The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article this week about how many of us are suffering from alert overload.
It could be a calendar alert, a news alert, an email alert, a text alert, etc.
And if there are sounds set to go with those alerts, your phone, laptop, tablet, desktop, or watch will be dinging throughout the day.
But even if you have the sound turned off, you might see a message pop on the screen of whatever devices you have nearby.
It’s happened to me in the middle of teaching. In the 10 minutes I have in between classes, I might, on occasion, check my WordPress stats on my phone (OK, who am I fooling, it’s not on occasion, it’s every time). Then I’ll put my phone down next to my laptop before class is ready to start, and 15 minutes into class I’ll notice an alert pop up on my phone. I try to remember to turn my phone over so that the screen is face down, but sometimes I forget. I do not look at what the alert is for, but I will admit it is very tempting.
I’ve been working on my laptop in my office, and a message from a colleague will pop up on my screen through the Teams app. I didn’t know that was a thing you could do. It certainly captures your attention, and takes you away from what you were doing.
Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, found that people switch screens an average of 566 times a day. Half the time we’re interrupted; the other half we pull ourselves away. Breaks—even mindless ones like scrolling Facebook —can be positive, replenishing our cognitive resources, Dr. Mark says.
But when something external diverts our focus, it takes us an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get back to our original task, she has found. (Folks often switch to different projects in between.) And it stresses us out. Research using heart monitors shows that the interval between people’s heartbeats becomes more regular when they’re interrupted, a sign they’re in fight-or-flight mode.
So what to do?
Emily Parks, a productivity consultant in Raleigh, N.C., recommends that people turn off notifications for 25 minutes to focus, then take a five-minute break afterward. Those with longer attention spans should aim to hunker down for 52 minutes, then take a 17-minute break. The key to safely logging off email or Slack for a stretch is being transparent – let your boss and colleagues know what your schedule is.
Perhaps the simplest solution of all is to simply turn off all notifications. Some people may have the fear of missing out on something, but if something is that critical, you would hope the sender would pick up the phone or just stop by the person’s office (assuming they are in the office).
So I hereby give permission to all my readers to turn off notifications for when there is a new post from Borden’s Blather. If I ever think I have a post that is mandatory reading, I’ll let you know by copying the entire post and including it as a comment on your blog…
In case you are wondering, after seven years of blogging the number of such posts stands at zero…
*image from Kellogg’s Away From Home