Sound Alerts vs. Productivity

There is a prediction that by 2019 the mobile phone number of users will surpass 5 billion, which represent around 70% of the world population. This means that there is a large number of people being impacted by ringtones, notification bells and vibration alerts of all sorts. Even though the role of this sound alerts is being fulfilled, due to be online all the time, we pay a price in terms of attention and this affects directly our productivity.

The soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik presented in 1927 the theory that later on got known as the Zeigarnik effect, which says in a nutshell that our brain is better prepared to remember uncompleted tasks than the ones that we already completed. When we start a task in our job, for example, it creates a tension in our brain in order to complete the task. On the moment that our mobile phone vibrates on our desk and we diverge our attention even for one second, a second tension is created in our brain. Even if we decide to ignore completely the message or call received, it was indeed received, and this feeling of one more uncompleted task is added to the previous existing one, it creates a stress that will only be relieved when we check the mobile bill that is due soon.

What if we decide to check the e-mail or message received instantly when receive? Is it possible to work around this effect? Yes, in theory we would “complete the task” but the cognitive effort required to break a total focus state to do a different task and only then get back to the previous focused state takes about 15 to 20 minutes, studies show that this represent a
decrease of 3,5% in productivity for each new task.

If we take into account that on average we check our phones up to 150 times a day, we can start to realise the dimension of this problem and how our productivity is compromised by the sound alerts that our smartphones produce, along with all the meaning that they carry.

Planned breaks and pauses are proved to be efficient. What if you restrict the habit of checking your mobile phone on each alert and check it when YOU feel that is appropriate, not the other way around?

Paulo Dytz Published by Paulo Dytz

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