The Verge at Work is a series about process. We’re not scientists, and we’re not gurus, we’re just trying to get some work done. The solutions presented here are highly personal, and highly personalized. Not the only way, but our way.
Stay focused. Attention is the new currency. We’re told over and over to minimize our digital distractions, that it’s the only way to get anything done. But what if instead of constantly fighting them, we could find a way to come to peace with the rising tide of notifications for texts, emails, weather, Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Snapchat, and countless other services? There are some options on your desktop, but on your phone you’re distracted no matter what the type of notification is.
You can either ignore each beep and buzz in your pocket, burying into your mind as you suppress the urge to check, or pull your phone out every time. Which, increasingly, is a lot of mental fighting, when the simple reality is that sometimes you should look, and sometimes you shouldn’t. The smartwatch has emerged as a perfect solution for those sometimes.
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Pebble, the little smartwatch that could, is one of Kickstarter’s biggest successes, and the indie hardware company got something right in its first generation. My Pebble lets me stay plugged into what’s going on around me, with instant alerts every time my phone would otherwise vibrate ominously in my pocket. I can immediately acknowledge the breaking news alert, text message, Twitter @reply, adorable Instagram picture my wife just posted of our daughter — and then I can forget about it. The Pebble is an always on, wearable screen that isn’t trying to do everything. With each notification, the screen lights up, the watch vibrates a little, and I need only to glance at my wrist. If it’s important enough, I can address it — otherwise there’s no need to pull out my phone or do anything more. It’s like keeping a slightly more intrusive radio or stock ticker running in the background, with news, music, and alerts weaved into my daily environment.
I let it all flow through, because casting things aside takes no time at all
Using the Pebble means I don’t have to make a lot of choices. Notifications on both iOS and Android have improved, but even at their best, you have to spend an inordinate amount of time tailoring notifications to the level of detail and distraction you want — should new Instagram likes show up on the lock screen, or only in Notification Center, or not at all? Should breaking news updates be turned on only during weekdays? How often do I really need weather alerts? Instead, I’m letting it all flow through, because casting things aside takes no time at all.
It comes with the line of work, but I use the Pebble with both Android and iOS because I’m constantly testing out different devices. Fortunately, setup is pretty straightforward. On iOS, thanks to Pebble’s recent update for iOS 7 support, I just need to pair the Pebble to my phone over Bluetooth and download the Pebble app from the App Store. I can then get virtually any push notification sent from my phone to my wrist. With Android, the setup is similar, but if I want every app notification, I need to download a helper app from the Play Store in addition to Pebble’s official app (I'm currently using Notification Center for Pebble, but there are many available that get the job done). If I’m paired to an Android phone, I always download another helper app called Pebble Locker. It turns my watch into an authenticator, so when it’s connected to my smartphone, I don’t need to use a passcode on my lock screen as long as I’m nearby.
Like any other first-generation device, Pebble’s not perfect. It’s not great for actually clearing all the notifications I get: if I see an alert on my Pebble, I’m going to see it again on my phone the next time I pick it up, and future versions of the software should sync the read status of notifications across devices. I’d also like a way to delete or archive email directly from my wrist, so that I don’t have to deal with it again when I load it up on my desktop or phone. Right now, Pebble’s really more of a way to delay dealing with everything, rather than a way to not have to deal at all.
The rubber wristband that comes with the Pebble feels and looks cheap, but the Pebble mount fortunately supports standard 22mm watch band. I customized mine with a standard leather wristband, but you can find a classy, rugged replacement pretty much anywhere.
My phone only comes out when I know there’s something that needs my attention
And occasionally, the Pebble can be too good at what it does. There’s much to love about having an ambient stream of updates throughout the day instead of setting aside distinct times to check on what’s going on, but the Pebble can still be overwhelming. I’ve found myself unstrapping the Pebble and throwing it in a drawer when I’m on a deadline and really need to focus — there’s still no quick way to mute all notifications (even for a set period of time). But most of the time I don’t want to go off the grid entirely; I just don’t want to be staring at my phone all day.
The Pebble isn’t for everyone: it’s still pretty geeky, from its setup to its functionality to its almost toy-like appearance. But there’s a bit of a thrill to being on the bleeding edge. If my coworkers are planning to grab drinks after work, I want to know about it. If there’s a hint of snow in the next five days, I want to know about it. If someone has ousted me as the mayor of my local coffee shop on Foursquare, I want to know about it. Immediately and without pulling out my phone.
Doing things this way lets me separate knowing things from doing things, too. If I pull my phone out of my pocket, even for a pointless Gilt notification, I’m going to end up doing something while I’m holding it — one absent-minded swipe to unlock and I’m reading Twitter, or scrolling through Instagram. With Pebble, the temptation is gone: my phone only comes out of my pocket when I know there’s something that needs my attention.
We’re still on the cusp of a boom in wearable technology, and the Pebble and its competitors will be greatly improved upon in the near future — wearables will be faster, smarter, and designed to actually be worn with a suit or formal wear. But here, today, it actually serves a need for me in my workflow, and I honestly wouldn’t want to have to give it up.