How multiple reminders kill your productivity (and drive you crazy)

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

May 28

62nd of 4th 365: Planning the weeks to come

My consulting work has changed – a new project. Along with the new project comes back-to-back-to-back meetings. Plus all of the normal personal stuff. With it comes what I had ignored: the multiple time and device reminders that come along with one’s commitments.

For the most part — save the one that effectively reminds you of something exactly when you need it — reminders suck.

Classic, of course, are the 15-minute default reminders in Outlook before every single meeting. With the default second reminder at five minutes before the meeting. With the default THIRD reminder at zero hours before the meeting. I have no control over the default reminders except when it is MY meeting invite going out. So I can have all of my meetings have a five-minute reminder, but the vast majority of my meetings are not mine to run.

A lot of my meetings are only a half hour long — good meetings should be that long. So I get reminded of my next meeting halfway through the one I’m in. Then another when I’m trying to wrap up and make sure all the next actions are assigned from the meeting I’m in.

Then there are all of the personal reminders. To get a haircut, I have a personal calendar appointment with its associated reminder — in my case, two hours out so I can look at the end of my workday and make sure I leave on time.

But then the salon sends me a reminder like three days before the event. In email. Then they start texting me on my phone. Somewhere, on some device, I need to acknowledge the fact that I have a hair appointment. This is much better then having them call me as well, but how many different devices and venues do I need to have reminders in when I have it on my calendar in the first place?

My doctor’s office calls me three times over several days to remind me to get my normal tests. When I don’t answer the phone, they end up sending me a letter. My dentist does the same thing.

A reminder about the cost of reminders

A whine, right?

Actually, no. Reminders have gotten so bad that I now need to manage my reminders. I have to opt out of the ones I don’t want to get on the devices I don’t want to get them on.
Then, outside of managing my reminders, the reminder itself creates very unproductive work. The New York Times notes:
Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it
takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.
And then, you work on the interruption and not the planned — you did plan to work on the task you were working on, right? — one you have in front of you:

The majority of the non-self-instigated interruptions come from electronic “notifications” (either email, IM or phone messages); the remainder are person-to-person or face-to-face in nature.  While in-person interruptions are in the minority, they tend to last longer and leave employees with a larger interruption-related workload (as in, the department chief dropping off a pile of expense reports to be completed).

And, unfortunately, we never procrastinate when it would do us good, as73% of interruptions are generally handled immediately – whether they need to be or not.  Workers seem to get distracted by the interruptions and tend to finish the task created by the interruption, rather than continuing on point with what they were doing in the first place.

Between the reminders and the other interruptions during the work day, it’s remarkable any of us get anything done.

The reminder solution?

I don’t have any, save reducing the number and venues (in boxes) where you receive the reminders. It’s a pain.

The only good tip I’ve discovered is to take that initial Outlook 15-minute reminder and change the second reminder to “0 hours” before the meeting starts. It reduces the interruption from reminders by one. Which means, over the course of the day, a reduction of 6-8 reminders requiring you to acknowledge them and then switch back to what you were working on in the first place.

Not great. But a start.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.