The Price of Notifications

Every app that we download is striving for our attention because without our attention then its useless. How do most get our attention?


Sure, some notifications are helpful but by and large they serve as a distraction, vying for our attention, creating a nagging feeling inside to look at it, or at the very least shifting our attention ever so slightly that we lose focus on the task at hand and residually think about what that notification is.

In short, notifications aren’t harmless. They aren’t something that just neutrally appears on your device.

Every time a notification appears several things happen:

  1. Our eyes and our focus shift to the notification
  2. A decision must be made to ignore or engage
  3. If ignore then focus shifts back to the task at hand but your brain is still residually thinking about about the notification
  4. If engage then you stop the current task (to multitask”) to engage in the notification then go back to your other task 2, 5, 15, 30 minutes later

Just the simple fact of making a decision to ignore or engage effects what we are currently doing more than we consciously realize. Focus on the task your working on, which could just be a simple conversation with a friend, takes uninterrupted time. Every time you lose this focus then the task your engaged in is hurt.

So think about the notifications that you let come in on your phone and computer. Almost every app that you install will ask if you want notifications on. Personally, by default I always say no and then turn it on later if I find it an absolute necessity, which is very rare. If you need notifications, check the settings to see if you can choose which notifications come in. For example, some people need to see certain emails from certain people on certain topics immediately. If your using an Apple device you can set for VIP notifications (only be notified for certain people) or set individual conversation notifications (only be notified on certain threads). You can even choose to be notified on certain text threads in iMessage or Slack .

Regardless, think deeply about what notifications come in on your devices. Don’t give in to the default and be notified by everything or even most things!

Notifications aren’t neutral but they come with a price: Your focus and attention.

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