Distractus Interruptus

In previous SuccessTips, I’ve advocated turning off your email alerts and periodically putting your phone on Do-Not-Disturb in order to reduce the number of times your train of thought is interrupted – and therefore your productivity diminished – throughout the day.

The object is to retrain yourself to accept incoming communications on <em>your </em>terms, not on everyone else’s terms. For example, you <em>could </em>choose to check your email and voicemail every 90 minutes. (When was the last time you experienced 90 minutes free of digital interruptions while working at the office? And how productive and satisfying was it?)

Well, now I’m going to ask you to take it one step further by turning off the audio and vibration alerts for the text messages and emails you receive on your mobile device.

I realize this may elicit from you a reaction such as “Are you nuts?” But think about it for a minute:

How many times a week are you interrupted by that audio or vibration alert? It’s probably a few hundred. And where are you when these alerts divert your mind from whatever you’re doing? The car? A meeting with colleagues? On a landline conversation with a client? At lunch with a prospect? At your desk drafting a pleading? At dinner with your family?

Finally, how many of these seemingly benign “alerts” in an average week are important enough to justify the persistent fragmentation of your attention to the activity at hand? I submit it’s less than five percent.

By turning off your audio and vibration alerts, you can <em>choose </em>to check your device when you want to. You’ll still see that you have new text messages and emails via the icon on your device, but you won’t be interrupted and distracted nearly as often throughout the day.

Obviously, my seemingly contrarian suggestion regarding mobile alerts relates to the broader issue of “digital addiction.” Thanks to last week’s widely-discussed New York Times article on the negative effects of being plugged in all the time, the dialog right now is hot. (See Hooked on Gadgets and the fascinating related articles.)

The topic – and our behavior — is worth reflecting on because our already-ubiquitous technology is only going to become faster and more interconnected, and its use made even more “necessary” by the social and commercial forces that benefit from its expansion.

So, the sooner we learn to tame its intrusiveness, the better. If we don’t push back now, why do we think we’ll be able to two or five years from now when the milieu of instantaneousness is even more intense?

You can turn off your audio and vibration alerts by going the “settings” screen on most devices and then finding the “alerts” option. Or ask your IT person. Or Google the phrase “[name of your device] message alert settings.”

About the Author

Bill Jawitz, Law Firm Coach and Consultant

Bill Jawitz has been coaching lawyers to become more profitable and enjoy a higher quality of life since 2002.

He can be reached at or at 203.806.1300.

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