Like many of you, I often find myself negotiating for more time… to spend with my family and friends, to check off my to-do list, to get my doctoral work done, or even squeeze in a quick workout. If your campuses are anything like ours, I’m sure you are just as, if not busier, than I am these days trying to get everything done. Certainly, you can’t control the clock (which is why I never liked the term ‘time management’), but you can control the way you spend the time you have. Given the current transition I’m in, I needed to be more focused on what I was doing at any given time and remove all unnecessary distractions. So, what did I do that has increased my productivity more than I ever thought possible? I turned off all electronic notifications on my smartphone, iPad, and computers. (Yep, all of them.) 

Over the last two and half weeks, I have been experimenting. I started with my phone because it was the device I used more than anything. Initially, I shut off all notifications to social media and email and it felt weird. I found myself still grabbing for my phone every few minutes (mainly out of habit) but eventually, the lack of interruption caused by the notifications allowed me to stay focused on the task at hand. After a few days of adjustment, I turned off notifications for text messages as well and ended up doing it for all other regularly used apps. Right now, the only thing that will cause my phone to vibrate, light up, or make a sound is a phone call. And really, if it is that important, someone will call me or find me another way. Shortly there after, I shut off notifications on my iPad and Macbook as well to ensure that even if I was tempted to keep those programs open, the notifications would not derail me.

I find myself more focused and productive, recognizing what I knew all along: electronic notifications are a barrier to productivity that encourages the fallacy of multitasking. In truth, time on task is what matters and I owed it to myself and my work to make sure I gave it my full attention. Of course, your results may vary, but are electronic notifications just another invisible structure that we have just grown to accept or can we still do something about it?

There have been three other side benefits. First, I feel less anxious. Notifications (and their interruptions) had me on edge, more than I really acknowledged. Now, whenever I have completed the tasks at hand, I can happily activate my device(s) and know that I’m doing it because it is convenient to me, not someone else. Second, consider how all your human interactions would go if you weren’t interrupted by your phone, tablet or computer. Whether at dinner or at a meeting, the people you are with deserve your attention when you are with them. Finally, consider how much safer your driving will be without the temptation of seeing what that “chirp” or “buzz” was about. Are you being a good example for those around you if you continue to pick up your phone when you don’t have to?

While I had planned to do this for only a two week period, it seems that it there is no looking back now. Smartphone… face down is my new reality.  (I recognize that I could have done all this by simply shutting down my smartphone or desktop applications… and for some of you, that may be the way to go as well.)  Who knows what will happen when I head to ACPA and ACUI in a few weeks 😉 So, if you’ve wondered why I may not be getting back to you as quickly as I usually do… now you know 🙂

Oh, and I double dog dare you to give this a try (and if you do, let me know how it goes!)

Have you ever considered how do electronic notifications impact your productivity? How do you manage the constant beeps, lights, vibrations, and other notifications in a sea of busyness?

16 Comments

  • Ed, I have never ever allowed email notifications. Too many accounts, too much junk. I’ll look when I can. However, I have enjoyed having my Pebble because now texts and other important notifications buzz me, and I can glance to see what’s up, no need to pull out my phone. Frankly, my phone could be on silent always. Can’t wait to see you in Orlando!!!

    • Hi Jen, thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 I agree, its time we took back control and it looks like you are well on your way! Can’t wait to reconnect in Orlando my friend!

  • I made this change on my desktop mail client years ago and loved it. Now I’m considering it for my phone as well.

  • I started this five years ago and love not hearing anything from my phone unless it rings. I often have my ringer off too since my world doesn’t “require” emergency response anymore. It definitely keeps me focused on what I’m working on and makes me “present” when spending time with people. I have another friend who moves his email icon to “screen two” on weekends so he doesn’t get tempted to read. Good luck & keep it up.

    • Thanks Tara, I appreciate it, as always. For the longest time, I wanted to do it, but felt that I “couldn’t” for a variety of reasons. Now, I wish I did it sooner. Better late than never right? Talk soon my friend!

  • Ed,

    Love this article. I often complain at the frequency that my phone pings or vibrates or if I comment on something on Facebook that I get notified if anyone else also comments. It didn’t really occur to me to turn off the notifications. In reality it’s my own doing and I guess I’ve had a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). But in reality, it’s just not that important.
    I’m also about to be a mother for the first time and have decided to disable notifications on my phone for everything except calls and texts moving forward. When our child comes I want to make sure that I’m as present as possible as I hear so often time flies and it’s important to relish the moments.
    Thanks for the double dog dare!!!

    • Beth, thanks for reading and commenting! I rarely get phone calls so its nice when my phone does ring/vibrate now b/c I know its someone trying to call 🙂 Ironically, I’ll get some random notifications of apps I rarely use, like LinkedIn or Snapchat and it will remind me to turn those off too. As a father of two young girls, I need to be a better role model and not be on my phone as much as I am… I hear you! Good luck moving forward, let me now how it goes!

  • I am going to give this a shot. I appreciated the information on: “electronic notifications are a barrier to productivity that encourages the fallacy of multitasking”. Thank you Ed!

  • Ed,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so glad to see more steam building around the fallacy of multitasking. Constant notifications often result in immediate responses, contributing to email as instant messenger. I go through periods of feeling like I need to turn on email notifications on my PC, but like you, I find I’m less anxious with notifications turned off. I recently turned off Twitter notifications on my phone, and now just need to make a point to turn off all notifications on phone and tablet. I definitely feel more productive when I’m not worrying about what might pop up next.

    • Hi Brian! I appreciate your comments as always! My doc work has made me more aware of the numerous invisible structures all around us and how we need to make more conscious efforts to deconstruct them or acknowledge the choices we make because of them… instead of ignoring them. Its a process, but one I’m grateful to be undertaking and sharing more about. Thanks again!

  • I gave up FB on my phone for Lent – which might seem silly but so far (a week in!) its somewhat working. I’m online enough that I can see what’s happening and felt that I was spending to much time reaching for my phone whenever it would ding at me and during the workday (though I so manage social media for my office) I would find myself sucked in and not doing work.

    • Hi Allison, thanks for reading and commenting! I think its great that you chose to give it up for Lent. I hope it becomes a permanent way of managing all the things you have to do!

  • Ed! It was so nice to see this post! I regularly shut down Tweetdeck on my desktop and love (maybe a little too much) putting my phone on airplane mode, when I am nowhere near 30,000 ft. Focusing on what matters at the moment really helps…AND it helps me enjoy the time I do set aside for catching up on blogging, commenting and connecting.

    Thanks for bringing this to light!

  • Totes agree Ed. The only interruption I permit is meeting reminders. (Darned meetings…) Thanks for the post!

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