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The science behind alert fatigue: How to turn down the noise so you can hear the signal

Marius Moscovici, founder and CEO, Metric Insights | May 8, 2015
This insidious problem for enterprise has some fairly straightforward solutions — thanks to what we already know about human psychology and the science behind alert fatigue.

How to fight alert fatigue

Remember the controversy over "the color of the dress" that recently circulated on social media? Turns out that the color you see isn't about the light coming into your eyes. Rather, the context around the dress constructs your color experience.

Similarly, alert fatigue is more about the context and the experience: How many alerts do you review and in what fashion, and are those alerts actionable or relevant? If you're used to acting on alerts because they're relevant, specific, and have the correct context, you'll be less susceptible to alert fatigue.

But if your morning consists of sifting through multiple analytics dashboards and email alerts telling you about every single change that happened in a BI chart, then you're more susceptible to alert fatigue. The best way to start reducing this potential for fatigue is to do an audit of your own behavior and ask colleagues and employees to do the same.

Monitor when and why you send and receive emails and any other notifications — from calendar alerts to social media alerts to network security alerts and so on. If you're being alerted (or alerting others), make note of it. Spend at least three days doing this. Once you and your colleagues have a good sample, you can begin to dissect these alerts and discover which are relevant.

Focus on results when looking at these alerts. Are they helping you improve the bottom line? Are they giving you data you can use immediately, or are they just flooding you with information you have to analyze? Are you getting alerts that are relevant to other departments but not you? Answering these questions can help you gain a better understanding of which alerts are relevant. Once you know that, you can start to turn off some of them.

Create email filters so that only urgent email shows up (e.g., sudden changes in meeting times and messages from important people in your work community). Turn off alerts for social media likes, but keep alerts for follow-up comments on important projects or time-sensitive issues. Only send alerts for metrics that are showing irregular behavior (e.g., if server latency is especially high or sales are especially low), and get rid of alarms for events that are within normal ranges.

Alert fatigue can creep up on you. As alerts start to pile up and become decreasingly relevant, it can be easy to surrender to the glut of information and succumb to fatigue without even realizing it. But by implementing filters that only send employees alerts that are results-based — instead of information-based — you can reset alert fatigue back to zero. And with regular audits of the signals that are coming in, you can keep it that way.

 

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