When our computers and mobile devices first started “pinging” us with an alert here and alert there, it felt helpful and even made us feel special. We knew exactly when a text message was coming in or when a new email message needed our attention.
But fast forward a decade, and those alerts aren’t quite so helpful as they once were to our business processes. Many people suffer from alert overload, getting pinged by mobile, cloud apps, and email, multiple times per day.
And it’s seriously dragging down office productivity.
A study by the University of California, Irvine found that it takes an average of 23 minutes to refocus and get back to the same level of concentration after an interruption.
Each buzz, ding, beep, or visual desktop alert counts as an interruption and workers today get so many of them, that they’re rarely working at their full concentration capacity, unless they’ve learned to manage them.
40% of employees cause their own work interruptions by not properly managing their alerts.
Alert overload isn’t just ruining productivity and costing businesses money, it’s also hurting employee mental wellbeing.
After just 20 minutes of interrupted work, people’s stress levels rise significantly and they feel more frustrated and pressured about their workload. They’ll often feel as if their workload is more than it is, because all the interruptions make them feel like they can’t get anything done.
How can you balance the need for certain important alerts with the need to also have quiet interrupted brain space to get your work done?
Learning How to Tame and Prioritize Your Alerts
There are certain applications that would not work very well without the ability to send alerts. Team collaboration tools is one of these. It relies on the ability to alert a user of a message to deliver upon that promised real-time collaboration.
But, do you really need to get alerted any time someone makes a comment in a particular chat channel without it being directed at you?
Taming the constant flow of alert interruptions is all about prioritizing your time and using tools that many apps offer to put you in control of your alerts, rather than the opposite.
Here are some methods you can use to regain your sanity while also balancing your need to stay informed.
Prioritize the Alerts You Need
Getting an alert when your boss messages you in Microsoft Teams is most likely higher on the priority list than a text alert about a conversation the marketing team is having that doesn’t directly involve you.
The first step in putting some controls on your alerts is taking a serous look at which messages are so important that you need to be interrupted immediately.
Think of it in terms of being in an important business meeting. Which messages would you still want to receive, and which could wait without making a sound or flashing a banner?
Remember, it’s not like the messages are going anywhere, they’re still there for you when you check in with the software.
Use the customization tools that you have available to decide which messages will:
- Play a sound
- Flash a banner
- Come in by email
- Not alert you at all
Set Blocks of Do Not Disturb Times
Many cloud tools let you set up “do not disturb” times, and the same is true of mobile devices. This is a great way to schedule blocks of time where you know you can quietly get your work done without interruption.
Once your colleagues understand the time block concept, they’ll hold non-important interruptions or just know you won’t be getting back to them until your time block is over. A coordinated office can even set company or department-wide “no alert” time blocks to keep everyone productive and less stressed.
Just Because it Defaults, Doesn’t Mean It’s Best
Several years ago, both Mac and Windows users were impressed to have a popup banner appear after an update that showed a preview of each email as it came in. While a good idea in theory, this is one of the top interruptions that workers deal with during the day.
Even though those email alerts don’t usually make a sound, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interrupting you every time your eye darts over to one.
This and other default settings may have been meant to be helpful, but you can take control back of your distractions by turning them off. Just this one email banner setting being changed, can make a big difference in how distracted you feel while working at your computer.
Address those Social Media Alerts
Another form of alert overload are those pings that come in through your smartphone when someone “likes” a post or tweet. They can be very gratifying to get, but not when you’re in the middle of a big project and your popular post keeps interrupting you with another ping.
Take a look at your social alert settings, which typically are defaulted to being a bit intrusive, and adjust them. Scale them back or time manage them, so they’re only alerting you during non-work hours, so they’re not contributing to you feeling overwhelmed all day.
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