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November 16, 2017

Help! How to Save Yourself From Drowning in Notifications

Bruce Murray

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Bridget checked Instagram over breakfast, then glanced at the text notifications on her cell. She replied to a few WhatsApps before heading off to work. Bridget’s office phone showed three voicemails. She ignored those. Then she logged on to her computer, where 108 new emails beckoned for her attention. Those would have to wait as well.

Her project management software reminded her of some overdue tasks, while queries from her team arrived via Slack. But they would have to wait, too, as Bridget’s calendar reminded her of the video conference scheduled right now with her overseas co-workers.

As the conference wrapped up, LinkedIn reminded her of some colleagues’ work anniversaries, and news of the latest political intrigue pinged up on her phone. “Ugh!” she sighed, while she got up to fetch of cup of tea before checking her Facebook and email. But those, too, would have to wait, because a project manager approached her desk.

Overwhelmed by Incessant Notifications

He started to talk about the new clients added to their project. Bridget heard this yesterday, so she glanced down at the phone in her lap and read some text message replies. When the project manager stopped talking, she looked up sheepishly and asked, “Sorry. Did you just ask me something?”

By this time, you are as fidgety as Bridget because you know this story all too well. We are grateful for the variety of communication tools at our disposal, but overwhelmed by the incessant interruptions they bring us. One study found that, “Office workers are interrupted about every three minutes [and it takes] about 23 minutes to return to the original task.”

First, mindfulness encourages us take a deep breath and feel a little pride. Being bombarded by messages means that you are liked, trusted and respected by others. They care about what you are doing, what you have to say, and how you feel about them.

How to Manage Your Communications

But let’s see what we can do to help you cope with the interruptions. Your first reply might be, "If I prevent interruptions, I’ll put myself at risk by being out of the loop." No, if you manage your communications, your productivity will rise. This will encourage your key contacts to work harder to keep you in the loop. Instead of trying to get you to adapt to their schedule, they will learn to work with your work schedule.

Do not fool yourself by believing that you are a great multitasker who can handle interruption. No matter how good you are, a focused worker is more productive. There is no magical cure for these interruptions to our focus. Focus begins with having a few key goals to accomplish in the upcoming day, and then managing the time we grant to our communication tools to seize our attention.

Let’s start with email. You’re going to check it early to see where your plans for the day might require alteration. Sure, check it again midday, and again before you go home; but, in between, leave your email alone! Daniel Levitin reinforces this point: “If you’re checking email every five minutes, you’re checking it 200 times during the workday.” Also, stay away from your personal email at work and your work email while you are at home relaxing.

Merge Media Inputs

Before I advise you to weed out some of these apps, here’s a question: can more sometimes result in less? There are some apps (such as Slack, Asana, and Cisco Spark) that are designed to merge these media inputs into a single channel. If you’re comfortable with one, stick with it. It will also have settings to make your status unavailable or invisible.

How many social media accounts do you have? If some provide little or no value, don’t try to ignore them; simply delete them. For those that provide critical value at work, allocate a fixed amount of time to use them, and adhere to it.

Responsibility with incoming phone calls also varies by position. If you can, check the incoming call number and do not answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. If it’s important, they will leave a voicemail.

Allocating time to each of your communication tools – and not simply browsing through them when you have a spare minute or two – can also help you to reduce stress and to focus on accomplishing your important goals.

How do you manage your communications? Are you drowning in notifications, or are you a smooth operator? Let us know in the comments section below.

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