Reducing the chatter – Fine-tune your alerts and simplify your life!

Reducing the chatter – Fine-tune your alerts and simplify your life!

If you leverage even a handful of the technology tools and platforms that exist today, then you will likely begin to notice an increased influx of input and information. You may even want to consider some fine-tuning of alerts and notifications in order to help yourself stayed focused on what matters most…

In our day-to-day lives, so many little bits of digital activity constantly vie for our attention. News, messages, status updates, and progress indicators form a formidable barrage of audio-visual stimuli. A negative byproduct of these extremely useful tools is that they can begin to act like hungry little monsters. The real rub is when these same tools draw us into an endless cycle of distraction, a frenzied state where we find it difficult to remain on-task, and to think clearly and comprehensively. They can make it hard for us to be productive and to accomplish tasks and reach goals that are important to us as individuals – and collectively – as communities and organizations.

We want to help you reclaim your mental space, to encourage you to work on a streamlined approach to information consumption, and to assist you in making mindful decisions on prioritization, importance, and frequency. Out-of-the box, our devices, gadgets, and apps present a dizzying array of sensory information that can contribute to us feeling stressed, inundated, and overwhelmed. A dangerous and harmful side effect is that we stumble out of the present moment, missing opportunities for substantial connection and purposeful interaction, stuck in a frantic loop where we never catch up. We feel anxious, annoyed, and disconnected…

In the remainder of this blog post, we’ll give you some pro tips, a slick trick, and a few helpful bits to get you started down the path of alerts customization. This is not meant to serve as a comprehensive road-map, but it should help you with some low-hanging fruit, and get you moving in the right direction. Towards the end, I’ll share with you some of what I learned through first-hand experience of spending more than 1 full year without a smart phone or tablet! While you might not need to take such an extreme departure from technology as I did, you may still find it helpful to reduce your digital chatter from time to time. Let’s get started…

First, a couple of pro tips:

Outlook – Turn off the New Message Pop-up Window (http://ow.ly/C4kY3)

If you are using Outlook and receiving scores of messages on a daily basis, then this alert can become so frequent as to become distracting. If you already check your email regularly, and you have a routine of responding promptly, then the added stimulus is just too much. This support article from Microsoft describes changing the transparency of alerts so that they are less obtrusive to your workflow or disabling them completely (that’s what I did!).

iOS and OSX – Modify the Alert Style for various apps

As soon as you install a new app, it gets added to your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook notification center, and it will be as noisy as possible to ensure that you keep coming back for more. The problem is that this sort of interaction is simply not scalable. The more apps you add, the more notifications you receive, until your eyes are spinning around constantly from all the bells, sliders, and whistles. We need to be selective in deciding which apps will notify us, and which we may wish to silence altogether. To that end, spend some time in the “Notification Center” (under Settings), and make some decisions on which alerts are the most important, and which ones you could live without. Click on each app that you have installed and consider changing the alert style to something that suits you better. For example, Alerts require an action for you to proceed in using your device, whereas Banners display for a short time and then go away automatically. In my case, I found that it useful to change many of them to “None”. I can still pull up that cool social photo app whenever my heart desires, but I am not being sucked in or distracted while I’m in the middle of composing a thoughtful message or reading an article that I’m genuinely interested in.

I hope that both of these tips will get you thinking of ways to improve your signal to noise ratio. Personally, I hate that feeling when I was really getting into something deeply, and suddenly end I’m scratching my head asking “Where was I?” Moving on…

Here’s a slick trick:

OSX – Disable the bouncing behavior of dock icons

If you have a Mac, then you may have noticed the useful – but potentially annoying –  behavior of the bouncing dock icon. This is meant to inform you of activity in an application, buuuut, in can also provide a terrible distraction if you are trying to, compose a thoughtful message, scribe an informative document, or digest a complex report. To those of us who are tipping ever precariously towards notification overload, there is a simple cure to this irk-some little scourge:

Open Terminal, by locating and double-clicking it under Finder > Applications > Utilities. In the small window that appears, type – or copy and paste – the following commands:

$ defaults write com.apple.dock no-bouncing -bool TRUE

Then, restart the dock:

$ killall Dock

If you end up missing your old friend, the bouncing dock icon, simply reverse the command above by turning TRUE to FALSE and re-running in terminal. That was easy!

Some Helpful Bits:

In this last section, I thought it would be fun to share with you a couple of tools and practices that I have found to be very helpful in saving my sanity when it comes to my interaction with technology…

After being on-call for more than 15 years, I became overwhelmed and bombarded by the ongoing noise, and I actually felt the need to “cut the cord” for a full year. Most of that time was spent traveling, meditating, relaxing, and essentially going through a tech detox. I felt it easier and easier to stay in the moment without the siren’s call from my the little creature in my pocket. I felt the stress melting away day by day, and just recently, I got a smart phone again. I decided that this time around, I would approach my smart phone usage more mindfully, and I even decided to put some controls and safeguards in place to help me protect my mental space.

Here are a couple of tools that have brought me some much-needed relief:

Unroll.me – “Clean up your inbox” with an approach that is two-fold: First, Unroll.me gathers up unsubscribe links for newsletters and mailing lists that you no longer read, giving you the ability to opt-out in one fail swoop. Clear away the cruft and clutter with a modern tool that helps you “toss the junk with one click”, doing away with updates and correspondence that you no longer wish to receive. After you perform that initial inbox scan and decide what to keep and what to trash, you can then go a step further to combine multitudinous messages and bulk notifications into a single “roll up” that can be consumed daily, weekly, or as (un-)often as you so choose. You really don’t have to wade through all that email! (http://unroll.me)

Calm.com – “Meditate, Sleep, Relax” with this beautifully designed mindfulness utility. Stroll over to their website or Facebook page, or download the app from the iTunes store. It’s hard not to feel the almost instantaneous sense of peacefulness that comes when you simply take a minute – or 7 – to enjoy pleasant ambience and the practice of breathing consciously. This app will help you learn the basic tools that you need to develop a mindfulness practice of your own. (http://calm.com)

Checky – “Track your phone habit” with this brand new app from the makers of Calm.com. You may be wondering: Is my phone habit really that bad? Do I have anything to worry about? This app will help you quantify just how many times per day you habitually turn to your device. It can be easy to fall into the trap of constantly checking your phone, inbox, or newsfeed. A quick Internet search for “cell phone dopamine” will reveal countless articles and scientific information regarding our literal addiction to our devices and the steady drip of info that they supply. The promise of acknowledgement, validation, or intrigue lies just a finger tap away. This little tool may give us an objective insight into the frequency of our habits. (http://checkyapp.com)

In closing…

Most of us are constantly digesting and sharing information online, while also being called upon in the organic world, and our real value can often be realized – counter-intuitively – by slowing down our thought processes, drawing deeper conclusions, and offering more thorough contributions. For this, we need a little space, and time.

Remember, technology is a human invention, and we are the ones who decide how to use it. If we allow technology to overrun us, however, we will end up feeling stressed, burdened, and worn-out by the very tools that promise to improve our lives. Let us not lose sight of the overarching theme of technological innovation – something that real thinkers and inventors aspire to – which is to help us solve problems and to empower us; to enhance, to enable, to connect.

Ultimately, it’s your choice to reduce stress and invite stillness, calm, and moments of mental quietude into your daily life. It can be your personal journey towards finding a harmonious balance in your application of technology. A beautiful end-result of adopting a few of these new practices may be that you gain a renewed sense of mental acuity, a reduction in anxiety, and relief from stress.

And we can all use a little of that…