person at desk overloaded by. notifications

The Real Cost of Notification Overload

How do you check your phone? 

When do you check your phone?

You’re probably reading this on your phone right now…even while at work.

According to CareerBuilder, 1 in 5 employers (19%) think that their employees are productive for 5 hours a day on average. When asked what’s to blame for all this slacking off, 55% of employers said workers’ phones are at the root of the problem.

That’s two to three hours a day of lost productivity?

Whoa. Multiply that out and that’s almost two whole days a week of lost productivity.

Just think what more could be done in that time.

Are Smartphones A Handicap at Work? 

Although useful for communicating on the go, smartphones can be something of a handicap to getting sh*t done.

The problem goes much farther than the seemingly endless ways you can procrastinate while on your phone. That itch you feel to reach for your pocket every 5 minutes to check your notifications is very real—and very damaging to your ability to focus on the task at hand.

In fact, just receiving a notification distracts and damages job performance nearly as much as actually stopping to use the phone. This effect can be even worse when you factor in the emergence of computer notifications (ala Slack.).

Recent research suggests that text messaging and notifications are a drug. That’s right, we’re literally addicted to the rush of notifications.

You might be thinking to yourself “that’s not me, I can multitask”.

Ok then, tell me if this sounds familiar.  You’re at your desk working on an important project when your phone buzzes in your pocket, or your computer chirps at you. You’re in the zone though so you ignore it and keep plugging away. Even though you are still working, in the back of your mind you start thinking about what it might be, and planning a theoretical response.


You’re not actually as efficient as you think you are. All that “back of your mind” stuff takes up valuable attention, memory, and overall cognitive bandwidth.

It’s what author Cal Newport calls “attention residue.” We have leftover thoughts from the previous task or idea and can’t easily go back to concentrating on what we were working on.

More often than not, the feeling of “divided attention” that comes while ignoring a notification is so uncomfortable that it drives people to pause their current momentum, even if they know they shouldn’t.

It’s not an easy problem to solve. The very reason that notifications are so distracting is that they might be an emergency.

For more tips check out our guide on digital decluttering

Separate Yourself From Your Phone

Try this next time you’re at your desk working against an important deadline.

Disable all computer notifications and turn your phone on silent, put it somewhere out of view (not in your pocket or on your desk).  Commit to yourself that you won’t divert your attention from your current task – save for one 10 minute break per hour. During this 10 minutes, you can resolve any important issues that may have come up.

If you can make this practice a habit, I guarantee you will turn into a productivity machine at work. Not only that – but by avoiding the “divided attention” feeling, your workdays will become much less stressful.

Note: For other ways to increase your productivity check out our guide on how to be more productive.

What You Can Do To Stop Notification Overload

1. Turn off your notifications.

Sounds impossible, right? But do you really need Twitter alerts directly to your phone? Just check them at certain intervals. The same with emails. If someone really needs to reach you like in an emergency, then they can send a text. And that would be the only notification that you receive.

Here are ways to turn off notifications on popular apps: 

  • Turn off notifications in Gmail
  • Turn off notifications in Slack
  • Turn off notifications on Twitter
  • Turn off notifications on Facebook

Not enough? You can also turn off notifications on all of your devices.

  • How to turn off notifications on iPhones:
    • Open the “Settings” app and tap “Notifications”
    • Choose the app with notifications you want to limit, then tap it.
    • Toggle the “Allow Notifications” button to off.
  • How to turn off notifications on Android phones:
    • Open your phone’s “Settings” app.
    • Tap “Apps & Notifications > Notifications
    • Under “Recently Sent,” find apps that recently sent you notifications or “See All”.
    • Tap “Advanced”, then select the app’s name you need to limit.

2. Move Your Apps on Your Phone

Here’s another trick to avoid notifications–change where the apps are on your phone.

You could group your most addicting apps into a folder. Then whenever you want that quick hit of satisfaction, you won’t be able to get there quite as fast.

Another way to do this? Remove the apps from all of your home screens altogether. And then do an actual search for the apps. This is quite time-consuming and will limit how often you check for more notifications and messages.

3. Set Aside Certain Times For Checking Your Apps

There’s no mandated rule that you have to check your notifications right away.

If your boss or supervisor has high expectations for response times, then communicate to them when and how you be reached directly–and that you will purposefully be saving notifications until later.

Let’s be honest though–that’s not usually the case. Usually we check notifications to see the latest gossip or to waste a few minutes. This separates us from our deep and meaningful work that requires enhanced concentration.

Instead of checking your notifications immediately, schedule these shallow work tasks into a designated time and preserve your other hours for more meaningful activity. You’ll get more done, guaranteed.

Join the conversation

Comments for this post are currently closed.

Walter Roberson
11:16 AM

This has gotten so bad for me! Thankfully I learned about the snooze and remind me later feature within Slack. Turning my phone on silent is key to me focusing and getting stuff done. The apple watch doesn't help either...

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