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Are Your Notifications and Reminders Overkill?
Notifications and reminders are useful when they remind you about your daughter’s soccer game, an upcoming meeting, or a software update. But are lawyers (and everyone else) being bombarded with too many notifications all day long? There is a difference between a calendar alert and having Omnifocus remind you what you haven’t accomplished today. Furthermore, with the development of smartwatches, notifications can constantly distract you all day long. Are we as lawyers using reminders and notifications on our programs and devices as effectively as we can? Where do we draw the line?
In this episode of The Kennedy-Mighell Report, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell discuss the life-encompassing emergence of reminders and notifications, how to control them effectively, and their benefits to lawyers’ personal and professional lives. Dennis discusses personalizing notification settings and mentions that the default settings on most apps are overkill, yet many people never modify them. Tom talks about the changing mobile platform, how email notifications can distract and drain lawyers at work, and the difference between necessary reminders and optional notifications. They finish the section with recommendations for trimming down and properly filtering your notifications so that they work for you rather than distract you unnecessarily.
In the second half of this podcast, Dennis and Tom go over the subject of application updates; should we install them the day they come out? They discuss the benefits (security) and downfalls (bugs) of automatically updating your apps and other software. Stay tuned for a Parting Shots segment with several useful podcast recommendations.
Special thanks to our sponsor, ServeNow.View transcript
Kennedy-Mighell Report: Are Your Notifications and Reminders Overkill? – 2/14/2016
Advertiser: Got the world turning as fast as it can? Hear how technology can help – legally speaking. With two of the top legal technology experts, authors, and lawyers: Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Welcome to the Kennedy-Mighell report, here on the Legal Talk Network.
Dennis Kennedy: And welcome to episode 165 of the Kennedy-Mighell Report. I’m Dennis Kennedy in St. Louis.
Tom Mighell: And I’m Tom Mighell in Dallas.
Dennis Kennedy: In our last episode, we shared our New Year’s technology resolutions. Now we want to talk about ways to take better advantage of some of the simplest tech features that are out there and change how helpful your tech can actually be for you. Tom, what’s on our agenda for this episode?
Tom Mighell: Well Dennis, in this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report, we will be talking about notifications and reminders and how you can improve your use of those very useful tools. In our second segment, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of installing updates the first day that they’re released. And as usual, we’ll finish up with our parting shots, that one last tip, website or observation that you could start to use the second that this podcast is over. But first, let’s talk about notifications and reminders. It’s a simple basic topic, it seems, but I think there’s a little bit more to it. I think lawyers’ lives to a certain extent are ruled by notifications and reminders. We get notifications of a decision by a judge, we get reminded of a deadline to make a filing. Technology has tried and is supposed to make these notifications easier – I think that’s the general goal, hopefully. But instead – I know I do – we often find ourselves bombarded by a constant stream of messages, many of which we never really asked for in the first place. So we thought we’d spend some time talking about what has now become a ubiquitous part of our life, the notification, the reminder. Dennis, do you think that lawyers in general are using reminders and notifications on our devices and in our programs as effectively as we can?
Dennis Kennedy: Well, I think the short answer is really no we’re not and part of it is because we don’t understand the control and flexibility that we have over these things. I was listening to a podcast the other day where people were talking about notifications and reminders and the remainder in the podcast was that a lot of these things come with default settings. And I think that really comes home when you say, install new programs and get a new computer, that sort of thing, and you realize you get all of these notifications that you feel that you didn’t ask for. So the premise of this podcast is if you allow just the default settings, here you have someone else setting your agenda for what they think is at least the most common denominator what everybody wants and it’s not personalized to you. And I thought that was sort of profound and that’s why I like this topic, Tom. I think we go from big picture trends and coming new issues and really important things to really simple things of how lawyers can use technology. And I sometimes I really like doing these things on simple technology things because I think it reveals a lot and does a lot to really help us. I’ve been spending some time lately just noticing things, and in some of the things that I’ve done new or have been reinstalled, I’m surprised by some of the reminders and notifications that are coming up that I haven’t seen in a long time and I realized I had turned them off. And now I do think it makes sense for me to go back and start to take more control of that. We can go into the different categories, but Tom, you say you’re bombarded by reminders and notifications. Do you have that sense that somebody is sort of setting the notification agenda for you?
