in Productivity

In a world where more than a handful of devices1 constantly demand your attention, there is no question that distractions play a vital part of everyday life. Not only do all devices want to inform you of something potentially mundane, most of the time they want to bother you with the exact same message on every single device you own. Since notifications rarely sync their read state, you would have to clear the exact same message on all devices separately. This madness has to stop.

A possible solution is naturally to turn off all notifications, but sometimes they do in fact serve a useful purpose. What if there was a way to toggle notifications on and off for all devices from one place, on demand? That way you would only have to touch one button when doing creative work and distractions would be nothing but a distant memory. What if there was a device which gathered all your notifications in one place and had the ability to turn them on and off with the flick of a single physical button?

You have that device in your pocket, and it’s called the iPhone.

Your iPhone is the perfect funnel for all your distractions. A phone’s sole purpose is to distract you, be it a phone call, text message or a push notification — they are all the same, and they all adhere to the allmighty mute button.

The first step to achieving focused distraction is to identify the origin of the distracting elements. Most people use email, so disabling those notifications on your Mac and iPad would be a terrific first step. Other things could be trickier to handle but if there is an iPhone app for it, chances are that it supports push notifications as well.

I am just in the beginning of this experiment, but it has been working wonderfully so far. One of the daily distractions, besides email2, has for instance been HipChat. Not that I am required to answer right away, but when that Growl notification pops up, it takes a lot of self-control to refrain from giving in to curiosity and read the message. With notifications on the phone and the sound turned off, chat has finally become that asynchronous means of communication that it’s supposed to be3.

The following cartoon sums up the problems with unwanted distractions quite nicely.

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My guess is that anyone who has a creative job will painstakingly recognize the situation, but physical distractions is a post for another day. Just remember to fill out and use the new cover sheets on your TPS reports4.


  1. I use and receive notifications in my MacBook Air, iPad Mini Retina and iPhone, and I think I’m far from alone with that particular device configuration. 

  2. I have started making good use of the important flag in Gmail and set it to only notify me when receiving important mail, while the rest get processed once a day. How this process is incorporated within my GTD workflow requires a post of its own though. 

  3. I firmly believe that asynchronous work over the internet will be the future standard in knowledge-based work, such as design and programming. More on that later as well. 

  4. This is a reference from the movie Office Space, which you should definitely see if you haven’t.