The Real Cost of Notification Overload

The Real Cost of Notification Overload

Reading this on your phone while at work? You’re not alone…

According to CareerBuilder, of 2,186 managers and 3,031 employees, 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.

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.).

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.

According to the American Psychological Association, “While message notifications themselves may be very brief, message-related thoughts prompted by these notifications persist much longer”.

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.

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.

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