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On Managing Your Life’s Notifications

On Managing Your Life’s Notifications
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    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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    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 July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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