Turn It Off Again

I have a group of friends who keep a remarkably constant stream of text messages going. Professional men in our late 30s or early 40s, you can imagine what we text about: Generally, how to play cards better.

Buddy texts used to light up my iPhone scores of times each night. I think the record on the thread, among six of us, was over 110 messages. It was that night that I turned notifications off, in order to get some peace.

Soon, it was clear that more than my evenings were better. I was just less distracted, more capable of deeply engaging. One day an investor called to invite me to lunch and he pretended to be sad I didn't know anything about his impromptu invitation. 

"You didn't get my text? Now, now," he joked, "you're not paying attention." 

The Truth About Turning Off

In over a year that's the only case of missing out I can remember; and we had lunch anyway. Certainly a few unexpected texts leads to the occasional inconvenience and missed opportunity. But the truth is, not usually. It's fine. You focus on what you need to, and what matters happens. When you send a text, you see what has come inbound and respond, catching most things people send you. I advise colleagues that if they truly need me for something, just call. 

Humans are hard-wired to be constantly distracted, and push notifications on smartphones are the ultimate frivolity. Let's admit it: Just like our grandparents and great-grandparents were much skinnier at our age, they were probably better conversationalists and deep thinkers who were less distracted. It's ironic that in this age of hyperconvenience and information, and so many productivity tools, there are times when we're less efficient since we're so prone to multitasking.

Two other forms of "turning off" I rely upon: 

  • Batch E-mails. I've done this for years, particularly as things pile up on side projects and begin to carve out too much time from primary work. I check e-mail at set times of the day or week,  then in one fell swoop go through all e-mails which have backed up since my last review. It takes typically a half hour, at most an hour, and it's remarkable the amount of time this frees up for you to work on other things. 
  • Quit Facebook. Okay, this is a new one, and more about my mental health than efficiency--although it's safe to say that you notice how often you check facebook as soon as you delete the icon from your phone (and you're probably gaining time there as well). This isn't likely to be permanent but I'm certainly enjoying my "Facebook holiday," particularly since there remains a lot of toxicity and vitriol after the election (and plenty of circulating new stories that are vapid clickbait, that don't need to take up any room mentally in my warehouse). 

I'm far from perfect, I'm not blameless nor pure in this little luddite experiment. I admit that when I'm waiting on an important e-mail or text, I check my screen more frequently than others since notifications aren't turned on.

But there's a lot of upside. I'm guessing my rare "overchecking" of e-mails and texts is better than getting constantly pinged and my focus fragmented. 

So my advice? Turn off, a little bit. Just a few things.

You might just like it.