Software and social networking changed our lives a long time ago. Ever felt chained to them, though? Or, maybe worse, don’t know that you are? I realised that I probably was a while ago, but like a few things, didn’t ever take the time to consider what I didn’t like, and how to change it. Our recent holiday gave me plenty of time to reflect, and it was then that I finally decided, as a general rule:

Software should be told what to do, it should not tell me what to do!

I have been using RescueTime to capture information on what I actually do at work, and have been pleased to see my odd glance at social networks (mostly) limited to waiting for the compiler, or switching to a different setup for another project. It’s well worth considering a subscription to see exactly how your attention is affected at certain times of the day, days of the month, etc. For example, the chart below confirms what I have assumed for a while: that I work best later in the morning and later in the afternoon:

RescueTime Productivity by Day 201405

[Note that not all charts from RescueTime, such as the one above, have Export functionality provided, although they are rendered via SVG so can be reused, and tweaked slightly as I have in Adobe Illustrator.]

A Plan

Unfortunately, RescueTime does not currently provide a Windows phone app that I can use to track my mobile usage. This means that, although my productivity on the work PC may be high, I cannot see how many toast notifications distract me. If you aren’t familiar with the term, I simply mean the pop-ups shown by a phone to inform you of a (hopefully) interesting event. I say hopefully, because despite some excellent guidelines, these events appear too frequently, as they are not configurable in their type or frequency. It’s also amusing that this type of notification is deemed passive, as I know that I am not alone in almost-always reacting to them immediately!

It’s not just at work; how many times have I unnecessarily interrupted playtime with my family, or paused during a conversation in the pub, just to see a non-essential email that wants to be read?! Sure, some of the notifications could genuinely be useful, but to decide, I am now bundling them into the following categories:

Useless

Game notifications are a typical example. If they manage to show a single notification, I will turn off the toast feature immediately. If you’re a freemium game developer, know this: I won’t be pressured into returning to your game, only to become frustrated by the lack of progress and then buy an in-game pack, because I refuse to buy them full stop! This does mean that genuinely brilliant games like AlphaJax are rendered near-useless, as they rely on a near-guaranteed level of interaction, but unfortunately, they just take up too much of my time.

Non-Essential

It’s great to see Instagram photos, read stories from close friends on Facebook, etc., but toast updates of these are now disabled, and are viewed in batches on the sites/apps at random points in the day. If you really believe I need to see something sooner, text or phone me!

Maybe Important

Email filtering is notoriously difficult, so I still prefer to receive notifications. However, as above, if an email was truly urgent, I would likely be checking for its arrival frequently, or be called by the sender around the time I receive it. Due to this, I have increased the time between checking for email to 2 hours, and will read them in batches.

So Far, So Good

Going for hours without interacting with my phone has been fantastic! Reading emails and notifications in bulk feels better, as you adjust to the process of setting aside a few minutes to relax and catch up with events elsewhere, rather than constantly interrupting your life. From now on, I hope to continue to feel connected, but in control, a little more productive, and possibly happier.