August 20, 2020

Don't Suffer from Alert Fatigue - WST

We live in a busy, and often stressful world. With most of us carrying around at least one always-connected device, we are constantly bombarded with notifications, reminders, and pop-ups from apps trying to get our attention. It can quickly become overwhelming, resulting in us either quickly dismissing notifications without looking twice, or just ignoring them completely until we get in and clear them out.

For those poor souls out there responsible for maintaining or securing servers and networks, you have even more alerts to watch and worry about. From backup jobs completing, to another port scan on the firewall, inboxes can quickly fill with hundreds, if not thousands of emails…and we just don’t have time to read them all.

Just about any modern application can send alerts, and they serve an essential function, reaching out and letting us know when something important has happened. The problem can arise when we just turn on all the alerts, and quickly have so many they all blur together and we wind up with a folder (or 20!) full of unread notifications. Missing that one alert you really needed to see in all the noise is a very real danger.

Email notifications are supposed to save you time, so it’s time to make them start working for you. Here are a few quick suggestions:

  • Simplify things as much as possible. Don’t let your alert inbox folders become a log location. You should have a SEIM or log aggregation server for that. (You do have one, right?!) Log everything, but most applications allow you to pick and choose what events you get emails for, so be choosy. Only setup emails for things you want to see immediately.
  • Inevitably, you will get notifications for things that are not what they seem and are probably not issues. Either tweak these so you don’t get alerted on non-problems or turn them off.
  • If you routinely get alerts on the same recurring problem, where possible just fix the problem in question. Procrastination will get you used to ignoring alerts and can make it easier to miss the important things.
  • If you have simplified as much as possible, and still have a bunch of emails to go through (or ignore!) each day, consider creating rules to help you parse and bubble the interesting ones up to the surface. With most email clients you can create rules to move messages, set colors, and other helpful things to make your life easier!

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