Adding Back Productive Notifications


The first days was by far the hardest to kick the habit of wastefully checking my email, Facebook, news feeds, and other such time wasting habits that I have developed over the years.   One quote constantly comes back to me from Tim Ferriss’s book The Four Hour Work Week, “Am I inventing things to do, to avoid the important?”

Success and Failures

One part of learning is failing, but the only true way that you will become a failure is to fail to learn from those mistakes.  I fully expect that I will fail at many of the tasks that I put forward for myself.  This is part of learning what works for you.  A major complaint in reviews of Tim Ferriss is that not everyone can do it.  They might be right, but only if the parameters are to precisely duplicate every aspect of his life and business to be a mirror image of him.  I suggest that the goal isn’t to become a mirror image of Tim Ferriss, but to expand our minds with the possibility that our lives don’t have to be a drudge of 9-5 work for 40+ years.  This is the same message shared by those in the Early Retirement community.

Email (Success)

Turning off all the notifications made it much easier to only check mail at 12pm and 4pm.  To be honest, there were a couple times where I checked it a little more often, but only when needed to complete another task.  One such instance was after I did my noon email check I found an email from a company I work with to help test a bicycle training product.  They had an urgent request to test a new prototype and really wanted the feedback today rather than waiting for my next scheduled test early next week.  I replied with a time that I could be there and a few questions to help me prepare for this particular test.  This did lead me to checking often as to whether or not they had replied with the answers to my response, wasting a bit of time.

Hangouts (Success)

I realized quickly that Hangouts is a tool that I use only for contacting close friends and family.  I did decide to indulge in this by turning on badge and lock screen notifications, but kept sound turned off as I find that to be the hardest one to ignore, and if someone starts sending a few messages in a row it can quickly derail any concentration that you had.  I use this app in place of text messages, but I'm on the fence about whether this is a good idea.  Recently I have realized that I tend to indulge in useless chatter with a friend, more as a way to dump whatever I'm thinking about at the time.  Now that I've started using Evernotes I am training myself to be less reliant on just spewing out random things during the day.  Evernote is much better at organizing what I'm thinking about and is much more searchable than trying to ask my friend what I said to him on a specific subject.

Facebook (Failure)

This is probably the app that I have had a hard time giving up, but not for any conceivably important reason such as keeping in touch with friends, but rather as just a way to clear my mind and keep me from doing the important things.  Sometimes I’ll just binge on it, going through my newsfeed multiple times until I get to a spot I already recognize, then restarting from the top and repeating it again, only occasionally looking at articles and rarely responding to my friends.  This really does feel like a big waste of time, and again and again I find myself having to remind myself to stop just looking at Facebook like a mindless zombie.

Now, I did run into a couple non life disrupting instances where people had messaged me; one regarding a job opportunity that I was ill fit for but maybe could help a couple friends, so I forwarded the opportunity to them, and another concerning a friends website that he has been working on and was curious of my opinion.

The first was sent at 2pm, I saw it when I went for my scheduled Facebook time at 7pm and scheduled myself a time to respond the next day after getting in touch with the friend that might be better suited.  The second I bookmarked the site with Evernote and visited it later, read a few pages of it and responded with my opinion.

Facetime (Success)

This was another app that I realized I made a mistake by nixing its notifications.  This is the app that my wife and I use to help keep our Ting cellphone bill under control, so that is the app which I have allowed for the most notifications.

Meetup (Success)

Didn't actually miss anything there, and quite frankly their notifications don't always come through and aren't very reliable in the first place.  Most people I know there also know my phone number.  I'm actually only a member on a single meetup group for riding road bikes.  The group meets two days a week and sometimes once on weekends.  Knowing this I either show up to the regularly scheduled rides on Tuesday and Thursday, or check on Friday evening what ride may be posted for the weekend.

Strava (Success)

I do not miss this notification at all.  I find seeing the in app badge to be good enough for my ego, and not having the badge on the app icon when I unlock my phone gives me less motivation to continuously unlock my phone in the first place, meaning that I'm less likely to check Strava and move on to other more distraction apps like Facebook or Google News.

Calendar and Google Calendar (Success)

I realized after a week that it was extremely annoying to have both of these giving me notifications as the iOS calendar app syncs with my Google Calendar app.  Today I now have one less distraction.

App Store (Success)

It's amazing how much time you can waste always updating your apps.  Humans are strange creatures; we both dislike and like change.  Apps that are constantly updated tend to be better perceived.  Markets give incentives to update apps often, and the software cycle encourages it with agile programming methods.  By updating their app a company can remove or dismiss all the bad reviews that they had because it was a review for an older version, it doesn't even need to have any real changes done to it, just a single setting, or line of code, maybe even something of no more consequence than changing the version number.

Some companies have taken this to extremes by releasing regularly and often, some on a weekly basis.  I've pulled a page from my wife's book and stopped updating until something gets me to check the app store.  I believe that will also subside as time goes on and I get used to not always being distracted.

Other Thoughts

This challenge really opened my eyes to the amount of time that I waste on surfing the web and checking notifications of things that are not very important, or not at all important.  My life didn’t suddenly change because I missed a message from someone on Facebook, or I didn’t see the Kudos given on Strava.  I did gain better periods of concentration by not being disrupted by every ding, dang, and dat coming out of my phone’s speaker.

Be sure to come back next week for the next article on what to do with the extra time you’ve now found by getting rid of distractions and only adding back the ones that make you truly productive.

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