How I stopped Notification Hell

Fokke Zandbergen
Mar 1, 2017 · 4 min read

Today is the start of Lent, traditionally a period of fasting leading up to Easter. Not a lot of people fast from food anymore, but modern ways of fasting include anything from going without watching TV or drinking alcohol.

40 Days without Social Media

Today, I decided to fast from social media. I’ve removed Twitter and Facebook from my phone and turned off all notifications except direct messages and mentions.

Cutting down on Notifications

I wouldn’t have taken this decision as easy a year a go as I did today. In the last few months, I’ve already cut down heavily on notifications. No matter how disciplined you are, notifications are designed to be addictive and there’s only one way to beat them: kill them.

Mute iOS

It took me some time to figure out a way to manage iOS notifications, but I’m very satisfied with the following setup:

  • I wear an Apple Watch, on mute so that the things I do want to be notified for don’t require me to reach into my pocket or disturb others with ringtones or the even more sound of a vibrating phone.
  • I have my iPhone always on mute and with vibration turned off (Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Vibrate on Silent: Off.
  • I always answer No when an app first asks me to allow notifications.
  • If I later find I do need them I never enable all options, but:
  • Never alerts; I can’t think of anything important enough to block me.
  • Banners only when I need to act on it immediately. Enabling these automatically pushes them to the Apple Watch.
  • Badges when I want to be able to see an app has something for me when I’m on my phone anyway. I keep all of these apps on my first screen. Folders work fine with badges.
  • Never sounds, since my iPhone and Apple Watch are on mute anyway.

I apply the same guidelines for Mac OS Notifications, which have gained a lot of traction in the last few years as well. For both iOS and Mac OS the first thing you’ll want to do is set email notifications to Badge only!

Dedicated VIP Messaging App

For phone calls iOS has this excellent feature where you can allow calls from a favourite or a group of contacts in Do Not Disturb mode. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for iMessage, let alone other messaging apps.

So there’s two ways to solve this. If you use WhatsApp you could mute all contacts except those you want to be notified of. What I ended up doing is use WhatsApp with Badge Notifications only and another app with Banners for VIPs, aka my wife. 😜

I also do have Banner Notifications enabled for phone calls and iMessage (SMS), as a natural way for anyone escalate if they really need me. Who gets calls and text messages anymore anyway?

Mute Slack Channels

My Zapier colleague Matthew recently wrote 12 Ways to Stay Productive in Slack. Slack can easily go from blessing to hell if you don’t take time to manage it well, in particular notifications.

Two great tips I adopted is to mute all channels I want to be a member of without needing to read everything, and on top off that only list channels with unreads or that I marked as favorite in my sidebar.

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This really helps to not spend hours reading up, in particular when I wake up at CEST after a night of activity from PST.

Dedupe Notifications

Like Slack, many other apps allow you to configure notifications in detail. By default they’re mostly set to spam you via both email, mobile, desktop and whatever else they’ve got on you. It really pays off to tweak this to the minimum.

Pull, don’t Push

Way before push notifications, we already had push email, thanks to Microsoft Exchange. One word: disable. Why on earth would an email require your immediate attention? Just pull when you decide to read up.

Now you could do the same for apps like Medium, LinkedIn, Google+ or whatever but you don’t want to spend hours going through each of these apps only to find there’s nothing (interesting) there. With or without red dot, this will still trigger you to continiously check in Fear Of Missing Out.

Instead, I use Zapier — shameless plug™ — to monitor and filter these channels and send me digests when I and where I want them. It’s like looking forward to the good old newspaper, but then with just the news you really care about!

See you in 40 days!

OK, here it goes! You’ll probably still see some automated (re)tweets and Facebook updates in the coming weeks, but I won’t be there. If you wanna chat or have something fun to share; send me a DM or email and I’ll respond.. in time.

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