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Notification Hell

When was the last time you checked your mobile phone? 5 minutes ago? Yes, we are all caught in notification hell.

We live in a world overflowing with notifications — telephone calls, new email notifications, instant messages, Facebook likes, calendar reminders. Everyone and everything is fighting for our attention. And our brain is happy — its takeaway is:

Hey! You’re important! Someone is interested in you!

As a thank you the brain produces dopamine — sometimes called the Hormone Of Happiness. It should come as no surprise that addictive drugs like heroin or cocaine are also responsible for increased levels of dopamine.

Does this mean that we could be addicted to notifications? Hell yes! What is the first thing most people do in the morning after they wake up? They rush to get their fix by checking Facebook to see if they have any new likes.

The phone beckons. Everything stops and we check to see why we are important for someone!

Likewise for my new smartwatch — now I am even more intimately connected anywhere and anytime. Everytime my wrist vibrates I am able to check why the world needs me. And I get my reward — dopamine.

I am a huge fan of current technology. But I am not willing to be its slave. So I declared a war on notifications! It wasn’t easy and it took some time. The first step turned out to be an easy test. And to be frank it only happened by coincidence.

It was Friday afternoon and I had just finished a whole day meeting with one of my clients. What was the first thing I did? Check my mobile phone. So many missed calls, messages and notifications. And my battery was almost dead. My mind raced along telling me — Hurry up! Time is running out! You need to respond to all the messages that have been waiting since morning. By then it was too late, my battery was dead. What was I going to do? It felt like it was going to be a disaster. Really? That couldn’t be right.

Do I really need to be a slave to my mobile phone? What if I turned it off till Monday? What will happen? Will I survive? So I decided to give it a try, but I wasn’t brave enough at the time. When I got home I took out my old “dumb” mobile just to make sure that I was still reachable if someone needed me to save the world.

My weekend setup — old dumb phone and a paper notebook to write down ideas.

And the result?

I survived two whole days without emails and notifications.

And life went on. Nothing horrible happened. The interesting thing was that on Monday morning I was able to finish all my emails and messages very quickly. Definitely faster than if I had worked in “ad hoc” mode. And some of them had even solved themselves without me.

I have done the same ritual every weekend now for more than two years. And I have taken it a few steps further:

1. I switched off notifications in Gmail. Really, no email is so important that needs your immediate attention. Not brave enough? Turn on notifications only on important emails (Gmail can determine what emails are important for you based on your behavior).

No distracting pop-up windows from Gmail

2. I switched off default notifications for all calendar events. Google Calendar automatically adds a notification to each new event. You can override this horrible feature through the calendar settings

Settings for an individual calendar — just remove default notifications for events and all-day events

For really important events like a scheduled call with a VIP client it is still easy enough to add a notification manually. But I only have one or two such events a week.

3. I uninstalled Facebook, Google+ and Twitter from my mobile phone. I check social media only on my notebook. And I have found that I don’t miss any important news.

4. What about instant messages — in my case Hangouts (or perhaps in your case Facebook Messenger, Skype, Viber)? I use them if something needs immediate attention. But if someone repeatedly misuses it for messages like “How are you today?” I switch off the notification for that specific contact.

Disable notification from notorious distractors in Hangouts

5. What if a new application asks for permission to send notifications? No! I prefer applications that allow me to decide when I check what’s new. That was also the reason why my colleagues and I decided with Procesoid that there will not be a notification center. When a task is due we send the person responsible for it an email with a reminder.

Gentle “notification” form delivered via email.

The world without notifications is great. One can take a dive deep into solving real problems — do the Deep work that really needs to be done. And that’s my last tip — check a great book by Cal Newport — Deep Work. Read it and find out how great people like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Carl Jung, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates work without notifications.

Paul Minar, February 23, 2018

IT consultant & G Suite expert & co-founder of Procesoid

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