Tom Mighell: I personally am not bombarded because I’ve taken control of my notifications and like you said, we’ll talk about good ways to manage that but I think you’re absolutely right. There’s an assumption made by the developers that you want to have a default level of notification and that default is usually the maximum amount or some level they believe is the maximum amount. And it’s up to you to dial that back down. I want to actually step up another ten or 20,000 feet and really look at why this is an issue now. Because notifications and reminders wasn’t always the issue that it is today. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the model of our mobile platform has changed to a certain extent. Because we have so many apps on our phones now with so much information in them that we’re only going to go to those apps on demand. We’re certainly not going to regularly look through these apps for new information. There’s too many apps I have found in working with my phone that there’s probably – I have probably 100 or 150 apps on my phone, I maybe use 10 of them routinely and the rest of them just sit there for a particular purpose that I need them. They all have notifications but that’s where the notifications came in. They took advantage of the fact that people weren’t going to those apps. Now rather than having to hunt and peck through apps to see what’s new, the apps can let us know what’s going on at the right time when we need to know it and those are the ones that we’re more likely to go back to again and again which I think is why we’re seeing people make the argument that notifications are really now the front door to your mobile device. They’re now the primary access point for you to get information on your phone or tablet, which is I think why it’s a good topic for us to talk to because despite the fact that they’re so simple, they are – I think – the main target that app developers are really focusing on now to make sure you get that information rather than going to the app.
Dennis Kennedy: Let me give two examples, one is the classic old example that I think we often overlook and take for granted and one I think is just an app example that happened for me just today. I think the classic notification that we often overlook is the email notification. So typically, people are in Outlook and they might have a sound – which I can never believe people do – or they might have something that pops up or there’s something that shows new email has arrived. Back in the early days, it was great to know that you had mail and to know when it came in. So audio popups, anything made sense because email was so important. So now, email feels like our biggest interruption. I think that there, you start to say if you don’t want to be interrupted, then why am I allowing this automatic – often default – setting on email to interrupt me? And can I take better control of that? So that’s the old example that we face. The other thing was that Tom, you and I set up a Slack account for this podcast just as an experiment that we promised we’d try in our resolutions, and I saw a notice that you had posted something to Slack for this podcast. And what I Realized then was that I just had Slack on some secondary screen of my iPhone and the notifications that you had sent something to me in Slack or that something was in Slack I decided was important to me. But to this extent, I didn’t necessarily need something to jump up and tell me there was something new in Slack. But I did want it on the front page of my iPhone apps so that I would see the little number come up to let me know something new was in there and it would be easy for me to see. So I may dial into that notification on Slack the more I use it to make more sense to me. But I think in both cases, it shows something like you said where apps, the notification thing because important, and then you need to try to figure out a way to deal with it. So that to me is the two ends of the spectrum; something that has been with us for a long time, typically on our actual work computer and then the other thing is the actual app and what we need to know and when we need to know it.
Tom Mighell: I won’t even start about email notifications because I’ve been preaching about turning off email notifications for a long time whether you just want to see that there’s a new number there or you have a sound or you have a little thing that pops up in the corner of your screen. I’ve always been firmly convinced that people who see that or who have those notifications, they in turn become firmly convinced when they see that that the email that they just received is the most important email they will receive the entire day and it’s an incredible drain on attention. The problems that I see with notifications in general, there’s just too many. There was a study that actually said that the average Android user gets about 60 notifications a day. I would say that’s probably how many I would get if I let all those notifications come in the way that I have them. Like we mentioned though, apps are making the assumptions about the notifications that you want to receive. They assume you want every notification as the default and they put the burden on you to go and change it. Now that’s why I think the good news for notifications is that app makers are letting you take more action without actually going into the app itself. You’re talking about seeing a little number on the screen that let’s you know you have a message. I really prefer the notification pane on my phone where I get a notification on my lock screen that says something or I can just put up my phone without actually going into any of the apps. With the flick of a finger, I’ve got a list of all of my notifications and they’ll say things like you’ve got a meeting coming up in 20 minutes, there’s a notification of that. You received a voicemail from so and so; here’s a text message that you got. I can swipe through them and get rid of them as I want to and I can literally look at all of those notifications in just a few seconds. The better part in what I think is another way that app developers are helping with the notification issue is that they’re allowing you to take action on those notifications without actually going into the app itself. So now I can get a text on my lock screen, I can press on that text and I can actually reply to the text either there or frankly, I can do it on my watch if I want to. And the ability to do that is a huge time saver from having to go in to my text program and look at the message. I can just see what the message is very quickly and easily and I think that’s the smart thing that app developers are doing is they’re allowing you to be a lot more efficient with your notifications. But again, the burden still is on you to go in and make sure that you’re getting the right notifications. I will never set up on my phone or on my watch – one of the first things I turned off was notifications for email. I don’t care on my phone or on my watch when I’m getting email. If that was happening I would be getting notifications constantly and I think that’s just crazy.
