Book: Inspired by The Four-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

Do you ever pick up your smartphone for a specific purpose 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 app. Then, you’re scrolling through the News Feed. 15 minutes, 10 cat videos, and 20 political posts later, you realize you never did what you intended to. That is, if you are lucky enough to remember that you set out to do something at all.

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 time – Facebook says that its average user spends 50 minutes per day on the site. That’s fine if you want to spend that long each day on the site, but, do you? Notifications are social media apps’ best way to “suck users in” throughout the day. All those “free” apps from multi-billion-dollar companies weren’t built for charity… those apps were built because they employ the smartest experts at gaining your attention and reselling it to advertisers. Do you have a spare 50 minutes today?
  • Lost thoughts & momentum – 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 idea for your business. Or maybe you just finally had real momentum on that big project. But, your mind took off in a totally different direction when you saw that notification. It can take minutes, hours, or days to find your way to back your momentum or your lost thought.
  • Your entire state of mind can get derailed – In some cases, you read stories – political, religious, tragic stories, etc. – that can really mess up your frame of mind for being productive at all by making you angry, sad, or frustrated. This can cost you hours of peak productive time.

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

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

There is very little on social media or news apps that can’t wait for a few hours. “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 interrupted from the task at hand to learn about the nonessential happening elsewhere.

“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 that 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” application that most of us have. So, I turned email notifications off. I check email a handful of times per day, but, I don’t let it interrupt what I’m doing.

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

In my opinion, as a general rule, you should leave smartphone notifications on only for:

  • text messages
  • calendar
  • phone calls
  • reminders

Depending on your specific career, other apps may also qualify as time-sensitive, actionable, and important apps, but, probably not many.

Don’t let the nonessential distract you. Build momentum and focus and get things done in the best way possible without distractions.

Enjoyed this post? Consider checking out the full Four-Hour Workweek on Amazon by clicking here. This post is inspired by concepts from the Four-Hour Workweek… the 4HW was released in 2008 and focused on email and Blackberry notifications. In the modern world, I felt that focusing on Facebook and other social media notifications was a more modern take on the issue.

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