Inbox Zero. For all your work notifications.
The new and improved Acapela.
Workplace notifications are a necessary evil.
They’re necessary because they inform us of the things we need to do and remind us to respond to others. In a remote world - if we don’t want to spend our whole day in scheduled video calls - notifications are the only way to notice that there’s something that requires our attention. If we’re managing people, we need these notifications to unblock our teams and to do our jobs.
They can be evil because they’re distracting and draining. They clutter up our email inboxes. They interrupt us on our desktops. They give us FOMO. They overwhelm us with their sheer number, making it tough to distinguish between what’s important and what’s not. They make it hard to carve out focus time and do the high-level thinking needed to make good decisions.
We founded Acapela early in the pandemic and spoke to hundreds of teams about how their ways of working changed. Collaboration moved online. Video conferencing, messaging apps and document tools became the places where teams interact. As they used more tools, and used those tools more frequently, their notifications skyrocketed.
This has consequences. Work as we know it has too many interruptions and too much noise. That’s even more severe if your main role is to manage other people or collaborate with different teams.
Our brains aren't wired to cope with a never-ending stream of messages from other humans we don't want to disappoint. We know we should protect our time better and carve out more of it to focus on the things that matter. That’s what moves the needle at work. That’s what makes us feel fulfilled after a long day. But we get sucked into letting notifications control the rhythm of our work days. We default to reactive mode to get through them all, in our desire to prevent ourselves from being a bottleneck.
Is that what work should look like? Is our job to be a spider at the center of a web of notifications? Endlessly replying, frustrated and unfulfilled?
What’s so Bad About Notifications?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the core issues about notifications.
1. They interrupt us. Constantly.
This is bad for obvious reasons. Interruptions force us to switch contexts. It's proven that context switching reduces our cognitive power.
When collaborating with others, we need to be responsive and prevent ourselves from being a bottleneck. But we also need time to focus. Constant interruptions make it difficult to build in time for focus, to think strategically or to make sound decisions.
2. Most notifications don’t matter
Even if being responsive is a core part of your role as a manager, you don’t need to respond to everything. You need to focus on the right things and respond to the right messages. That’s how you leverage the finite time and attention you have. That’s how you make the biggest impact on your colleagues.
The challenge is that some notifications are important and need our attention. But to get to them, we have to sift through a bunch of useless ones. This is a waste of time and a drain on our energy.
3. Notifications trick us into thinking we’re doing real work
It’s easy to fill our days with light communication. But our true value as managers isn’t just in our ability to respond to our colleagues as quickly as possible. It’s in how deeply we can think about the needs of the products we sell and the customer we sell them too.
Communication is the glue that aligns the teams we work with. Responsiveness prevents bottlenecks. But if the pendulum swings too far the other way, we lose the necessary focus time needed for deeper work. Deeper work leads to better decisions and better decisions lead to better results.
From Inbox Zero to Notification Zero
We need notifications. They contain important information that makes it possible to do our jobs. But we get too many of them and we often don’t have the right system for prioritizing the relevant ones.
If the current way of dealing with notifications doesn’t work, then what’s the alternative? Luckily, people have dealt with inbound messages before and have come up with solutions. One of the most relevant ones is Inbox Zero for email.
Most people don’t have a clear system for reviewing their emails and actioning them. As a result, they get distracted, waste time and fall behind on it.
Enter Inbox Zero. Inbox Zero is a productivity method focused on organizing email. It has a few rules at its core:
Proactivity > Passivity - You never "check" your email in a passive way. You always process it, applying an action to every email before you move on to the next one.
Complete short tasks now - If an action is doable in two minutes or less, you do it now. If it needs longer, you do it later.
Default to action - You do one of four things with each email you receive:
Delete (or archive) - if it requires no further action
Delegate - if somebody else is better placed to do it
Do - reply if you can finish it in under two minutes.
Defer - if it takes more than two minutes.
Hit Inbox Zero every time - The goal is to get to "Inbox Zero" everytime you open your email. This stops you from ever falling behind.
Stay out of your inbox - After reaching zero, you proactively close it and do other things. The goal is to process your inbox less often, but more effectively, freeing up time and headspace for other tasks.
We can apply these same concepts to take control of our notifications.
First we need to bring our notifications together in a similar way to an email inbox. With a unified inbox, we can batch our notifications together, rather than checking them throughout the day. Fewer interruptions means less context switching. This makes it easier to manage our time and carve out the necessary blocks of time we need for higher-level tasks.
Then we can action our notifications in the same way we approach Inbox Zero - Delete, Delegate, Do or Defer.
Using the same Inbox Zero principles, we can stop them from being a distracting drain of our time and energy.
Introducing Acapela: The Inbox for your Notifications
We’re shifting communication away from a real-time distraction by building an inbox for your notifications.
By using a more async, Inbox Zero approach you tackle your notifications less often, but more efficiently. You unblock your team quicker, and win back more time for focus and deep work.
Here’s how we’re doing it.
1. Everything in one place
Acapela is a unified inbox for your work notifications. To be the hub for your notifications, we connect to the tools that you use in your daily work like Slack, Notion, Figma or Google Docs. Anytime there is a notification in these tools, we capture it in Acapela. Collecting them in one place stops each tool interrupting you individually. This means less information scattered across different places and no more switching between apps.
2. Separate the signal from the noise.
Notifications should be filtered, so you can easily determine what’s important, and what can be ignored. A message from your CEO is more pressing than an @channel in #random.
In Acapela, you can customize what notifications you want to respond to first. You can pull in @ mentions from Notion, DMs from Slack and tickets from your project management tool, all into one single tab. Aggregating your important notifications means you’re more responsive to the things that have the highest impact for your team.
3. Make it faster (and more fun) to work through your notifications
A high-performance desktop app and slick keyboard shortcuts make it easy to power through your notifications faster than an inefficient, scattered workflow. With the press of a button, you Reply, Snooze or Resolve your notifications, using the Inbox Zero methodology to work through them all. Deep integrations let you reply to comments & edit contents directly in Acapela - no need to switch over to other tools.
This is a more efficient and fun way to work through them than having them drip-fed into your desktop, Slack and email inbox.
4. Getting rid of distracting real-time notifications.
In Acapela the goal is always Notification Zero. By aggregating them together, you turn notifications into one single task, rather than multiple real-time distractions. The efficiency of batching them together means you also spend less time responding, but unblock your team even quicker than before. And, more importantly, dealing with notifications becomes a shorter, more efficient part of your day. That gives you more time for focus, thinking and working on the tasks that matter.
Acapela is currently in beta and we’re looking for early adopters to help us shape the future of our product.
If you use Slack, Notion or Figma and are looking for a better way to handle your work notifications, then go here to join our early access waitlist. We’d love to have you test out what we’re doing and hear what you think.