Why You Should Mute Your Notifications
Reclaim your sanity. Turn off the buzzes, beeps and banners to bring more peace into your life.
In these ultra-connected times, the notifications on our phones don’t seem to stop popping up.
The non-connected good ol’ times
As a 90s kid, I grew up in a world that was not yet connected 24/7. Getting the first home computer before the new millennium felt like making a technological leap into the realms of outer space. The anticipation when plugging in the internet cable felt exciting. Google was no more advanced than a bare HTML skeleton.
I remember when the consumer mobile phones came out and the first few classmates got theirs. Texting and making phone calls were your only options of communication on these heavy, bulky devices.
I realised just now that those times weren’t more “primitive”. Time was just filled with different activities.
Two decades later and we have access to powerful mini-computers we carry with us at all times. In the beginning phases of Social Media, smartphones and the internet, it felt cool to receive a text message, or an email.
“Yes, I received a text today!” as if it was a thing. It was something to look forward to because the occurrence of it was so rare.
The late Social Media hype
Social Media platforms these days have infinite scroll and are designed to keep you on their platform. Attention is currency. Lazy load, recommended reads or videos, autoplay. The stream of content just doesn’t end.
Now, I prefer to stay away rather than engage more with the scroll. The rabbit holes to choose from are endless. I want to exercise control over what I consume, and where and when I consume it.
Notifications, blips and beeps are an anxiety trigger. As if I need to be “on” all the time. Besides that, they are sources of distractions for when I’m trying to get things done.
As Cal Newport states in his book “Deep Work”, focused work has become increasingly rare, despite it being a necessity if you want to deliver a quality product. The internet is a great place to get lost.
The rise of network tools such as e-mail and Social Media, along with access to them through smartphones and computers has “networked” most knowledge workers’ attention into chips.
“Being in a constant state of distraction cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking”.
When going through a video or online course, it’s not all bad. Eventually you do have to put into practice what you’ve learned. That’s how information is best solidified. Through practice.
If I keep watching videos, sure I’ll stay busy, but I won’t be practicing a skill.
No amount of videos on drawing, Facebook ads or how-to-write tutorials will teach me how to actually draw, set up profitable ad campaigns or write appealing, attention-grabbing pieces. I will have to practice.
When learning something complex that requires your attention, how deep can you really go when you block off periods of time to isolate yourself and focus on one topic only for a longer stretch of time -versus- keeping Netflix on in a tab in the background, while being in a FaceTime call with a good friend and also trying to write database queries?
How effective is the time you then spend?
In his book, Newport points to a paper written by business professor Sophia Leroy, who introduced an effect called attention residue.
When you switch tasks, it takes a while for your attention to follow. Part of it, a residue, remains occupied with the previous task. Even when you finish one task before starting to work on the next, it takes time for your attention to fully shift.
Network tools and their constant beeping and buzzing distract us from work that requires us to wholly focus.
A very relatable example in the book is the casual refreshing of your email inbox to check for new messages. You may replace emails with WhatsApp messages if you prefer.
Leroy states that the quick checking is a new target for our attention. By noticing a message you cannot get rid of right now, you’re forced to return to the previous task while a secondary one is left unfinished.
In other words, now you’ve seen it, and this task will stay in the back of your mind, taking up unnecessary space and reducing your performance on the first one.
I’ve only read a quarter of the entire book, but it is causing a shift in my thinking. It makes sense that allowing distractions to eat away at attention hinders deep, quality work. My time is limited and I want to make the most out of it. Busyness is not a badge of honour I want to wear. I’d rather go deep for just a couple of hours a day and get done what I need to get done, versus spending twelve hours half-arsing around and still not completing a task.
How I apply this newly gained knowledge to my work
Through three main points:
- Determine the main goals of the day before I touch anything. When I sit down at the computer, I need to have crystal clear what I will be working on. Otherwise I will be trying to do everything at the same time, trying to look cool “multi-tasking” without getting anything done.
- Time block slots on the calendar. Seeing it on the calendar reminds me to sit down at the designated time, and work. If I let fate decide, or wait until I “feel like it”, it won’t happen. The time slots can be half an hour to five hours long.
- Break down daily goals into hourly chunks. For the next hour (or 50 minutes, as that’s how long virtual coworking sessions on Focusmate last for), I only focus on these 1 to 3 sub-tasks. I start with the first one and typically forbid myself to touch the next one. Scrolling on Social Media during a session? That is also strictly forbidden. You could use a Pomodoro timer if you have no issues motivating yourself to start working and you don’t need to feel the guilt of public accountability.
Busyness ≠ quality output
If you are ready to stop wearing busyness as a badge of honour as well, and learn how to get more and more quality work done in the time you have, I recommend reading up on the concepts explained in Deep Work.
In this time where we are expected to respond to every bell and notification instantly, this read might be what you need.
If you don’t know where or how to start muting notifications, I’d like to point you to this walkthrough.