Reduce your stress by disabling notifiers, toasts, and every sort of popup

A month ago, I disabled email notification in my Gmail notifier before doing a presentation and neglected to turn it back on later.

It took me a long time to notice the lack of notifications. What I did notice was a reduced level of stress. I was able to effectively concentrate on a single task without unimportant, offtopic notices distracting me. This is enormously important in software development.

Let me quote from Eric S. Raymond’s classic Jargon File:

hack mode n.

a Zen-like state of total focus on The Problem that may be achieved when one is hacking (this is why every good hacker is part mystic). Ability to enter such concentration at will correlates strongly with wizardliness; it is one of the most important skills learned during larval stage. Sometimes amplified as deep hack mode.

Being yanked out of hack mode (see priority interrupt) may be experienced as a physical shock, and the sensation of being in hack mode is more than a little habituating. The intensity of this experience is probably by itself sufficient explanation for the existence of hackers, and explains why many resist being promoted out of positions where they can code. See also cyberspace (sense 3).

Some aspects of hacker etiquette will appear quite odd to an observer unaware of the high value placed on hack mode. For example, if someone appears at your door, it is perfectly okay to hold up a hand (without turning one’s eyes away from the screen) to avoid being interrupted. One may read, type, and interact with the computer for quite some time before further acknowledging the other’s presence (of course, he or she is reciprocally free to leave without a word). The understanding is that you might be in hack mode with a lot of delicate state (sense 2) in your head, and you dare not swap that context out until you have reached a good point to pause. See also juggling eggs.

Joel Spolsky wrote something similar in 2001. The basic idea is that multitasking is inherently wasteful because a context switch between one complicated task and another complicated task has costs. The more often you switch between tasks, the more often you incur the overhead of a context switch.

My advice to you is this: disable your email notifier, disable your Twitter notifier, disable every other sort of notifier you have. They are never as urgent as the task at hand. You’ll only be happier and more productive.

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