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On Managing Your Life’s Notifications

On Managing Your Life’s Notifications

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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)

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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