Dennis Kennedy: I think we’ll dive into the whole customization notion which I think is really important because being able to personalize this is what is really liberating, I think, and really reduces your anxiety and feeling that your phone or your computer or your watch are always bothering you. So I like to rake notifications and reminders into two different categories. I think it’s a subtle difference but I think it’s a useful one. So for me, notifications are something that gets sent to me that I may have given permission for, but it doesn’t initiate for me. So I may get a notification, text message of other things, and the classic example is the notification you get when a phone call is coming in. Reminds are something that I really set, so they’re more important to me and I’ve set them in a way that I really do want to see them. So that would say I want to be reminded that I have an appointment. In Outlook, if I have a conference call, I want something to pop up and warn me about that 10 minutes ahead of time and give me a snooze button to remind me again what I actually need to jump on that call. So those are example and so to me, reminders are very important. I thought about this a lot more wit the Amazon Echo which now I use as a timer and an alarm all the time. And I just like the fact that I could go, “Alexa, set an alarm or a timer for ten minutes,” and then I can do something for ten minutes. Give me a reminder when I need to leave for something, and I think that’s really useful. So I think that illustrates how you might want to take completely different approaches depending on whether it’s a notification from someone else or if it’s a notification for you. And I think that leads right into the whole notion, Tom, of notification and the types of changes we can make to reflect what we want to learn, how we want to learn it and in what form.
Tom Mighell: I think you’re right, I think the reminders to the things that you really need to have, the notifications are the optional items that you want. And what I particularly like about being an Android user and you can tell me how or whether it’s different on an iPhone is that Android Google is now giving you a lot more flexibility and a lot more power in order to set the notifications. Now it takes a little upfront work on your end. You’ve got to go to each app settings individually and set up those notifications to the level you want them. But I can tell you, you can be very granular with them and really be powerful and strategic about what kind of notifications that you do get. If I just go to any app, I have a couple of choices. I can block notifications entirely. So notifications at all gets totally turned off. I can have notifications peak in briefly on the current screen, kind of like they would if I had an email in my computer and it just kind of popped up and I could get that notification just slide in and slide out. So if it was something I needed to see like a meeting invite or something like that, I can do it that way. I can have notifications customized to where even if I’ve turned do not disturb on my phone if I’m going to be in a meeting, but I know that a loved one is in the emergency room and I want to get an update on that. I can have certain things come through even when I’ve turned the do not disturb sign on. I can also set my notifications up so that even if I want to see something on my lock screen, if that message happens to have something sensitive in it like my social security number or it has credit card information or it has something that Android thinks is sensitive, then it’ll actually block that. It’ll hide that sensitive content from the notifications. And that’s just the four basic notification tools that are on Android that makes it really easy to decide here’s what I want. And I usually customize it so that I can stay up at the top what kind of notifications I have in terms of little icons that tell me how many notifications I’ve gotten in and I can find that’s a really easy way to manage my notifications and I’m not totally bombarded with things throughout the day.
