If you are one of the 92% of Americans who have a cell phone, you’re probably receiving constant notifications from mail, texts, tweets, and news feeds.  Over time, the buzz in your pocket, the silly ring tone, and the incessant need to check for messages can really start to take their toll on both you, and those around you. I would argue that there are now so many notifications with limited utility and I, for one, have decided to take a stand.

I will no longer accept just in time notifications unless they are from one of a select group of people I deeply care about. These people have been added to my VIP list that includes my spouse, my kids, my boss, and finally the other members of my executive team. Everybody else will be covered in an hourly scan of my messages and responded to with an appropriate priority.

This practice became my new norm when I found I could not keep up with the sheer number of notifications my iPhone was bombarding me with. At some parts of the day, the rate was as high as one event per minute. I was having trouble getting time to work on goals that required concentrated thought.

Here are four huge negative outcomes from the notification epidemic.

Endless Notification Equals Endless Distraction

It’s wonderful to know what’s going on in our world but it’s also incredibly hard to focus if your phone is beeping or vibrating every few seconds. When this becomes the new normal, a state I call “endless distraction” settles in. An email arrives, you process it. A tweet comes in, you read it. All of this shortens your attention span to the point where you cannot perform long-term work and notification fatigue sets in.

Notification Stimulus Leads to Increased Stress

There are countless studies that show us constant stimulus leads to overload, and overload leads to stress. If taken to the extreme, constant stimulus has another name: torture.

You may think that turning off notifications will lead to more stress because you might miss an urgent message from your boss or spouse. Most devices have the concepts of VIPs (important individuals whose mails or texts will show up in real time whilst silencing the maddening crowd). If used correctly, this can greatly reduce the amount of stimulus you are receiving.

Stress and Distraction Reduce Performance

Stress and distraction are a recipe for decreased performance due to cognitive overload and muddied thinking. It is virtually impossible to give a topic adequate thought if you are working from moment to moment. Consequently, your decision making capability can take a real hit as well. This is a manifestation of accommodation (a key concept in neural biology), where the response of biological entity decreases with constant stimulus over time.

Notifications Kill Authenticity

Let’s face it, one of the greatest social faux pas of all time is having a conversation and trying to attend to notifications at the same time. The person across the table feels slighted by your inability to give them adequate attention and perceives this as a lack of authenticity on your part. Over time, this leads to decreased trust and a weakened relationship.

Gadgets such as Apple watches can be perceived as being even less authentic. Not only does the act of looking at your watch signal disinterest, it also suggests that maybe this meeting should be over. Since the other person may not know about your latest gadget, it’s easy for them to take offense and see you as being inauthentic.

So What Should I do?

For true notification addicts I recommend the following strategy.

  1. Start by turning off each and every notification on your phone.
  2. Create a VIP list of people who you would want to interrupt you for emergencies. Allow them to send messages and emails so you can be sure they’ll be able to contact you.
  3. Be consistent. Don’t add anybody else to the list.
  4. Set a calendar reminder to check your messages every one to two hours and religiously stick to it so you are covering all the messages you could potentially miss.
  5. You are effectively fighting a form of addiction or conditioned response. Reward yourself for sticking with it!

Featured photo credit: http://albumarium.com/ via albumarium.com

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