Notifications are a tragedy of modern life. We’re being conditioned to increasingly check alerts. That behavior can be incredibly difficult to combat. Notifications deliver distractions that cost you brain energy. They would make life and work better if they were smarter. At the moment, alerts are draining and stressing us.
The brain’s craving for constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop” — a habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward such as the release of dopamine. “Whenever you check email, every so often you get a hit, some great email received. That happens on a random schedule. In psychology, that’s called random reinforcement and that’s enough to reinforce behavior, ” says Gloria Mark, a professor in the department of informatics at the University of California.
The sight and sound of notifications are draining us. Push-notifications are sapping our energy, our ability to get into the flow and robbing us of our best work. Some studies have suggested that the average person checks their phone up to 150 times a day.
You already know notifications are distracting you but you convince yourself that they help you stay on top of things and that you don’t tap them each time they pop up. “Whether you follow a notification or not, your train of thought will inevitably be interrupted by your noticing, processing, and determining whether or not to respond to the notification,” writes Steve Glaveski, CEO and co-founder of Collective Campus.
Those real-time social, work, news, product and weather alerts can drive you nuts with the frequent interruptions — not to mention the battery burn on your device from all the activity.
Your ability to focus suffers when your mobile device beeps, blinks or thrusts red numbers in your face. Notifications are designed to capture your attention and create a sense of urgency. But how often are any of these interruptions truly urgent? Almost never.
Even a phone on your desk can be distracting if you are aiming for hyper-focus, according to research. The mere presence of any phone reduces your ability to concentrate or make better connections.
In their book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, Adam Gazzaley and Larry D Rosen explains, “A recent study by Professor Bill Thornton and his colleagues at the University of Southern Maine demonstrated that when performing complex tasks that require our full attention even the mere presence of the experimenter’s phone (not the participant’s phone) led to distraction and worse performance. In the same study, the presence of a student’s silenced phone in a classroom had an equally negative impact on attention.”
I used to wake up, stumble over to my phone, and immediately get lost in a stream of pointless notifications. The myriad of notifications crammed into your morning (when you are most active) can easily drain the energy you need to do your best and high-priority work first thing in the morning.
The good news is, you have a choice to change that — to be proactive about how you manage notifications. You can consider how much you want to hear from your apps and make your decision to control the alerts or stop them. Some apps may have notification controls in their own settings, find them and change the frequency of alerts or better still, turn off notification sounds and lock screen alerts.
If real-time work notifications are extremely important, you can decide how often you want to receive them — every 15 minutes or half an hour, especially if you don’t want to miss out on team updates. Most team updates don’t require immediate action — they can wait. Change your app notifications to reflect your personal goals. Create an uninterrupted, free-flowing, idea-generating, peaceful space to get work done on time.
For deep work or when you need a temporary break from all the interruptions, use your Do Not Disturb mode to your advantage. This will keep you from wasting time. It will also avoid the burned-out feeling that many of us have at the end of each long day.
By being more intentional about our relationship with technology, we can be more productive, use our brain energy for high priority work and do more of what’s fulfilling. Choose to be less reactive and more intentional about where you invest your time and attention. And always remember the mantra: “Not everything is urgent”.
it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental energy you’ll have for activities that actually matter to you.
This article first appeared on Medium.