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Eliminating Interruptions

Do you ever get to the end of the day and wonder where the time has gone? Do you look at your to-do list and wonder why it’s not gotten any shorter? Do you end up squeezing more hours out of the end of your day or getting into work incredibly early the next day, just to keep up? How does that happen? Are you perhaps plagued by interruptions?

The Problem of Interruptions

One of the biggest culprits in my life is distraction, and one major source of it is technology. I use a computer most days and for most of my working day. I have two smartphones (a work one and a personal one), a tablet and a smartwatch; and at any time, any of them can interrupt me. Sometimes, all of them do, at the same time!

Why does this make me less effective? Because as this article says, research shows that an office worker has only eleven minutes between each interruption, but it takes twenty-five minutes after each interruption to return to their original task. It’s no wonder we don’t get everything done.

Eliminating Interruptions

So what’s the answer? In his article, 7 Stupid Distractions Every Leader Should Eliminate, Carey Nieuwhof suggests that leaders should not have push notifications on their smartphone or tablet apps. You know the question you get every time you install one, “Do you want to allow push notifications?” Your default answer should be no.

As an effective leader, you don’t need to know every time you send an email. You don’t want to be distracted every time someone tags you on Facebook or comments on your latest Instagram photo. Carey says:

Think of push notifications as someone tapping you on the shoulder. If someone tapped you on the shoulder somewhere between 30-300 times a day every day, you would either punch them or get a restraining order.

Carey Nieuwhof

I love that image!

Carey says he has disabled all notifications on his phone (except one) and has Do Not Disturb on all the time. He keeps push notifications on for texts, but because Do Not Disturb is on, he doesn’t hear or feel them. He simply checks them when he has a break in his work.

I must admit I was immediately interested in this idea. I have read several articles in the same vein over the past few years and have experimented with turning many push notifications off. Then, over time, I feel guilty about having (and paying for) all that technology and not using it to its full potential and the push notifications slowly get set back on.

So I tried Carey’s set up. I turned off all push notifications except texts and put Do Not Disturb on. On my personal phone my family, close friends and on my work phone all church members are in Can Disturb groups, meaning that if they call me, their phone call bypasses the Do Not Disturb function.

A Potential Problem

Here’s what I discovered: the set up works well to a point. But I missed a phone call from someone who wasn’t in my Can Disturb list, and when I phoned them back, they went to voicemail. A couple of hours later they called me back, but because my phone was on Do Not Disturb … Well, you get the picture! Then it hit me:

What if everyone followed Carey’s advice? What if everyone put their phone on Do Not Disturb and disabled push notifications?

The answer appears to me to be that we would never communicate with each other! You’d call me, and if you’re not in one of my bypass lists, I wouldn’t answer, because my phone is on Do Not Disturb. I’d call you back when I took a break from my work, but you wouldn’t answer, because your phone is on Do Not Disturb! This seems to be a major flaw in Carey’s workflow.

My Working Solution

So this is what I’ve done: I’ve disabled all but the most essential or less distracting push notifications (for example, I keep Amazon‘s on, because they only interrupt me with parcel tracking information). I am not notified about emails and I don’t receive any social media push notifications. I have push notifications on for texts, but the default sound is OFF as is the vibrate alert. My family and close friends have their own text tones, so I continue to hear those. And most importantly, my phone rings for all phone calls, unless I switch it to silent or put Do Not Disturb on manually (or during the scheduled overnight period). I believe this strikes the right balance between having enough time to do uninterrupted work but being reachable and accessible at the same time.

What do you think? Do you favour the “zero tolerance” approach to push notifications? Does my more balanced approach mean I haven’t really dealt with the interruptions that make me less effective?

Why not comment on how you deal with interruptions from your technology below.

Image by Theus Falcão on Flickr Creative Commons

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