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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)

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    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 July 13, 2020

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

    1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

    The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

    Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

    For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

    The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

    2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

    Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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    As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

    Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

    3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

    Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

      This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

      We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

      Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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      When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

      Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

      4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

      Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

      For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

      Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

      5. Make Decisions

      For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

      If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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      If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

      Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

      I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

      This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

      The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

      6. Take Some Form of Action

      Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

      The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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      It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

      Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

      The Bottom Line

      Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

      When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

      More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

      Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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