In this digital world, we have hundreds of “pings” coming to us on a daily basis. We get them in various forms: sound alerts for email and text messages, workstation popups, notification icons on phone apps you use frequently. You might even have a smart watch that will vibrate and bring those interruptions wherever you are.
We are constantly bombarded by electronic noise. And for most of us, we’re not being choosy about who and what we’re allowing interrupt us.
During our weekday, the things that interrupt us the most tend to be our email inbox, and our mobile phones. Both are necessary tools, but unless handled correctly, THEY determine your priorities.
When your email application is open all day, every time you receive an email you probably get either a popup or a sound alert that something new is there. No matter how important or unimportant the email, you know about it the instant it comes in. And if you have notifications configured in multiple places (Outlook, your phone, your smart watch), you might be getting multiple notifications for each email!
When you’re working on something that requires any concentration, these notifications steal you away from it. It may be only for 4-8 seconds to glance at the subject and decide you can deal with it later; worse, the email piques your curiosity and you swap over to that email and type a quick reply. Now you switch back to the task at hand and try to focus again. Only to be interrupted a few minutes later in the same way. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Here’s the painful truth: if you haven’t turned off all noise and notifications, you are allowing ANYONE with your email address or phone number to determine your priorities. Let that sink in for a moment.
You’re letting the world dictate your priorities.
Hyperbole? Maybe. Reality? Think about it.
Next to email, our smart phones are the second thief of our time and concentration. Every time you set up a new application, or configure a “default” one, it prompts you to allow it to send you notifications. These can show up as popups that have to be dismissed, badge icons, or sounds to tell you when you get a text, a voice mail, an email, a Facebook notification, when an application needs updating, when an app wants to alert you to a special, or to just remind you to use it again!
If you were to look at your phone right now, how many of these notifications are actually important, and how many took you away from what you were doing when you received it?
For badge icons, each “number” on the app’s icon on our phones creates an open loop: there is something that needs to be done, requires some action. It’s subtle but it creates a mental “to do.” If you don’t close the loop, your brain still is often thinking about it.
The same holds true for your email, wherever we read it. Our brains are wired to “close the loops.” It might 7:00 PM at night when we look and see there are 30 unread messages in our email—there’s nothing we can do at this hour but there might be something important, so we decide to take a few minutes just to verify. We’re taking time away from our family or friends to see if ANYONE with our email has sent us something that matters. It’s human nature.
The phone creators and application developers understand this part of our wiring, using it to their advantage. You would be amazed at how much research goes into getting us to pick up our phones and interact with them regularly.
Both email and smartphones were designed to be a tool to make our lives more convenient. Now that convenience seems to encroach upon our lives constantly. What’s the answer? Take back the control of WHEN you’ll be interrupted.
It’s actually quite simple.
For email: Keep email closed on your computer until YOU decide to look at it. On your phone, turn off all notifications. No dings, no popups, no buzzing. The email still comes in, but you choose when to look at it.
That may be every 15-30 minutes for some. It may be longer for others. Personally, I try to have my email application closed for much of the day. The most productive days I have are the ones that I open my email in the morning, around noon and again at 4pm. I process messages and then close the application.
For phones: Really dig into your phone’s settings, and turn off all notifications and “numbers” that do not serve you. I have stopped ALL noise and buzzes on my phone. It doesn’t vibrate, make noises or for the most part, show any “numbers” on the apps.
The only apps I allow to show me numbers are texts and voice mails. Everything else is “quiet”. I don’t see how many unread emails I have. If I want to look at email, I click on the app. I decide when I want to interact it with, not the other way around.
I’ll admit this was challenging at first. But it created an unbelievable amount of extra bandwidth and focused time in my life. Time to go deeper in my business, time to write, time to work on my goals, time to reflect.
Give yourself the gift of more focused time. Try this for a week and see how much different it feels.