Attention Overload Disorder

I have a self-diagnosed, self-proclaimed disability that doesn’t exist in any clinical textbooks (I think… not that I’m an expert). I call this disability Attention Overload Disorder (AOD). Don’t bother looking it up — it doesn’t exist outside of my head. Although, I think there are a lot of people like me (probably including Jake (@jkuramot)) who have this same disorder.

Those of you who know me well know that I have an obsession to being “in the know.” A lot of people like to be up-to-date with information, but the difference with me is that I’m obsessed with gathering information to the point that the precious time I have to get stuff done suffers. I’ve been aware of my obsession for a while now and have even tried experiments to help, but none have worked well enough for me.

Here’s my real problem… with all of the “noise” available on the web and in “meat” life, I’m constantly in consumption mode. All day long, I’m on Google Reader, Twitter, email, my phone, and the web mining information. Most people who use these apps don’t have an issue with shutting them down to get work done. For me, I have to force myself to do it and it’s a very difficult internal battle. I have an obsession to keeping my Google Reader read count to zero, making sure I’ve read all the tweets in my timeline and lists since I last viewed it, make sure I’ve read all my emails/im, updated all of my android/ios apps, updated my OS and other software, and basically respond to every notification that is vying for my attention.

If you add up the time that I’ve spent doing all of that in a day, you’d be surprised.

The other day, I thought of a solution. It consists of using smart filters and disabling the notifications — a simple solution really. The solution came about when Jake was commenting on my side project (I’ll save the details of that for another post) about how it needs a real-time notifier/updater. After a quick thought I realized that I really don’t like real-time apps that much and I hate getting notified that I have new stuff to consume or do.

Think about it… on your computer or mobile phone, you probably have something that notifies you every time you get an email, get new tweets, have new software to update, have IMs to respond to, have text messages, etc. Each notification is like a person poking you trying to divert your attention. Think about your iPhone/iPad (if you have one), don’t you hate it when the App Store icon on the home screen has a red badge notifying you that you have updates to deal with? Updating software is the last thing I want to do when I use an iPhone/iPad.

For all the great things Apple has contributed to the design experience, I have to say that I’m not a fan of the things they’ve done to capture my attention (for you Apple Fundamentalists, bring it on!). As much as I love looking at beautiful interfaces and having great digital experience, more thought needs to go into what parts of the experience should capture attention and which should not. The App Store badge notification is a prime example of where Apple got that wrong, IMO.

As I write this, my attention is getting diverted to something else… crap. I’ll have to finish my thought later. Say something below…

AboutRich Manalang

a.k.a.: manalang


  1. I agree that the App Store badge is inappropriately in-your-face, as is the use of local and remote notifications by several third party apps. Just because you can notify about some changes doesn’t mean you should — many should be discovered in context, rather than at the global scope.

  2. I have the exact same problem. I am easily distracted. It’s probably why I work until 3 in the morning…everyone else is asleep and I can actually focus on work. Even then though I find ways to get distracted.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who is obsessive about Google Reader being empty. It’s showing +1000 right now…so very annoying.

    I remembering reading a 37signals post years ago (can’t find it) where they talk about this…and they would just turn off their email, IM (no twitter at the time), and anything else that could pose a distraction.

  3. Unread counts have become a productivity suck. I wonder how the originators of that feature feel about it now. Psychologically, it’s a drain. I might follow up with my take.

    I recall the same 37 Signals post. Before I had a blog, I had a small newsletter, and I wrote a piece on how to disable your new mail indicator to gsd. I should dig that up and dust it off for another run.

  4. IOS notifications are awful. Twitter’s only ever shows 1, when in fact I probably have many notifications. Seems like either a failed implementation or more likely a half-baked design.

    Apple should have stuck to their guns on multi-tasking. What they delivered isn’t terribly useful.

  5. OH My Lord have Mercy. I hav the same problem !!!!!!!!!! Itried to desable all notification, but then I feel something is missing from my life. Its like ghost city like silence around me. So put back all notifications again. Now I m in never ending loop again 🙁

  6. Go on holiday and leave ALL these things behind. Surely if you haven’t got them you can’t obsess over them?? I understand it would be hard but make it long enough to have time to get ocver it – like smokers or alcoholics. It all takes time. If you really wanted to stop I guess is what it boils down to 🙂

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