One simple step to prevent distractions: disable Outlook email notifications

Our daily life is filled with distractions: received a new instant message, boss just stopped by, urgent task appeared on our radar. And emails, emails keep arriving. Dealing with distractions may trick our brain into thinking that we are constantly doing something important, like solving problems, making some progress. However, distractions are the ultimate productivity killers. Whenever we need to switch to the different activity we need to go through the lengthy context switching process. And it takes time to go back to the previous activity.

Hardly any office job now can be done without use of an email. And most of email clients will gladly notify us that some email arrived using notifications on our computers. Those email notifications are yet another source of distractions. Personally I had a problem with those notifications: whenever I saw notification about new email I felt immediate urge to open Outlook and check what is the message is about. It was happening even for not important or not urgent emails. And then it took me 15 or more minutes to get back on track (“Ok, now, what the heck I was doing?”)

I solved this problem by simply turning off the email notifications. As a result I was able to stay more focused, get more things done and feel less stress.

How to disable email notifications in Outlook for Mac?

Step 1: Go to Outlook menu, then click Preferences

Step 2: Select “Notifications & Sounds”

Step 3: Uncheck “Display an alert on my desktop”

That is it! You will no longer be bugged by annoying alerts that were preventing you from getting the work done.

So when to read those emails?

In some sense software is controlling us with constant notifications: “ding” and we are rushing to check what’s new just happened. But things should be in reverse: software is our tools, not our masters.

Same with email. We should be deciding when to check new mail, reply, etc.

I found that few things work for me best:

  • I check emails only few times per day
  • In the morning I just glance through the emails to check whether there is something really urgent that I need to drop everything and do right now. Otherwise I don’t want to spend time reading/replying to the emails as it can easily sidetrack me from accomplishing whatever I planned to do that day.

Lets be honest here: how often do we get an email that we need to reply or act upon the very same minute that we received it? One email every year? So should we always be on the lookout for it and sacrifice our productivity and work-life balance? I’ve answered this question to myself: no.