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Science Says Your Notifications Are Literally Driving You Nuts


Here’s a sad truth: managers and workers alike often willfully ignore scientific facts because their corporate culture makes it difficult to assimilate those facts. Remote working is a case in point; scientific studies have long proven that, for most office jobs, remote working is more productive than working in a traditional office. And yet many managers are still, even after the pandemic, itching to get workers back into the rat race.

Here’s another scientific fact that’s regularly ignored: interruptions at work have a huge negative impact on both productivity and worker health. According to a study conducted at UC Irvine and Humboldt University in Berlin, people in interrupted conditions experienced higher workload, more stress, higher frustratio, more time pressure, and effort.” The do more work but get less done. 

Incidentally, a major reason remote work is more productive than in-office work is you’re less likely to be interrupted. Coworkers won’t suddenly drop by your work area, for example, and you’re less likely to be dragged into dumb impromptu meetings.

That being said, there is one type of interruption that all to many people carry along with them even when they’re working remotely: notifications. When the original studies of workplace interruptions were conducted, the only notifications were from email systems. Today it’s not just email… it’s texting, Slack, social media, and a whole host of phones apps, all (ding) competing (ding) for your (ding) attentional (ding-dong.)

If you leave notifications on, you’re paying a huge tax–about fifteen minutes of productive work–every time a notification interrupts you. Get 20 interruptions in a single day, and you’ve just blown away about five hours of productive work… even though you’ve spent those hours “working.” What’s worse, all those interruptions are literally driving you crazy.

Why, then, do people leave their notifications on? Two (dumb) reasons:

1. The archetype of the brilliant, successful multitasker is deeply embedded in the way we think about work, even though such creatures only exist in the imagination and in TV and movies.

2. Being “on call” (i.e. constantly interruptible) is seen as an indication that you’re important and essential, while being “out of touch” is a sign that you’re either rude or simply aware that you’re inessential.

Speaking from personal experience, turning off my notifications and leaving them off most of the time has been the most empowering and productive move I’ve made since the time I decided to stop taking unscheduled phone calls.

Takeaway: turn off your notifications. Right now. And leave them off. You can thank me in two weeks when you’re getting twice as much done and feeling twice as good about what you’re doing.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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