As we’ve talked about before, multitasking doesn’t decrease your productivity but it is bad for your mental health. It makes you feel less productive (even though you’re not), more stressed and more unhappy. It can even diminish your ability to learn. And the prime culprit today is modern technology — most notably the evil omnipresence of notifications.
So how can you guard yourself against the modern always-on, ever-connected world that we find ourselves working in?
Sshhh: turn off your notifications
If the problem is being distracted by notifications every few minutes, surely the solution is to turn them off. And yet, our human brains don’t like that either: we get the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out.
Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight did a study into push notifications that found they made participants feel stressed, unhappy, interrupted, and unproductive, even for a few as one notification per hour. But turning off notifications altogether caused self-interrupting behaviour where people would stop what they were doing to check their phone in case they’d missed something.
The combination that caused the least anxiety was actually to deliver notifications in three batches throughout the day. That reduced the anxiety of missing something while limiting distractions and preventing burnout.
How to do it in the real world
As mental health of tech consumers becomes more of a pressing issue, more tools are being created to help us manage these attention-seeking notifications. On Windows, you can use Quiet Hours to hide notifications for set periods of the day. On the Mac, Do Not Disturb does the same thing, as it does on iPhones and iPads.
It’s always worth making exceptions, though. You want to know that an emergency call will always get through, or that certain people can reach you whatever else you’re working on. Fortunately, iPhones allow you to always allow calls from your favourite contacts, or from specific contact groups you’ve set up. Also, if somebody calls you back within 3 minutes, the phone will let the call through, which is a good backup for emergencies.
Upgrade your self control
Of course it’s not always other people distracting us. Often we follow our own train of though down a side track and end up still reading Quora an hour later.
If you’re a susceptible browser (and I know I am) then you can install the StayFocusd extension for Chrome, which lets you block certain websites for periods of time, to help you resist the urge to let your attention wander around the web.
There are loads of apps and extensions out there now to help us keep focus. This excellent list on the Zapier blog is well worth a read.