Reducing Aural & visual notification clutter

I, like many of us, am constantly bombarded by small interruptions that not only negatively affect my productivity, but often can affect my mood. From my phone, it’s notifications: iMessage, twitter, games, hockey scores, email. On my computer,it’s alerts: new email, Skype, iChat, file transfer, etc.

I usually keep my phone on silent mode, which by default makes it buzz for all of these updates – once for most notifications, twice for SMS. I decided recently to turn off the vibrate on silent. And you know what, it’s great. I don’t’ find the visual alert bothersome – most of the time my phone’s on my desk, or in a dock, so I can at a glance see if something’s important. But if I’m focussed on something else, I can ignore it completely. The notifications centre is always there to review what I’ve missed, on my schedule. But whenever my phone buzzed, that would distract me & I’d lose my concentration. I’ve felt so much better since turning off vibrate.

Likewise, on the computer, I’ve turned off all aural notifications – not beeps or rings on Skype, or iChat. Where possible, I’ve also made the visual clues more subtle: rather than bouncing the icon in the dock, just show an alert there – a star or a number, or whatever the app’s settings are. Again – this lets me know that there’s something there, but it’s not an aural, or even much of visual distraction. Particularly during my witching hour of the post-lunch sleepies from 1 – 3 pm, I find this change has in particular immensely helped my ability to stay focussed on my tasks at hand.

Of course, there’s some irony in that while working, I am usually listening to music – which I know a lot of people find distracting in and of itself. For me, however, music is sort of like a white-noise machine: It blocks out the other, less predictable noises of the traffic outside, my office neighbours’ phone conversations, my staff’s discussions. It even blocks out the pesky, critical voices in my own head a lot of the time, which is really great. Plus, music enables the sublime: that moment that you fix the bug right as the track reaches the crescendo, or you’re racing for a deadline and some great techno, whose bpm perfectly matches the speed of your fingers on the keyboard, or late in the day when you need a pick me up and some random, terribly catchy pop tunes comes on and you can sing along and get that important pick-me up.