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Hi, I'm Sean Oliver.

I'm a product marketer living in San Francisco, CA and working at Optimizely. This is my personal blog where I write about marketing, startups, and life.

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Sean Oliver

Turn off Email Notifications

About a month ago, I decided to try an experiment and turn off email notifications on my phone and my laptop. I’d read a lot online about the benefits of turning off email notifications, but I was always afraid to try it for fear of missing something important.

But after a month of this, I can safely say I’m not going back. My stress level has decreased, and my ability to focus has never been better. I have a greater appreciation for the world around me, and my general happiness level has hugely improved.

Notifications make everything seem urgent

Notifications do everything they can to get your attention. They appear, they flash, they vibrate, they chime. They don’t let you ignore them.

This is really useful when they information they carry is urgent. But it usually isn’t:

  • Urgent: A close friend was bitten by a poisonous snake and only has minutes to live. You alone possess the antidote.
  • Not Urgent: A coworker needs to know why we’re seeing a WoW decline in DAU.

This is an extreme example, but the point is very few things require an immediate reply. After turning off notifications, I find myself setting aside time to look at email when it’s convenient for me. Then I can prioritize my replies relative to all of the unread emails in my inbox, rather than processing each one as it comes in.

Notifications make you less effective

No matter how you look at it, the point of a notification is to get you to pay attention to something other than what you’re doing. But there are lots of times, when you need constant, unbroken attention to get something done effectively.

Here’s a generic experience I’d often have before turning off notifications:

  1. Begin working on project that requires focus.
  2. Receive email notification.
  3. Glance at it.
  4. Open the email and skim it.
  5. Consider how long it will take to respond and how urgent it is.
  6. Decide it’s not worth a response right now.
  7. Flag it.
  8. Remind myself what I was doing.
  9. Get back to work.

The whole process happens in a few seconds, so it doesn’t feel like a huge tax. But in reality, it breaks up your thought process, causing you to make mistakes and ultimately increasing the amount of time it takes to get the task done.

Notifications consume your attention

How many times has this happened to you?

  1. You’re walking down the hallway.
  2. You receive an email notification.
  3. You pull out your phone and read the email, while walking.
  4. You you arrive at your destination.
  5. You put your phone away.

What was going on around you between when you started walking and when you arrived at your destination? Hard to say.

After a few days without notifications, I noticed how much more often I was bumping into people and having quick conversations. I realized that some of the walls of my office building were painted blue and others white. I noticed there were cherry blossom trees in the courtyard outside.

Without notifications, I’m getting a lot more out of my days. I have more control over my time, and I finish the things I start more quickly. I’m learning more about the people I work with, and I pay more attention to the world around me.