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On Managing Your Life’s Notifications

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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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    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 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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