Hey did you get my email?
No, When did you send it?
Just now. Did you get it yet?
Weird response I know. I could tell by the look on the guys face that it didn’t make any sense. You either got the email or you didn’t, how could you not know? If you received it then you likely saw the pop-up message or saw the alert on your phone, and if you didn’t then you must not have it yet. It’s a simple question.
But you see, I live in a very different world than you. Sure I use email constantly, and you can find me actively participating on Twitter, Facebook, and even Google+. I chat with my friends as much as anyone, and I read plenty of newsletters.
The difference is I choose when to do it.
Your Brain at Work
Several months ago I read a book called Your Brain At Work that analyzes how our human minds think. It explored how we concentrate, how we socialize, how we respond to information, and how we process it.
An important fact from David Rock’s research is that we are incapable of multi-tasking. That’s it. Period. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you.
Imagine your brain as a theatre stage. All the actors are in their positions, the set staged, the lighting cued. Midway through the scene the director runs onto the stage rushing the cast off as stagehands change the set for another scene. As the new actors get into position and begin to deliver their lines, the director interrupts once again bringing on a third set of actors.
This is an accurate description of what’s happening when you try to do more than one thing at a time.
Back to Work
So how does that apply to the email situation from the beginning of this post? Every time your phone buzzes, every time your mail notification pops up, every time an icon notification screams for attention, your director is rushing important actors off the stage, striking the set, and setting up a completely new scene.
It all happens really fast, but each time the stage is reset it keeps us from getting into that productive work zone where things flow magically.
You know what I’m talking about? When you’re in the zone things seem to create themselves. Problems are solved elegantly and quickly as the actors on the stage work gracefully through a wondrous production.
If it can be avoided – don’t let them get shooed off the stage before their grand performance.
I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s just a little notification. They’re usually not important, and if it is I don’t want to miss it.
Turning off notifications is… well… strange. The feeling at first is a bit disconnected. It’s like you could barely remember what it felt like to let your mind create without being constantly redirected to another notification, another incoming task.
Our addiction to notifications runs a lot deeper than it first seems. David Rock puts it best:
[box]We are the descendants of people who paid a lot of attention when something rustled in the bushes.[/box]
These pings and buzzes are exciting. Our brains love them! And no matter how important the conversation is or how hard we focus on it, when our phones buzz or that message pops up our brains are checking the bushes.
How much more productive could you be if your mind wasn’t constantly on alert? What problems could you buckle down and solve if you weren’t interrupted every five minutes? How would your world be different (yes, it’s that big of a difference)?
I turned off my own notifications several months ago and love it! My phone only buzzes for text messages (I only get about 5 a month). Email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, podcasts all have to wait until I go looking for them to tell me what I’ve missed.
The same thing goes for my computers. I leave the badge numbers active so I can see something is there, but the pop-up messages and bouncing icons are disabled.
Not only has it made my work more productive because I’m able to focus and get into the zone, but when it is time for email I’m able to get through it much more efficiently. One reason for that is because that’s the only thing I’m working on at that time.
And as a bonus side affect of working this way: my brain has much more energy! Rushing actors on and off the stage and building new sets is taxing on your brain!
My challenge for you is to try this new style of work. Disable your notifications that interrupt you seeking your attention. Turn off the pop-ups. Turn off the buzzes. Turn off the beeps. Do it for 14 days and see if you ever want to go back to the land of pings.
What about you? Have you ever tried disabling your notifications?