Blog header notification burnout

Avoiding Notifications Burnout

You're running late as you leave your house. Something feels a little off, but you don't know what. You jump into the car and, as the Bluetooth fails to connect, you realize the grim reality. You've forgotten your phone. Should you turn around? Is it really that important? What if someone texts me?!

By Michael Scherr

Category Dev & Web Best Practices

Date Published June 30, 2020

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Too Much Noise

Notifications are now ubiquitous in our fast-evolving tech world. Rings, vibrations, alerts; you name it. Gone are the days of enjoying food without taking a picture or working without constant message alerts. Websites have also recently begun asking permission to show notifications. Have they helped us become more efficient, or have they distracted us from the life that we had before?

It is eye-opening how many notifications we get per day from our smartphones alone. Texts, calls, and every application under the sun are striving for our attention 24/7. It's all by design; websites like Facebook and Twitter make more money the longer you're viewing the site. There is always that instinct to click the "1 Notification" alert every time.

Workplace burnout has become more prevalent as office workers spend the majority of their day looking at a screen. Extrapolate that with the rise of open offices and, with studies showing the harsh effects of being distracted, it's no wonder that we burn out faster than ever. Now with the rise of tech companies working fully remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is even more anxiety among us as we try to remain focused during the day.

As a web developer, I've seen my fair share of web notifications. You've probably noticed that more websites are asking permission to send notifications, to know your location, etc. Their effectiveness is entirely based on the implementation; with the potential for decreases in bounce rate. Poor execution, in contrast, may result in user frustration and cause them to abandon the site.

Comic Strip

Controlling Screen Time Experiment

So what is the way forward? How would a world with minimal (or even without) notifications work? Would it be that bad if I can't respond to that email ASAP?! Society has lived without notifications like these for millennia, but it's easy to forget life before smartphones; they are so ingrained in our everyday lives.

This year I decided to disable all sounds, vibrations, and most notifications from my phone. Apple's new app "Screen Time" really opened my eyes to how often I was:

  • Picking up my phone
  • Unlocking my phone
  • Using certain apps
  • Receiving notifications

There is something about seeing it all laid out in colorful graphs that makes you question everything. Surely I don't pick up my phone an average of 50 times a day? Okay... maybe I do. This enlightenment allowed me to try and reduce as many distractions coming from my phone as possible.

I am happy to say it's been an overwhelming success. The first week was definitely rough, as I kept wondering if I had missed a text or an email. Then I had an epiphany: I don't need to respond to every notification right away and I never have. I even made it a rule to try and not use my phone in social gatherings (pre-COVID-19), which has the added benefit of living more in the moment.

Will these changes work for everyone? Not necessarily, but I would encourage you to find your own way to become less distracted. Are you up for the challenge?