Getting Clean from Notifications

Completely disable all your phone notifications to get some of that precious attention, energy, and focus back to your life.

Reading time: 4 min(s) · Date published: October 19, 2015

I bought my first smartphone because I wanted to have my calendar accessible from my computer and phone. I kept forgetting my appointments and scheduling several things at the same time. Sounds reasonable, right?

Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself compulsively checking my phone. At first I was just trying to take advantage of idle moments while commuting or when waiting for something. By the end, I was checking my phone before even getting out of bed, while having dinner (and watching TV), while trying to work, even while having a good time with some friends.

What was I looking for in my phone? Apparently, highly addictive dopamine. It feels good to see that someone reached out to me, that there was something new for me. But feeling anxious after spending too much time without checking my phone? That’s not so good.

I know I’m not alone on this.

It was impacting my productivity. Several personal productivity techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique and Time Blocking have the following thing in common: context switching is a huge productivity hit.

And guess what? Notifications make you switch contexts constantly.

Let’s not forget the social impact and annoyance of being with someone who is constantly checking their phone. A photographer edited out our phones from some photos, the result is shocking. I was one of them. And I didn’t want to. Stupid and awesome dopamine.

After reading Minimalism (a great read by the way) I decided that I want to live in a more meaningful and balanced way.

And my phone addiction was not helping.

Turn off notifications. Our smartphones have created workspaces even away from work. Even when we are not “clocked-in” at the job, our constant stream of notification reminds us of incoming emails, pending deadlines, and opportunities for employment advancement. The lines between work and rest continue to blur. One simple strategy to redraw those lines is to turn off the notifications (email, Facebook, IM) on your smartphone away from work. As a result, you will be able to check your apps on your schedule at appropriate times throughout the day and reduce the number of times you check your phone each day.

— Joshua Becker

So, I decided to quit the bad habit and addiction of constantly checking my phone. Following Leo Babauta tips on quitting bad habits, this is what I did:

  1. I told my significant other that I will answer messages eventually. If it’s something more urgent or important, it’s better to call me.
  2. Remove one of the triggers. I disabled all notifications that goes to my lock screen. Only calls can interrupt me (luckily, I don’t receive calls frequently, so it’s not a problem for me).
  3. My inner trigger of unlocking my phone, even without notifications, was still there. To avoid that, I decided to breathe. If I want to look at my phone, let’s do it by intention, not by impulse.
  4. I scheduled several fixed times throughout the day when I can unlock my phone and process all notifications in batch. I left the badge number notification on so I don’t have to open all apps looking for new things.

On an iPhone you can configure each application following these steps:

  1. Go to Settings > Notifications > Select an App.
  2. Enable “Allow Notifications”.
  3. Disable “Show in Notification Center”, “Sounds”, and “Show on Lock Screen”.
  4. Leave “Badge App Icon” enabled.
  5. Select “None” on “Alert Style When Unlocked”.
  6. Do this for every app you want to receive notifications.
  7. To completely disable notifications for an app, disable “Allow Notifications”.

This configuration cleaned up a lot of my time and attention. Now, when I’m with someone, I’m not worried about things other people on other places are doing.

The sensation of not being controlled by your phone is great. It helped me to focus on “right now”.

On a related note, I still own a regular watch. I like to know the time, and my watch helps me to avoid triggering the impulse to unlock the phone. This is why I don’t want to own a smart watch, I don’t want notifications closer to me.

Now it’s your time, disable your phone notifications. It will clean up some of your mental clutter.