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Have you heard? Multitasking is so last year. New research has begun to suggest that becoming a GTD all star doesn’t necessarily mean doing it all, all at once. The new way to work is by dialing into one activity, also called monotasking.

Admittedly, monotasking does not always come easy these days. You are constantly being bombarded with stimuli: social media that updates in real time, text messages, email alerts, Twitter mentions, Slack messages, Trello notifications (gulp). How are you supposed to focus with all this stimuli fighting for your attention?

There is only one answer: turn them off. That’s right, all of them.

Why Do We Check Our Phones So Much?

With notifications turned on it becomes nearly impossible to avoid periodically checking on messages. Some studies have suggested that the average person checks their phone up to 150 times a day. The reason for that stems partially from a desire to feel connected, but also, interestingly, as a stress reliever.

According to a study by Baylor University, compulsive phone checking was seen as an attempt to reduce anxiety. Participants reported that the behavior of looking at their phone alerts was a way to boost their mood.

Another study conducted by Aalto University in Finland found that the process of checking your phone and receiving a notification produces a reward loop in your brain which compels you to repeat the action over and over again in search of more “rewards,” in the form of notifications. These findings substantiate the above Baylor study that phone checking is correlated with a dopamine response, by providing momentary satisfaction.

Trying to make yourself feel better is certainly not a bad thing, but is checking your phone for new alerts really the answer? Science says no, and that the only thing you’re getting from your incessant checking is a dearth of productivity.

What’s The Cost?

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Your focus is suffering, a lot. In a study done by Florida State University, participants were asked to complete a test that measures their attention span, first without their phones next to them, and then again with their phones by their side as researchers intentionally pinged them.

The result is just as you’d expect: participants scored significantly worse on the test when their phone was buzzing by their side. To make matters worse, participants didn’t even need to _look_ at their phone for it to have an effect on their performance. The results showed that if their phone audibly buzzed while on vibrate mode, but wasn’t actually checked, participants scored the same as if they were actually pausing to read the notification.

Have Purpose

Context switching, or jumping from one task to another, is a proven productivity killer. In its simplest form, that’s really all that phone checking is: a jump from one task to a completely different one.

By turning phone notifications off, you are forced to make more conscious decisions about when to engage in your various feeds. When you have free time, and are ready to dive in, your notifications are there waiting.

When notifications appear on your locked screen, your instinct is to check them immediately. Often these notifications pop up when you’ve been focused on a different task, you’re engaged in a face to face conversation, or you’re not ready to respond. These are all terrible times to check notifications.

Here’s a few reasons why:

  • If you’re focused on something else when you look up to see notifications, you have context switched. It may take you as long ashalf an hour to get back into “focus mode.”
  • If you’re in a face to face conversation, you are giving people the impression that you are not giving them your full attention. (And, let’s face it, you’re not.)
  • If you check it at a time when you’re not ready to respond, you’re probably going to forget about it when you are actually in a place where you can address it.

Or, to put it in other words, they’re phone faux pas.

Help Is On The Way

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If you can’t bring yourself to head to your settings page and shut down those pesky notifications, here are a few apps that might help.

Offtime

Offtime lets you set time blocks where you can temporarily turn off notifications. You can even set categories like “family” and “work” so that you still remain connected to certain areas of your life. There’s even analytics about your phone usage, to give you a better perspective.

Flipd

Similar to Offtime, except Flipd actually initiates a custom lock screen, complete with a timer. You can also set emergency contacts so that important people in your life can always get through. Another interesting aspect of Flipd is they offer an opportunity to connect with the rest of their community, and even complete challenges with others. It puts the “fun” in “focus”… or something like that.

Moment (iOS only)

Moment provides you with daily data about your phone usage. You can set a limit that you don’t like to go over, and if you do, Moment will actually blank out your screen and remind you to set your phone down and chill out in the real world. The interface has a soothing traffic light color UI pattern to let you know if you’re in the red with usage.

 

The point is, be purposeful about when you engage and don’t engage in your messages. Not only will you feel better overall, but your productivity will get a boost as well. So head on over to that settings menu and give it a try.