Almost anywhere you go nowadays you will see someone’s head buried in their phone checking email, texting someone, playing a quick game, looking something up, or just simply wasting time. You may even be the type that as soon as you hear a ‘ding’ or vibration from your phone you instantly check what is grasping for your attention, whether it’s important or not.

The fact is that most notifications don’t deserve your attention immediately. These notifications that are pulling for you attention are pulling that attention away from more important things that you have to get done.

Find what is important

Some notifications are much more important that others. This usually has to do with the medium and format that is used for the incoming messages.

Most knowledge-worker-types follow some sort of news feed (whether it’s RSS or just a simple site like Google news), have a calendar, email, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, use SMS and their phones. That’s a lot of incoming material that needs to be prioritized a bit to make for a more laid back notification style.

In my experience SMS, phone calls, Twitter direct messages, and calendar appointments tend to be the most important things to me, but it really depends on the nature of your job and life. Some people’s job is to respond to emails almost immediately (glad I don’t have that job) so email may be an important type of notification that they need.

Make a list of all of the notifications that you are subscribed to and are turned on in your life. Then mark the ones that you feel are the most important and need to know immediately. This is the start to managing them.

Turn almost everything off

At first when doing an inventory of all your notifications you may want to just turn everything off and then slowly add the important ones back in. Try to turn off automated emails and reminders from other systems, popup windows telling you that there is new email waiting for you, and badges and notifications on your phone.

I remember setting up calendar reminders once thinking that I needed a message a couple of days before something would happen as well as a popup notification on my phone and desktop. If I can’t check my calendar once or twice a day to see what I have coming up in my life, no notification will save me. In fact, I tend to become numb to the notifications because I get so many of them.

So, try to turn off as many notifications and then slowly add back in the ones that are the most important to you and that you can’t live without.

Re-train yourself

We have become trained to respond to our phones and email at a moment’s notice. The ‘dinging’ or ‘donging’ goes off, our eyes glaze over, and like trained circus animals we check whatever the hell we think that we must be notified of.

It’s time to retrain yourself and make new habits of not being ruled by your notifications.

Try ignoring notifications for as long as you can, especially if you are in the middle of working on something that is important to you. Try to make set times where you check your email, your news feeds, Facebook, etc. rather than you being ruled by them.

It can be very hard at first and may even feel like you are weaning yourself off of something that you are addicted to (because you may just be addicted to the satisfaction of checking and receiving something). Take it slow and you will be able to ignore notifications more easily as time moves on.

Setup new systems

Now that you know what is important and can live outside of checking your notifications every 5 minutes, a good idea is to setup some sort of new system or process for efficient notification handling.

There are some rules that you can put into place like blocking time for certain things like checking your news feeds and email twice a day, looking at your calendar and task lists first thing and only setting up daily reminders for yourself, or even turning off all notifications for a set period of time to concentrate on more important work.

Personally, I have found that the best way to manage notifications in the long run is to turn most of them off and then setup time to go through the app or service to see what you must be notified of. This is probably the only way you can keep your life from being controlled by the notifications around you.

Conclusion

There is a lot of information out there that is battling for your eyeballs and time. But, you don’t have to be controlled by it. You can handle and manage notifications successfully and efficiently if you find the ones that are important and re-configure the way that you interact with them.

Don’t be a trained animal, answering your phone and email ‘dings’ at every beck and call. Manage your notifications as a way to save time and to get more important things done.

(Photo credit: A businessman with icons floating around his head from Shutterstock)

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