You Have Pain

Pain is good. Well, let me qualify that. The reason we’ve evolved to have so many pain receptors is that they serve a valuable purpose. They tell us when there’s a problem with one or more of our biological systems. It’s been well documented that the absence of pain does not result in a happy individual. We live and die by the tiny notifications that our body sends our brain. We prioritize our actions based on pain. If you pinch one hand and set the other on fire, you will prioritize moving the flaming limb over the mildly uncomfortable limb.

This is also my relationship with notifications. Much has been written about the evils of notifications on our computers. While the lament is real, it always strikes me as being annoyed by the experience of pain. Hitting myself in the face all day will certainly distract me from meaningful work, but noticing when my hand is on fire is pretty awesome. The trick is not to hit myself in the face all day. I accomplish this by not turning on notifications for trivialities.

I receive no notifications for Twitter. I only receive email notifications from VIPs on iOS. I do receive notifications for instant messages but I only receive messages from people that mostly have more important things to do. I receive a limited number of Slack notifications for DMs on two groups.

I also use the Do Not Disturb feature of iOS liberally.1 Whenever I walk into a meeting I toggle off the world. It’s a hugely underrated feature and easily accessed on iOS 8. Learn these settings. Browse the Notification settings in iOS too. Remove as many as you can get away with. It’s unlikely you need a notification at the exact time a package is delivered. It’s unlikely that your text editor has anything urgent you need to know. Avoid the constant and unnecessary pain created by too many green toggles.

Even with all of this golden silence, I do need notifications. I need to know when my flight is delayed. I need to know when a server at work is offline. I need to know when it’s time for my next meeting. I also really need to know when my kid’s school is calling me. These are all the reason I carry a phone in my pocket. It’s not there to look up quotes from 80’s movies. It’s there to punch me in the face when I need it.

  1. I use even fewer notifications on OS X and almost none on Windows, except for Outlook meetings. ↩︎