Dennis Kennedy: I think that do not disturb notion is an important one and maybe one place that people might want to think about. In presentations, you always want to have a do not disturb mode so that somebody’s instant messages don’t pop up in the middle of your presentations, especially on a work computer. And there are settings for that. What you’re describing on the Android, in my experience on the iPhone is very similar that I can go into each application and I can say how – if I want notifications – and where and how those are delivered. So some things you say you might want on the lock screen, and then other things you just might want to have the number if something’s happening. And there are other options, you can decide what goes to your watch, to my Apple watch, or not. Sometimes the default settings are there. I had a program that sort of defaulted reminders or notifications to my watch and it was kind of a cool thing. It could be useful but the program was Omnifocus which is my to do list so I don’t want to be badgered on my watch about the stuff I haven’t got done so it didn’t make sense. So I would prefer to use things that says there’s a meeting, there’s a call, there’s something like this. And you also have that customization ability in other ways with vibrations and sounds with ringtones. But I think the really interesting one you mentioned is that do not disturb thing because I’ve known people who say that they have to put their phone in a different room because they don’t want to get these text message sounds during the night and there’s this do not disturb setting that you could say none of those types of notifications will come up during the time that I would be sleeping. And it’s liberating if part of your going to sleep routine is taking your phone into another room. You go, “Oh my god, the world has changed.” So I think that tip one for me is that you always want to look into the settings and this is the whole right click menu notion, all sorts of preferences on the Mac and the equivalent in Windows – I can’t remember if it was called preferences or not. But there are places where you can say go to where I can adjust the settings to maybe something that feels more appropriate and then once I see what those settings are, then I can turn things off. My approach is more like turn things off and then gradually turn things back on. But I think a similar process, Tom, is that whole notification of realizing that there are things like settings where you can make changes is step one.
Tom Mighell: I want to talk a little bit more about the watch idea, because you and I have talked several times on the podcast before about one of the benefits of both the Apple watch and our Android watches, is that they serve a notification purpose. To me, that’s one of the best things about my watch is that now I can get notifications there so I don’t have to always pull my phone out all the time. Now the downside to that is that sometimes you wind up looking like you’re bored and you’re looking at your watch and say it’s time to leave or do something. But I will say that it’s much more convenient and it cuts down on looking at the watch. But I think that when it comes to notifications on the watch, the challenge there of balancing out your notifications is even more so. Because I like the fact that when the phone rings or when I get a text message, my wrist vibrates so I can see when I’ve gotten a message that’s important to me. But when I’ve allowed all of my notifications to come through and vibrate, my wrist would be buzzing constantly and I would want to throw my watch away and not ever use it again if I was not getting notified all of the time. So I think that with as careful as you are on your phone or your tablet, be even more careful on the watch because you need to be very strategic about how you want to get notified because it can wear you out pretty quickly.
Dennis Kennedy: Right, and then you also have the options, which I haven’t explored that much because it’s partially the way I use things. But you can kind of set the taps, the vibrations, the sounds on the notifications is useful to you. And I also realize that I do things differently for personal and work maybe than other people do and I keep a real separation there. So for me, I know that if there’s a text message or phone call from my wife or daughter or from my dad, typically I want that. I want a notification of that right away and I will do a number of things like that. At work, I do want notifications of emails because there’s sort of the expectation that people are reading each other’s emails. So I allow that, I also allow on my work phone the vibration for an email that’s arrived. On my personal phone, I absolutely don’t do that either on a phone or computer because I can just go look on my personal email and I just don’t want to be pinged with anything that might come to my personal email. So I take some different approaches depending on the device, whether it’s work or personal, what the application is. Like you said, if there’s something going on, say a health situation or other things like that, typically my phones are always on vibrate. But if there’s a situation where somebody’s in a hospital or something like that, I turn the sounds on and I want to make sure that I’m notified in that sense. So it’s kind of interesting because it’s that funny thing, Tom, about how the phone is turning into an app on its own, this sort of talking app, when it’s needed. So I don’t really see the phone was ringing so much anymore that I’m being notified that there’s an opportunity to take a phone call that I can make a decision about. But the situation may also make it nice that you can make changes to the different things. And then again, depending on what it is that’s important to you; it could be calendar notations for some people, it can be social media or a collaboration tool. But there are certain things that are important to you where you want to have a more visible – in all sense as a term, whether you can feel it, hear it, whatever – notice when something happens.
