully focused after encountering a distraction. In this case, a notification.

Given that your average millennial can nowadays expect to receive anything up to 200 notifications each day, this is worth a close look. When calculated, the numbers are huge. Here’s a breakdown for you.

  • 200 notifications a day equals 200 fifteen-second distractions a day.
  • It takes about twenty-three minutes to recover full focus after each distraction.
  • This equals a potential loss of about seventy-seven hours per day.

Not the best scenario for maximising your productivity, right?

Hang on, I hear you shout, what about multitasking?

Multitasking: the myth   

The human brain is incapable of concentrating fully on more than a single task at any one time. Multitasking, or at least multitasking in the fullest sense of the term, is impossible. According to James Clear, creator of the Habit Journal, we pay a cognitive price every time we stop doing one task to jump to another. This is known as the switching cost. Typically, incurring high switching costs results in someone being less efficient.

Task-switching and context-switching

If multitasking is a myth, what is task switching and context switching?

  • Task switching is jumping from one task to another because your workflow has been interrupted.
  • Context switching is when you jump around between unrelated tasks.

Notifications can cause you to do this, because they demand and then direct your attention. Ultimately, task switching of any type is bad news for productivity and causes people more anxiety than doing one thing at a time would.

That being said, what can you do about it?

How to stop yourself task-switching

Here are some tips and tricks to help you reduce the amount of task switching you do and boost your productivity.

  • Identify and divide complex jobs into simpler tasks.
  • Group similar tasks together.
  • Give your whole attention to a single task. Dedicate yourself to finishing that one task within a given timeframe, regardless of anything else.
  • Use to-do lists to help you prioritise and organise your work.

Summary

Today then, I hope I’ve helped you come to terms with noisome notifications.

Remember:

  • Notifications are designed to capture and direct our attention on to them and away from other tasks.
  • They are a problem because they have a devastating effect on our productivity and heighten stress.
  • You can turn off or manage notifications across all your devices.
  • You can reduce how often you task switch through effective energy and time management.
  • Multitasking is a myth that actually makes you less efficient.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. We are primed for distraction; both socially and biologically.

Follow these five tips and you’ll never again be a slave to your notifications. Before you know it, you’ll be getting more done in less time. And all this without having to become a multitasking busy-bee. Start saying no to notifications today!

NB: This is a copy of a previous post, done to rectify a problem with the original page address .

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold a MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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