This is either going to sound like the most obvious thing in the world or the most horrifying suggestion ever, but it facilitated such a huge change for me that I really want to share it with all of you. Yes, turning off push notifications will help you feel less stressed and get more done. I’m actually confident enough in this that I’m saying ‘will’, not ‘can’ or ‘might’. Seriously. If you find yourself wanting to scream at your phone multiple times a day, give this a go.
How can you benefit from turning off notifications?
Notifications demand your attention immediately. Even if you don’t stop what you’re doing to tend to them, they’re in your head. You know you have three emails, five messages and a bunch of other little time-stealing things to deal with just as soon as you finish what you’re working on. Simply being aware of that challenges your focus.
When you remove all but the absolutely essential notifications from your mobile device, smart watch, laptop or whatever other electronic thing shouts at you on a regular basis, you’re free to focus on what you’re doing right now without distractions.
Choosing when to look at emails, messages and social media notifications also allows you to give those things your full attention. Maybe you’re absolutely amazing at multitasking and can easily do a bunch of things at the same time with no problems, but I reckon most people probably aren’t going to give replying to an email their full attention if they’ve had to stop in the middle of something else to do it.
There’s also a level of twitchiness that comes from having something constantly beeping and buzzing at you. Whether you’re hard at work or enjoying some downtime, not many people will experience a positive effect from constant notifications.
How can you be sure you won’t miss anything?
Easy! Set aside specific times to check and deal with notifications and messages. This might be once a day or once an hour, depending on how busy your communications get and what kind of work you do. The point isn’t how many times you look at your messages, or even how long for – it’s about doing it intentionally, at a time of your choosing, and giving it your full attention, which allows you to give your other tasks your full attention the rest of the time.
But what about the really important stuff?
I’m not telling you to live your life on airplane mode, disconnected and impossible to reach. There are lots of reasons why you may want to be alerted immediately if a family member, colleague or close friend is trying to reach you. People with jobs that require them to be on-call obviously can’t ignore alerts relating to work.
Your job might require you to respond to emails, messages and even social media notifications really quickly and, if that’s the case, absolutely allow your devices to alert you to new stuff that needs your attention during work hours. But please give serious consideration to whether you need to see all those notifications as soon as you wake up, when you’re spending time with your family or while you’re winding down for bed. If you don’t, turn them off when you’re not working. Please.
If it’s not essential, it can wait. Seriously.
After you’ve been very honest with yourself about what push notifications and alerts you actually need, scrap the rest. Do whatever it takes to stop your phone from buzzing, beeping and flashing when someone replies to a Facebook post, Likes a photo or Retweets something. Unless that stuff is an integral part of your job and you’re currently at work, it can wait.
This is not a rejection of technology or an attempt to live a hermit’s life (which is cool too, if that’s what you want to do). It’s about consciously taking back control and actively choosing how and when to direct your attention.
How this works for me
I’m going to use myself as an example. I put my phone on airplane mode when I’m sleeping and I only turn it on when I’m fully awake and ready to look at whatever it might throw at me. Even then, I end up swiping sideways on anything that can wait until later, when I’m actually ready to read emails or reply to messages.
I have my phone’s (gentle, melodic) ringtone turned on when I’m awake. Because talking on the phone isn’t part of my job and my phone number isn’t out there in the world, it isn’t a source of distraction for me. If it rings, nine times out of ten it will be something that I’m genuinely fine to stop what I’m doing and deal with.
There are very few people I communicate with by SMS. It’s pretty much just the occasional automated thing like vet appointment reminders, and messages from my parents who would phone if anything was urgent. Because SMS is rarely a source of distraction, I leave a gentle notification sound turned on while I’m awake.
My husband and I use Google’s Allo messaging programme only for each other. This means that even if we turn literally everything else off, we can still contact each other. It also means that we can both leave Allo notifications turned on, knowing that they aren’t going to cause constant beeping and buzzing.
I have icon-only notifications set up on my phone for email and Facebook Messenger (which I use for ongoing friend-chats), meaning that if someone contacts me through either of those channels, I’ll only be aware of it when I choose to look at my phone and see a tiny little picture at the top of the screen. Obviously if I’m expecting to hear from someone or have promise availability at a certain time, I’ll pay more attention to what my phone is doing.
I use Slack for online volunteering. I only have it on my laptop, not my phone, and it’s set only to notify me if someone tags me by name in a conversation or sends me a private message. Even then, there’s no sound involved – it’s a small notification bubble in the corner of my screen.
I have no push notifications for ANY social media platforms at all. If the apps don’t allow me to turn them off, I turn them off in my Android settings. I have no little red numbers popping up next to app icons to let me know how many things are waiting for me next time I look at Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I do not need to know immediately when someone Likes one of my Tweets or comments on a blog post. I can easily see all those notifications when I choose to look at them. They do not require my attention the rest of the time.
Are you ready to take back your time?
Here’s the thing. It feels really weird at first. It feels quiet. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably spend a few days feeling like you’re missing out on something super important and you might be a bit on edge…until you aren’t. Until you realise there are very few things that can’t wait until you’re ready to read or respond to them. Until you realise how much better you feel when you don’t wake up to a thousand demands on your time. Until you fall asleep faster at night because your phone has been quiet since you finished work. Until you see how much more productive you can be when you’re actually able to focus on what you’re doing with no distractions. Then it’ll feel so good you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.