How (and Why) to Shush All Those Phone Notifications

Think of your last meeting. Was everyone checking their phone before it started? Then, once it began, did they leave their phone on the table and throw it a furtive glance every now and then? Did they snatch it up immediately after the meeting ended to see what they’d missed?
Between email, text messages, instant messages, social media notifications, news alerts, coupon alerts (really, Papa Johns?) we can hardly go five minutes without our phones lighting up for one reason or another.
And the worst part is we like it that way.
We often hear about this preoccupation with phones within the context of a (likely disparaging) conversation about Millennials. But you’ll notice that it’s not just the younger generation that has this issue. We all get trapped in an addictive dopamine loop when it comes to anticipating and receiving the “rewards” that are these notifications. We’ve become dependent on this level of instant, constant gratification.
I find this a rather horrid trend on several different levels.

What’s the big deal?

When we look at the effects of this preoccupation from a business perspective, the first casualty we notice is our relationships. The more time we spend with our noses in our phones, the less time we spend getting to know our teammates. And a team without strong, trusting relationships is going to have a hard time being truly effective.
Beyond this, these interruptions are a real suck on our productivity. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that it can take us 25 minutes to get back on track after we’re distracted from a particular task.
And while the quality of our work won’t necessarily suffer greatly from interruptions, our morale will; we compensate by working faster and harder, which throws our stress levels through the roof.
In other words, thanks to this constant stimulation, we become isolated, frustrated, and overworked. Talk about a perilous combination.

How to regain control

The good news is that once we acknowledge the effects of our phone addiction, there are some easy steps we can take to keep distractions to a minimum:

  • Take advantage of “Do not disturb” mode. If you have an iPhone, just swipe up while on your home screen and hit the moon. If you have an Android, just swipe down (two fingers) to get to your notification Quick Settings and tap “Do not disturb.” This will silence your notifications and allow you to check different apps on your own terms. Make a schedule that gives you a breather from notifications during the day and before bed. Stick to it.
  • Go in app-by-app. Check your settings. How is each app allowed to notify you? With noise and an intrusive alert? A more subtle (but still distracting) banner? A flag on the app widget? Nothing? I, for example, don’t let email notify me in any way shape or form. I don’t want an alert, and I don’t want a running count of all my unread messages taunting me every time I unlock my phone. If something is urgent, I’ll get a phone call.
  • Leave your phone behind. Your phone can’t notify you of anything if it isn’t there. Keep your phone at your desk the next time you head to a meeting. If you’re out with a group (for either a professional or personal outing), designate one person to have a phone in the case of an emergency and put the rest away. Designate phone-free times at your home, whether it’s an hour for dinner or what. It might feel odd at first, but it’ll force us to be better, more connected colleagues, friends, and family members.

Ultimately, don’t let your technology dictate how you spend your time.
Because when you think about it, what else do we have that is exclusively and entirely ours to control?


As originally published in the American City Business Journals.