Do you ever pick up your smartphone to do something and get distracted by notifications?

The unread app notification that is staring you in the face can be impossible to resist. Next thing you know, you open the notifying app. Then, you’re scrolling through your News Feed. Fifteen minutes, 10 cat videos, and 20 political posts later, you realize you never did what you intended to. Assuming you are lucky enough to remember that you set out to do something at all.

Other times, a notification grabs your attention while you are “in the flow” of working on an important project and and sucks you into Smartphone Land as described above. You lose the momentum and train of thoughts that you had going on and it can take a while to get back “in the flow”.

This repeating process costs minutes or even hours of possible productive time per day every day. If it happens often enough enough, you may never get enough momentum to hit peak performance at all in a given day.

3 main negative impacts to your productivity:

Lost thoughts – When a notification breaks up your thought process, an important thought can be lost. The thought might be a gift idea for your spouse, a text you meant to send your dad, an Amazon order you meant to place, an idea for your business, a song idea, a story idea. Maybe you were close to an important breakthrough in something you have been pondering. Maybe you finally had real momentum on that big project.

But, your mind off in a totally different direction when you saw that notification. Sometimes you will remember your lost thought later (after stressing about it). But, you can lose your thought forever.

Lost time – Facebook says that its average user spends 50 minutes per day on the site. This is fine if you want to spend that long each day on the site, but, do you really intend to? Many of us tell ourselves that we “just don’t have time” while accidentally sinking 50+ minutes per day into Facebook and other apps on our phone.

Notifications are social media’s best way to “suck users in” throughout the day. If you’re a busy person trying to get things done, you probably don’t have the time to spare to accidentally sink an extra 30 minutes into social media during the day.

Your entire state of mind can get derailed – In some cases, when you get “sucked in”, you read stories – political, religious, tragic stories, etc. – that mess up your frame of mind for being productive. This can cost you hours of peak productive time if you get flustered.

So what to do?

Turn off notifications for Facebook, other social media like Twitter and Snapchat, and other non time-sensitive “time spenders” like News and Reddit. Check these apps on a schedule. Aim to only check them 2 to 3 times per day. Lunchtime and after dinner are good times for this.

What notifications should I leave on?

For an app to be able to notify you, its notifications should meet all 3 of the below criteria:

Actionable – Will you act on the information from this notification?

Time Sensitive – Will you have a time constraint on the action you would take?

Important – If you ignored this notification, what happens? A day from now? A month from now? 6 months from now? Anything?

Important information that is neither actionable nor time-sensitive can be reviewed at any time so check it on its own schedule.

Non-important information can always wait. Your productivity and focus are your most important assets and shouldn’t be sacrificed for matters that are not truly important.

Save your notifications for activities that meet all 3 criteria above – Actionable, Time-Sensitive, and Important.

Questions and Objections

“It’s just a couple of minutes of disruption per notification, what’s the big deal?”

If you want to get ahead in your career and your life, you have to play offense, not defense. You have to give yourself the time and mental space to work on real projects, not just have short daydreams about them.

You can do this kind of meaningful work in a 3 hour, uninterrupted chunk of time. But, you can’t do it in a dozen 15-minute chunks that are broken up by interruptions.

To succeed, you have to to give yourself the time and space to think, live, and work intentionally.

“What if I don’t see Notification XYZ for several hours? Won’t that cause me problems?”

There is very little on social media that can’t wait for a few hours. And “breaking” news almost never requires action by you. You can wait a few hours and get the complete story at your leisure. There is no need to be the first to know.

This idea of building “momentum” and “getting in a proper frame of mind” is critical, whether we are talking about our work or working through our social media feed. We get more done with less stress by focusing on a task for a block of time instead of pinballing between different tasks, notifications, and conversations all day long. “Queue up” similar things to happen together.

“You didn’t include email as a “must” in your app list”

Email is a non-priority method of communication for most of us. It’s sometimes important, but, it’s usually not really time-sensitive. I can pretty much always deal with an email tomorrow and it’s fine. A large portion of email isn’t really actionable. Email is also, by far, the most “spammy” app that most of us have. So, I turned email notifications off.

Related: You might also enjoy my post on how to use your email as a todo list and save a lot of time and stress.

The Bottom Line

As a general rule, you should leave smartphone notifications on only for:

  • text messages
  • calendar
  • phone calls
  • reminders

Depending on your specific circumstance, other apps may also qualify as time-sensitive, actionable, and important apps, but, probably not many. Don’t let the nonessential matters distract you. Try it for a week, and enjoy the peace of mind and momentum that you gain from a lack of distractions.