Productive Notifications on Your Blackberry

It’s fascinating to me how many productivity-related design decisions are made by makers of mobile gadgets (like Blackberrys,) software (like Outlook) and web services (like Gmail.)  In the first week of using a new BB Curve 8250, I have had to make a variety of changes to the default settings in order to have it fit my personal habits.

At the same time, the principles I am attempting to preserve are universal, and I started to think that my BB would be much better designed if the designers had some knowledge of the essentials of time management.  The fact is, they did start with an underlying philosophy:  ” the more interruptions the better.”  Unfortunately, their philosophy conflicts with the principles I use around one of the key fundamentals – Interrupting which has lead me to adjust many of the notifications on my BB.

Principle of Uninterrupted Work

My BB came with all sorts of notifications that are intended to interrupt me when I’m doing anything else.  There are flashing lights, vibrations and sounds for incoming:

  • – email messages
  • – voice mail
  • – SMS’
  • – BBM’s
  • – phone calls
  • – tweets

Apparently, the default settings are enabled because they assume:
1.  I need to switch from whatever I’m doing to tend to my BB alert when something (i.e. anything) happens to come in
2.  I receive only a handful of notifications per day

Both of these assumptions are suspect not only for me, but the average professional.  In fact, all the recent research points to the fact that one’s best work is done with a quality of focused attention that precludes chasing down every incoming alert in case it’s something important.

Some would say, simply ignore the interruption.  I counter by saying that every single alert that I notice subtracts a little bit of focus away from what I’m doing in the moment, and a little bit of energy as I make a decision to heed or ignore it.  This lowers the  quality of whatever it is I’m doing, if only by a small amount in each instance.

While I have turned them all off, except the phone’s ring, the point here is that the assumption made by RIM is that most people need or want them to be on.  Also, as far as a I can tell, there are millions who never quite get around to turning them off, and end up being perpetually digitally distracted.  By simply following the manufacturer’s defaults, they become less productive as the number of time demands in their lives increases.

I’d recommend that RIM and other smartphone manufacturers ship their products with the alerts turned OFF, and help the user to enable the ones they want in the set up procedures.  This would help the user to engage in the customization of their time management system in a way that most don’t know they can.

It would be even better if they would keep them off and take a new user through some kind of tutorial that helps them set it up for maximum productivity.  This would help users avoid the bad habit that so many develop of interrupting everything imaginable to chase down a smartphone alert of invisible content, and unknown importance.

At the same time, Interrupting is a fundamental that is important, for other reasons described in the following posts on Interrupting.  I have found that the power of my BB to Interrupt is better than anything else I have used, including ways to vary the number of vibrations, colors of flashing lights, tunes played, etc.