Paul Jarvis

Notification separation anxiety

The more I dive into figuring out what minimalism means to me, the more I see the connection between having less and being present. Less means fewer distractions and more focus (hopefully). Specifically, and what I mean to say by “distractions” in this instance, is notifications. Social media notifications are those little “popups” on your smart phone or computer when someone likes, @s, comments or shares something with you via social media or sends you an email.

Notifications are the crack-cocaine of instant gratification in the modern age. They constantly let you know that you’re being interacted with or thought of (if even for a split second) and they are completely addictive. They are also entirely unnecessary. We’re not doctors on call, with lives on the line, who need to know instantly if someone has tweeted us something or messaged us on Facebook.

I am not immune to this social media drug of choice, and find myself constantly tethered to my iPhone or iPad seeing what’s new and who’s liked a photo on Instagram or re-tweeted a tweet. While sitting on the sofa, while in the grocery store, while walking down the street… and yes, even while in the bathroom. Hell, I even get social media notifications when one of the 15 people I’m playing scrabble against online have finished a move (obviously life and death stuff).

This constantly being informed of activity removes us from what we’re doing. It breaks concentration, it slows us down and most importantly — it keeps us from being in the moment.

So I’m going to try going without notifications for a while. I’m going to see how this affects my work and my life. Will I be more productive? more focused? or less of everything, since all I’m thinking about is what I’ve missed?

To specify, I’m still going to use social media. I’m just going to use them once or twice a day to post updates and check in on interactions that require a response. I’m going publish this blog post and immediately turn off all notifications on all my devices. I’m even turning off email checking on both my computers and my mobile devices. if I need to check email, I’ll manually do it. I don’t need to be informed every 5 minutes if there are new messages.

This is scary stuff.

As always, this is an experiment. An experiment in both self-control and in the validity of my hypothesis. Nothing is absolute, even the belief that you need to be 100% connected at all times or you’ll miss something super important. If we don’t challenge ourselves with uncertainty, how will we ever grow?

UPDATE: I wrote this 6 years ago and still haven’t turned social media notifications back on. My life did not end, my business did not shrivel up and die and I’m still relatively sane. I have, however, found a lot more attention.

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