This is a given, one would think. But no, because everywhere you look you get notifications pushed to your computer screen. You get notifications from Outlook, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn with lifesaving updates and messages that you have received, well, a message.

If all this only took place on your laptop or computer, all was ok. The next new thing I have seen is notifications from apps made for collaboration. With these notifications the app makes sure you are notified every time a colleague or partner has double-tapped with the index finger. And that’s clever – always on, always notified. Or is it?

They are called push messages. And unless you make sure to deselect that sort of thing, you will get push notifications about almost everything – even from your kids’ games on the smartphone or tablet. A competitor in the market of collaboration tools recently pushed out a newsletter about their apps that will notify you on your phone, if there is new activity – e.g. comments, new uploads or something else that might – or might not – need your attention.

Der er andre måder at slippe for afbrydelser på...

There are easier ways of avoiding interruptions…

The thing is, abruptions when performing a task that demand some sort of concentration, will take as much as 30 minutes out of your work before you reach the same level of concentration (source). So the answer to the question of push or pull in the header is a given. Do we really want to be harassed by notifications, popups etc.? Are all messages really that important that we have to let go of the attention when information of all sorts comes to you?

To put things in perspective, mainly the ‘always on’ fad, let’s go back in time. When I started my career in Accenture back in 1992 everyone got a time manager. The yuppies of the eighties were drawn by the time managers – but it had some usable functions. A central one was to focus on performing difficult tasks when you were most energetic and clear headed, typically in the morning and just after lunch. Routine stuff should be done before lunch and late afternoon.

With email we seem to be doing the exact opposite. We go through the inbox as the first thing in the morning using our peak hours on routine stuff instead of spending this the most productive time on tasks that really demand our capacity.

After Accenture I came to Computer Associates. Here, we were only allowed to have the email open for two hours twice a day. The time was supposed to be spent with the customers instead of shipping messages forth and back. A bit annoying at the time, but a good idea.

When I came to Netscape we specialized in among other things email. And a notify-thing was a central element. We were so scared of missing important messages that we were on alert 24/7. Good ideas from a sales and customer oriented perspective, perhaps, but wrong indeed when trying to solve complex issues.

So when Facebook, Yammer, Podio and others introduce push messages from their apps are they not just re-introducing the largest problem from the nineties’ email-generation? Don’t we simply get more interrupted in our most important doings?

Concentration and efficiency, however, is fighting an uphill battle. Research shows  that inboxes and searching for information gives us a shot of dopamine. Looking for new messages on Facebook or Twitter or new mails releases dopamine, a feeling of happiness that compares to other, more physical activities… The dopamine makes us look, and short, quick messages, notifications, are bringers of happiness. Write and the answer comes in a matter of seconds. It’s an easy shot of bliss, and it takes some work to overcome the addiction and take most advantage of the brain and energy.

Here are a few pointers on how to work more efficiently: 

  1. Spend your time right. Concentrate on difficult tasks when concentration levels are the highest, typically in the morning and right after lunch.
  2. Turn off notifications. Remove popups from Outlook, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook etc.
  3. In mail account settings, select pull – you be the boss of when to get emails to your smartphone. Do the same with e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook etc. Farmville is not that important.
  4. Dedicate time to seek the information, send/receive in your email application. Use it for procrastination when done with important tasks. We all need a bit of that once in a while.
  5. When dealing with difficult tasks admitting it takes time is even more difficult. Not all jobs can be done with a few clicks and a release of dopamine. The reward for a job well done should release some as well…
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