Tom Mighell: And I think this is all to say that how you need notifications and reminders to work for you is an intensely personal experience and it’s something that you need to decide for yourself and you need to work on for yourself. So I think as we wrap up this first segment, let’s talk about the things that we think would make the most sense. Like I said, I think that taking the time to go through the apps and customize the individual settings I think is extremely important. The other thing – and I’m going to speak as an Android user, I’m not sure how this works with iPhone but I imagine iCloud would do this – is make sure you back to Google Drive. If you backup your apps to Google Drive, it’s going to back up the settings as well. So the good news is that if you ever have to reset your phone, if you ever get a new phone, then you can download it and all of those settings and all the notification requests are all going to be preserved – they should be, anyway – and you won’t have to set them again. So in addition to being granular in your customization, make sure that you also take the time to save it and back it up so you don’t have to do it again. Dennis, anything before we move on?
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah. I think my main learning is don’t let the default settings that the technology company has put in place control you. You really want to personalize and two things I think are really interesting. You can start to cut out reminders to carve out free time and then I just really see the reminders and notifications as a great thing for lawyers. Reminds of meetings, calls, when you have to be someplace, that something’s happened and something’s up on your to do list. Lawyers tend to be driven by appointments and deadlines and I think there are some really creative ways lawyers can use notifications to help them out in their everyday work.
Tom Mighell: Definitely agreed. Before we move onto our next segment, let’s take a quick break for a message from our sponsor.
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Tom Mighell: And now let’s get back to the Kennedy-Mighell Report. I’m Tom Mighell.
Dennis Kennedy: And I’m Dennis Kennedy. I noticed recently that I really like – in sort of an obsessive way – to check for app updates daily and download those. It’s like a little present for me and even better than email to know there’s a new version of some of the apps I use on my phone and in the tablet. I actually find some enjoyment in installing new updates when they’re out. I know a lot of other people never want to install updates until years go by and they feel that it’s finally safe. So I install almost immediately, I’ve been burned a few times including recently by installing updates on the first day and something hasn’t worked the way that I wanted. But I really think it’s the way to go. I think this is going to be a good topic because it comes up fairly often when people talk to us. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of what I’ll call my immediate update approach and how do you handle updates yourself?
Tom Mighell: I’m pretty much the same way. I enjoy getting new updates and I will look forward to them. I won’t say that I look for app updates daily, but what I do notice is that if I’m looking through my process reader and I see a new story and they say this app’s been updated with this new feature, my first thought is, “Oh, let me go see if it’s been updated on my phone,” and I’ll go look at it. And if it hasn’t been, suddenly I’m frustrated because I haven’t gotten that update yet. So usually the reason for me to enjoy installing the update as soon as it’s available is to try out new features, because I like that they’re constantly improving the app and doing it that way. So frankly, my phone and my iPad, my Android phone and my iPad are both set up for automatic updates. So I very rarely have to install an update itself. I want to automatically update when it’s coming in. For me, the only downside to that, the only disadvantage that I can see is not every app update is perfect. Some have bugs, some have things that come in that have taken away a feature that you might have liked in a previous app that you don’t like if they take it away from you. And I’ve not personally had features taken away that to me were deal breakers. I’ve had some apps where there’s been a bug where I couldn’t do something the same way I could or it broke the app briefly. But frankly, my experience with the developers has always been that they fix those types of things pretty quickly. So I think that the main downside for updating is if you aren’t aware that they might have removed a feature that you relied on that keeping that older app would have allowed you to keep using that particular feature as long as you could until you ultimately had to update because it just wasn’t supported anymore by the developer. Dennis, how do you deal with things?
