In my continuing attempts to remove unneccessary distraction from my life, I took another step this week by removing notifications from most of the apps that I use on my iOS devices. It seemed a little extreme at first, but it’s incredible how much better I feel even after just 24 hours.
I was again inspired by Joe Kraus’ blog post in which he talks about the distractions that we create for ourselves, mostly through notifications. Om Malik had a great blog post just a few months back where he talked about the dopamine reaction that we have whenever a notification comes to our devices. Notifications are a drug. They’re designed to distract you and lure you back into whatever app they come from. Some can be very valuable, but for the most part are generally the crux of distraction. This addiction causes some really awkward social behavior: people at gatherings but all staring at their phones, friends at dinner but spending too much time checking up on their various social networks, the examples are numerous.
Rarely are we actually spending time “in the moment” anymore. Instead, we’ve become the stars of our own version of the Truman Show wherein we’re the actor and the storyteller. We’re ridiculously addicted to our devices and I thought there hardly seemed to be an escape.
Until I got rid of my notifications, that is. A few days ago, I went through the Notification Settings all of my apps one-by-one and decided which were crucial and pared back or deleted the other ones. As an example of the notifications I received, with Tweetbot, an iOS Twitter client, I used to get a notification each time I had an @ mention, direct message, or when someone would favorite or retweet one of my tweets. This paired with Facebook, Instagram, Quora, Foursquare, and lord knows how many other apps meant that my phone was going off constantly. If my phone was out, my attention was on it at least once every few minutes. Not good.
One inspiring thought was from a friend of mine, Emily Olson, who said “Only thing that can interrupt me is a text or call. I still stay connected, but on my own time.” This made immense sense, so I spent some time thinking about which notifications were ones that I could easily live without and ones that I couldn’t. The breakdown came like this:
- Twitter: the @ mentions I receive will always be there in a tab for me to check later. I don’t need a notification for this. But my DM’s I’d like to receive in real time, just like text messages. Thankfully in Tweetbot, I’m able to granularly control how I receive these.
- Facebook: I turned off all notifications for the FB app, but kept them going for Facebook Messenger for the same reason as Twitter DM’s.
- Path: I love Path, so it was hard at first to determine what I needed to do. I value the interactions in Path since they’re so personal, so rather than get rid of notifications entirely, I decided to just badge the app icon. So any time there’s a notification, it doesn’t buzz or even pop something up, just silently updates the badge in the background to remind me something’s happened.
- Email: I still get notifications, but only once per hour and without sound. This one is a hard one to compromise as I’m running a company and can’t really stay away from email too long.
- SMS/Messages: This is the only one that buzzes my phone. If someone texts me, I do want to know about it.
- Calendar: I get a pop up for meeting reminders
- Pretty much every other app: No notifications turned on. Ahhhhhhhh.
This setup has almost immediately had an interesting effect. I no longer incessantly check my phone. I don’t have the constant fear of missing out anymore either. I just casually check things on my own time, rather than have them interrupt me all the time. In fact, during the writing of this entire blog post, not a single notification has come in to distract me. In the past, that was an extremely rare occurrence. It’s refreshing to say the least. I’ve now got a lot more time and energy to focus on the most important things in my life just by simply ridding my life of unnecessary interruption. What about you? Do you think your life would be better without a constant buzz from your pocket?