In the last 5 years or so, mobile phones have become the closest companion in life, more than your partner or kids or even parents or the bed you sleep on every night. Marketing folks have understood this, before the time when smartphones weren’t ruling your mind, the best way to get one’s attention was to sandwich an advertisement with a favourite Television show or a huge banner ads at traffic signals or get to attend a conference show where these companies setup stall.
But now, getting people to sit in front of TV is even more difficult, since anything and everything is accessible from a smartphone; marketing agencies have shifted focus on something more personal, you hold it almost all the time and give it a lot more attention and focus than any other thing in life. This is the real reason why more offers and discounts are provided when you install an app or use app for purchase.
Gone are the days of carpet bombing people with television ads, welcome the new snipers who are trained in shooting one personalized offer to make a sale.
Before i dive into what that one option that can shield you from all the snipers who have you in their cross-hairs, lets us take a step back and understand the features of a smart phone, the ways in which it engages with us and gets our attention. I hope to refresh your memory and that you will be fully aware of what the implications are, reduce your anxiety levels and be fully equipped to handle the situation once that feature is turned on.
It is not just marketing companies need your attention, many people and bots also want your attention, they can be broadly classified as
- Products/Service that you know or have used — These are companies where you had an interaction, it could have been an in-store sale (Apparel / Electroics store chain) or tried them once after seeing a social media ad, etc. The driver for these companies to get you attention is “retention” - How can we make this person to use more of our service. The company has spent lot of money to get you to try them out (install the app), now it is pay-back time. The usual channel used are mobile app notifications or email or sms. App notifications are the preferred mode, since they are no cost(to the company, you pay for the data cost).
- Acquaintance — social or professional network. Social and professional networks thrive on “active user base”. Engagement is like cocaine — measure of getting this person to stay high and stay with us. The usual channel is app notifications that trigger anxiety about your recent post or picture or comment.
- Colleagues (at work). We work as a team, a team needs to communicate and there is a lot of dependency on each other to share information. With remote and global teams, your buddy across the sea is unable to visually see how you are trying to focus on work or how busy you are and keeps sending a stream of instant-message notification either on corporate channels or the app that you installed on your smart-phone.
- Family and friends. Even while at work, there is so much happening around your close knit circle of family and friends. For them your approval matters, there is a constant stream of text messages, photos being shared in whatsapp, the things that you are missing out.
- Products/Service that you don’t know or don’t use — These are companies that get a list of contacts that they can carpet bomb with emails or sms, this is almost legacy and many countries have Do-not-call registries in place to protect folks. The focus of these people is to get you to try out their awesome stuff. Though my phone number is in DNC, i still get two calls from a unknown service and politely ask them how they got my number.
Lets focus on what these communiction channels were designed for, how they are to be used and how they are being pampered with our attention.
- Messages (sms, whatsapp, snapchat, etc) — This channel is designed on the phone to communicate messages that don’t require your immediate attention. The fact that the person on the other side sent a message means they did not want to call you and disturb you from what you were doing. But we (or the phone company) attached tones, sounds and now even screen space(Banners) so that you attend to it. Your focus is broken by having to reply to them immediately or taking a deliberate thought process to ignore them.
- Email (gmail, outlook, etc) — This channel is also similar to messages, just that emails grab your attention for a longer duration. The same rules of messages apply here, the person on other is not expecting a response to come back in 2 minutes, it is not earth shattering information, it is something to attend to within a few hours or before you leave for the day.
- App notifications (social media like facebook, twitter, etc; other gaming or shopping apps like e-commerce, etc) — These messages can even wait for several days without being attended to, these are usually offers for today to tempt you to buy, order status, etc. But phones have given them a mouth to make sounds and a screen space to get your attention. These are elements that should not put you off-track from the task at hand and to be attended at your leisure.
- Phone Call — According to me, this is the only channel that truly deserves your immediate attention. Some one is trying to reach you and that is the only reason your phone has come alive, making repeated sounds and wiggling its tail to get your attention.
It took a while before I realised that it was indeed the phone and the constant steam of communication that was distracting me and breaking my attention span. On any given work day, I was getting about 20 SMS, 45 Whatsapp messages, 5 phone calls and 40 emails. How can someone focus if there were 110 interventions on a 8 hour period.
This demanded immediate actions, so i went to notification settings and turned everything from Banners + Sounds + Alerts to only Badges. The one application that i had still kept as Banners + Sounds + Alerts is Whatapp since it is similar to a phone call now (whatsapp calling).
The effect was immediate, eveytime i anxiously looked at the phone for a new message or notification, there were none. The long process of unlocking the phone by typing passcode and then viewing badges also helped me to keep the temptations at bay.
Once I got comfortable with not seeing any notification, I turn-on “Do Not Disturb”, this silenced everything and switched phone calls and whatsapp calls to vibrate mode.
After a long time, i felt that i was in control of my time. Now i have turned-on “Do No Disturb” mode on my Mac too, this has kept all Slack and Skype messages at bay and helped me focus on work.