Dennis Kennedy: I’m big on automatic updates whenever I can do that. My rationale is always that if you look at what’s in updates, I would say almost every time there’s a security update and that’s really important to me. I don’t like to have unpatched programs on my computer, security’s already a hard enough job as it is without creating problems. So that’s always a problem when you don’t install updates. There are some downsides. Tom, we talked in the past about how I had an iOS update that broke my podcast app and I couldn’t use the podcast app in the way that I wanted to and I switched to Overcast app and thought it was a better place because of that. The downside to me are there can be quirks. I might hold off a little bit if I have an older device or older computer and it’s probably not a Windows update, I would have that done automatically. But if it’s a big update, like an iOS update or something like that and I have an older phone or device, I might wait a couple of days just to see if there are known problems I can avoid like my podcast issue. So sometimes there are things where you might want to be smart about it. The surprises I find in taking this approach is if you do it automatically, you occasionally get surprised by a huge download and a big install with rebooting and you need to plug your device in or something where you plan to do something and all of a sudden it seems like now getting this update installed has taken over your life. So with most apps, that doesn’t happen as more of an operating system update issue or Microsoft Office type issues which can be really big. But I typically see no downside and the benefit on the security piece of it is just so huge that I think it outweighs the potential difficulties.
Tom Mighell: If you bring in operating system updates, like you said, I think that’s a different dynamic. And I know lots of people, especially on major upgrades, new versions of Windows, the general advice has always been to wait for the first patch to come out which fixes all the problems with the initial one. I typically like to download the first version because I’m comfortable with dealing with the bugs but a lot of people aren’t, so that’s generally good advice. I think apps are different. I think that you don’t have those same issues that you have with downloading a major operating system. So I think the considerations are different and the disadvantages are different. If we’re talking just general apps, I think that for the most part, you can do it without a lot of downside but you really have to think a lot more if you’re going to be downloading an update to an operating system.
Dennis Kennedy: Good points. Now it’s time for our parting shots, that one tip, website or observation that you can use the second this podcast ends. Tom, take it away.
Tom Mighell: So Adam Camras and I are giving a presentation at ABA TECHSHOW on creating compelling content with podcasts. So I’ve been looking at different services and different ways to deliver podcasts and one of the new tools that I’ve seen is kind of interesting, it’s called ZCast. ZCast.co is for podcasting what Periscope or Meerkat is for live video streaming. You can just start the app up on your phone and you can be audio casting live to the world. You can just start up and start talking to people immediately. So I think it’s still in its early days. It doesn’t appear to have a lot of features that lend themselves to the serious podcaster. But if you want to give a speech on something and you want to talk to people and not necessarily do it by video, ZCast might be an interesting option to where you can literally be up and producing a live audio stream in seconds.
Dennis Kennedy: Tom, I have one new pick and one update from the last episode. I’m trying to mention more podcasts that I listen to in the parting shots, and there’s one I like called A16Z, which is sort of from the venture capitalist perspective and deals with a lot of technology trends and what’s going on in the industry. I find it really interesting because I get some great guests and really go deep into a lot of the tech topics and give you a sense of where the trends are and what’s happening and where investment is going. I think it’s really useful for anybody who’s interested in tech in general. I mentioned the Canvas podcast before which I was hesitant to recommend last time because there was only one episode out even though I liked it a lot. Good news, episode 2 iOS out. It looks like they’re getting some momentum and have ideas. This one is on document pickers in iOS. So if you’ve noticed over the years that if you want to move, say a PDF or a website or other information from one app to another, it used to be really difficult. Tom, I suspect in your first book that was one of the issues. Now what you’ll find is you have a lot of options for moving things to Evernote to DropBox. I love this thing where you take a PDF and send it over to iBooks so it’s in your book reader there. So there’s a lot of things. And they go through how those changes have happened, how we can use those things efficiently and these great ways of now moving information and copies of information and copies of documents and the whole copies themselves between different apps on your iPhone or iPad. So very interesting podcast. I still think it has lots of potential for those who want to dive deeper into the iOS world.
Tom Mighell: I will need to go listen to it. So that wraps it up for this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report. Thanks for joining us on the podcast; information on how to get in touch with us, as well as links to all the topics we discussed today, is available on our show notes blog at TKMReport.com. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or on the Legal Talk Network site where you can find archives to all of our previous podcasts. If you’d like to get in touch with us, please email us at TKMReport@gmail.com or send us a tweet. I’m @TomMighell and Dennis is @DennisKennedy. So until the next podcast, I am Tom Mighell.
Dennis Kennedy: And I’m Dennis Kennedy and you’ve been listening to the Kennedy-Mighell Report, a podcast on legal technology with an internet focus. Help us out by telling a couple of your friends and colleagues about this podcast.
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