Day 40 | Why I’m not suggesting but telling our team to turn off notifications

Today in one of our catch ups I said something along the lines of “I’m not joking – turn off the notifications”. I was dead serious. It was no “do-what-you-think-is-best” suggestion. It was a direct order, to put it bluntly.

Every day we make thousands of decisions. From small things like should I cross the road here or further up, to larger life and work related decisions. Most of those thousands of decisions are quite small and sub-continuous, but the others puts a halt to what we’re doing and requires our brain to step out of it was currently in the middle of and address the new decision point at hand. Beyond the actual work related decisions we need to make, there are also tons of interruption that have the same affect in the work place. It can be a new email arriving in the inbox, a tap on the shoulder, or a notification on any of the many systems and services that we use. What they all have in common is that each of them take us away from what we’re doing. Actually, it’s a bit more like they are catapulting us away from what we were doing and landing us smack into this new thing, whether we like it or not.

It you’ve ever had a day when you’ve been interrupted multiple times an hour, throughout the whole day, you know how fried your brain is at the end of it. You feel like you’ve accomplished nothing and when you look back at the day you struggle somewhat to recall what you’ve actually done, what the status is on the things you were working on and if it’s really bad, whether you actually did them or not.

Most of you have probably tried putting in head phones to both get into the zone and partly also to signal “do not disturb”, and yet, there it is, they tap on the shoulder followed by the “Do you have a second?”. Whether it’s a tap on the shoulder, a new email or a notification, it never ever just takes a single second to deal with. Even if it did, the interruption it caused and the time it takes to get back into what you are doing is way, way more.

One size fits all notifications that ping you as soon as anything is updated are like your worse nightmare colleague who can’t control themselves but pop on over as soon as they have a new idea, thought or question. Tap. Tap. Tap. There is no filtering, no assessment of is this really urgent now? Can it wait? Am I asking this at a good time? It’s just a constant stream of nuances that eventually will make your head explode and pull you away from what you’re doing. It’s neither good for productivity, the quality of our work or our well-being. Rather it’s the opposite and that’s why I’m not kindly suggesting but have told my team to turn off notifications in our collaboration platform Podio.

The other important aspect to not having notifications on in Podio is that I don’t want us to have a culture where it’s expected that everyone answers questions and comments straight away. We’re working on a large number of content pieces at the same time and Podio is amazing for managing each piece, what merchants and independent designers we’re involving, what stage we’re at with the title, copy, SEO, products, outreach and header image. And to keep all our comments and questions for a specfic content piece in one place. We work on content pieces that are going out in the next few days and weeks, but also content pieces that aren’t being published until Q3 and Q4. Podio is our helper that allows us to add things for later so we don’t forget. It’s our assistant for keeping on top of all of the things we have going out but it generates a lot of notifications. If we have them on to make a sound or to show an onscreen alert as soon as there is an update on a piece we’re also associated with, then the interruptions will at times be constant even if the majority doesn’t actually require an action or decision from us right then and there.

We all prefer to stay in touch and on top of things in different ways. I’m rarely logged on to Skype. I’m never on Facebook chat and PMs on Slack or any kind of messenger that just contain a “Hi” I just ignore. I also find them quite rude, but that’s a different subject. As for notifications, I’ve only got those on that I know will benefit me, my consultancy and Glimt. I’m fascinated by the possibilities that lies in smart notifications and it’s one thing I’m working, teaching and talking about. But the majority of notifications right now are still too dumb to provide any real value and until they do, constantly having them on poses more of a threat to our well-being and quality of work than any good they do.

Image via Flickr user miyabi teraminato

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