Growl notifications, alert add-ons for Firefox and for the desktop, and other tools can all help you keep on top of goings-on in your digital world by displaying visual cues whenever new activity appears on your social networks, email, or other web apps. A new study, […]

Growl notifications, alert add-ons for Firefox and for the desktop, and other tools can all help you keep on top of goings-on in your digital world by displaying visual cues whenever new activity appears on your social networks, email, or other web apps. A new study, however, indicates that these tools might not be helping you at all. In fact, they could be seriously hamstringing your productivity.

The intrusive things that can affect your ability to get work done include instant message alerts, according to the study, which was conducted by Helen Hodgetts at the University of Cardiff in the UK. Even, apparently, if you only give these things a moment of your attention before returning to your primary task, you still lose a fairly significant amount of potentially productive time over the course of a day.

Speaking to LiveScience.com, Hodgetts had this to say about the study’s findings:

“Email notifications and instant messages all cause a break in focus of the task in hand, even if they are attended to only very briefly. We might find ourselves needing a few moments to regather our thoughts, and remember what it was that we were about to do before we switched our attention to the interrupting on-screen notification.”

Instead of using visual cues, Hodgetts suggests opting for auditory indicators of new mail, messages and content. If a chime sounds indicating a new message on Adium, my preferred messaging client, I can acknowledge it and continue working without breaking pace. Not only does that save me time, but it also helps make sure I maintain my train of thought, and less valuable information is lost as a result.

I’ve dropped Growl (visual notifications for pretty much any good program on the Mac), and after reading this, I’m going to disable dock bounce and menu bar item visual cues, too. Attention span is my No. 1 challenge as a web worker, and I’ll do anything that might help improve mine.

Do you find visual alerts distracting?

  1. I run twin monitors, one for work, one for play.
    On the play monitor I keep all IM and e-mail notifications, links to games, etc.
    On the work monitor is nothing but the task at hand, plus links to my work folders, etc.
    I use Opera for work, FireFox for play, Outlook for work, Thunderbird for play.
    When I need to focus I turn off the play monitor.

  2. I disagree – for me, visual notifications are a lot less distracting than audible ones. If my email chimes at me I find it almost impossible to resist switching over to it to find out what’s arrived, but with Growl I can just glance up at the corner of my screen, see that it’s not important and continue working.

    1. I agree with you Jillian, I find audio alerts more distracting. Maybe the point should be that you shouldn’t have any alerts at all if you need to concentrate. Actually, a way to swiftly switch between having alerts and not having any would probably be very useful.

  3. I find both visual and audible alerts distracting, and try to keep them to a minimum. I try to stick to reminders of important events like meetings or other, where I need to change task anyway. I try to stick to checking e-mail at regular but infrequent intervals.

  4. I find audible alerts both distracting and invasive, preferring to turn them off in all my applications so I can listen to music without distraction when I want to.
    I have two monitors for work as Ken does but I use one for the task I am currently focused on (work or play) and one for ‘monitoring’ other relevant data such as my Tweetdeck stream, chat client and time tracking (OfficeTime). The ‘monitoring’ one stays off until I am ready to deal with the deluge – always starting with time tracking whatever the distraction is

  5. Visual alerts doesn’t affect my productivity. If I’m busy with some important task I just ignore them. That’s it. After study in the Military University I can keep concentration even hundred people make a nose around me ;)

  6. Persönliches Informationsmanagement ist das Wiedergewinnen der Selbstbestimmtheit. 3-Punkte-Programm zum Jahresende. – work.innovation Blog Thursday, December 10, 2009

    [...] Sie jetzt gleich die Benachrichtigung bei neuen E-Mails komplett ab, auch die visuellen, und legen Sie die Stummschaltefunktion auf eine Schnellwahltaste Ihres Telefons und [...]

  7. All Alerts Distract, Don’t They? « Being Well Said Thursday, December 10, 2009

    [...] Check out the whole story here:  New Productivity Study Suggests Ditching Visual Alerts [...]

  8. Dave Westerheide Thursday, December 10, 2009

    I’m not sure that I agree with the conclusion or recommendation. I believe it may just be a matter of a person’s concentration. About 15 years ago, I used to complain to management about the auditory alerts. Nothing like hereing a seemingly never ending series of “gleeps” around an open office when HR would send out alerts in the middle of the day about an upcoming deadline or someother non-time sensitive item. My argument was that everyone stopped what they were doing to read something that should have been made available only early in the morning when people logged on. I often see the visual alert and give it a quick scan to see if it’s something important and whether I can wait a while before stopping what I am doing. The more frustrating occurance is when the person who sent the e-mail walks over to my desk within 5 minutes and asks “Did you get my e-mail”.

  9. Visual Alerts Actually Make You Less Productive, Study Says | Products & Tech News Thursday, December 10, 2009

    [...] Read Tagged as: entry, growl, hodgetts-at-the, productive, research, study, switched.com, top Leave a comment Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) ( subscribe to comments on this post ) [...]

  10. Visual Alerts Actually Make You Less Productive, Study Says | Everything's Social Friday, December 11, 2009

    [...] Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments   [...]

Comments have been disabled for this post