Productivity Tip: An Argument Against Instant Email Notification

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Ever been angry because someone interrupted you? You’re deep in thought and without warning someone comes in and asks a silly question that takes you off task. After you answer the question, you begin the work of getting back into the zone of what you were previously doing. According to Pierre Khawand, author of the Results Curve, it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to get back into your work after interruption.

It seems fair to get mad at someone for interrupting you, but you let your phone and email client do it all day, every day without batting an eye. In fact, some people even brag about the number of emails they get throughout the day.

Push notifications and instant email alerts are not only a nuisance, they’re hurting you and your productivity and they need to stop.

Why No Notifications?

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Instant forms of communication like text messaging and phone calls have existed for quite some time. It hasn’t been until recently that this type of instant notification moved to email. Due mostly to the increase in smartphone usage, these instant notifications pull you out of what you’re doing and make your brain shift gears and take away your focus.

It’s easy to ignore a phone call, or to give a quick text reply, but most emails are full of information and require your full attention. So when you receive a new email you drop what you’re doing and look at it. Now you’re brain is on two topics and getting neither of them done well. Notifications just slow you down and split your focused attention.

There are very few jobs that require immediate reply to emails, but they do exist. If you have one of these jobs, then this idea won’t suit you well, but it might be useful to apply to email from friends and family. Professions like server admin, customer service rep and neurosurgeon might require you to know immediately when things happen but there’s a strong chance that you don’t.

Notifications on your phone and in your desktop email client force you to acknowledge there’s something waiting for you and even if you choose to ignore it, your brain already shifted gears and momentum has been lost. Worse yet, if you’re out enjoying yourself and a work email comes through, you have to see it without having the ability to do anything about it. Now you’re mind is on work instead of having a good time.

Getting Away From Notifications

Getting away from notifications is a lot easier said than done. This requires a complete change in how most people work. While it’s hard for you to make the change, your coworkers may think you’ve either quit or died when they don’t get a reply in less than a minute. You need to get out of the habit of instant email and get INTO the habit of batched email.

Check your email at set times instead of instant on demand. The time between those checks can be spent actually getting work done. The initial shock of the scheduled replies will stop and your coworkers will actually be impressed with how much more work you’ll actually be getting done without constant interruptions. Who knows, you might even get to take a break every once in a while!

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Start by turning notifications off on your phone, and move to your desktop client next. Better yet, most devices allow you to schedule email checking. Setting this to once every hour instead of instantly is a great way to start. You don’t have to go cold turkey on your email; starting off small is good.

Tip: There are awesome email apps out there like Sparrow for the iPhone and the Mac that, while costing a few bucks, allow you to handle email in a unique way while avoiding notifications all together. If you’re the kind of person that loves playing with a new software and experimenting with productivity tools, you should give Sparrow a try.

Life Without Notifications

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When you start living without email notifications, you will probably feel the pangs of withdrawal at first, but as you get used to the scheduled and batched approach, you will be a lot more productive and happier.

Email tends to control most of us, instead of it being the other way around. Don’t let email chain you down with notifications; take charge and make email work the way you want it to.

You may need to let your coworkers know by using an auto-responder signaling that you’re only checking emails at certain times of the day. Once your co-workers, customers and family get into your new email batching groove, your life will be far better without persistent email alerts pulling you away from what’s truly important.

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