Wiring Your Tech to Fight ADHD: The Madness of Notifications

It’s safe to assume most of us wouldn’t run full-speed into a swarm of bees. Yet that’s exactly the feeling that comes from seeing a flood of notifications every time we check our phones.

In the same way that bees would all swarm towards us if we dove into them, our apps like to sting us into giving them the attention we need to put elsewhere. When left unchecked this leads to an overwhelming anxiety as the downpour of notifications overtakes the organization and clarity you need to get through the day anxiety-free.

That’s especially troubling when you factor in ADHD’s woes. When it feels like everything is coming after you and trying to grab the almost disheartening amount of attention you’re able to maintain, it often feels easier to ignore it all and let them work their way into the space you’ve reserved for the things that benefit you most.

I’ve let these digital bees take me away from important deadlines and moments with friends and family. It’s hard to forgive yourself for the times you’ve let news alerts or the latest happenings on Twitter get the attention that should’ve gone towards enjoying being at a Bruins game with your then-girlfriend or seeing your nine-year-old brother make the first score of his soccer game.

If this has gotten the best of you, start thinking about why it happens. As apps become a smaller part of the smartphone experience for most users, many developers have fought for a larger role in how you use your smartphone by adding push notifications to get you to open their apps more frequently, often to little benefit for its users.

While some notifications are crucial like calls, messages, task and event reminders, and bank alerts, you’ll find most apps will ask for access to your notification panel only to make it look like a poorly managed Twitter feed. I’m not sure how a note-taking app, article highlighting app, or TED’s video app would make my life better, but that doesn’t stop them from trying their hardest to break the barrier.

Anything that isn’t immediately actionable is axed

When I found myself feeling anxious every time I checked my phone, I sat down and asked myself which apps could make my life more manageable without getting in the way. There are plenty of ways to do this, but I found that taking an hour to write down every app that asks for notification permissions and try to find a way they can help me worked best. Anything that isn’t immediately actionable or doesn’t give me an idea of what needs to get done is axed.

It’s easy to sift through the garbage using this guideline because it forces you to ask yourself what your current workflow looks like and identify the habits you should develop to improve it. Once you realize that you don’t need to be pinged every time the guy you’re arguing politics with on Facebook tags you with an inflammatory comment or when someone on Instagram comments on your post telling you to follow them to get more followers, you’ll head towards a phone that isn’t shouting at you any time anything trivial happens.

After you’ve identified the apps that notify you of things that are crucial to how you operate but you’re prone to forgetting, or the times when people are trying to reach you for necessary communications, you need a plan for how to deal with these alerts.

You don’t need to be pinged every time that guy you’re arguing politics with on Facebook tags you with an inflammatory comment

Your first instinct might be to act on these notifications immediately since they were important enough to make it through your digital layoff. This is the worst habit to get into, especially with ADHD since it’s easy to bog you down with so many distractions you forget what you were doing or lose the time you needed for it.

I struggled with this for a while, but I’ve found that letting the less important apps send their alerts to your notification screen and keeping it at is effective. You’ll have a hub for everything you haven’t gotten to yet that you can sift through when you have time. If it won’t interrupt your workflow in a detrimental way and needs to be addressed quickly, iOS’s rich notifications are great because you can pull down the notification banner and get it out of the way without having to jump between apps and dive further into distractions.

For more important notifications like reminders for tasks, meetings, severe weather changes, or quickly approaching deadlines, sounds and vibrations are can ensure you’re notified as soon as you need to act on it. When you want to drown out the world and maintain focus, turn Do Not Disturb on so nothing but important calls and messages get through.

Finally, since there’s no way to prioritize notifications on iOS, use its badges to work around the flighty nature of ADHD by persistently shoving an ugly red badge onto your home screen that will drive you wild until you’ve gotten rid of it. It’s unpleasant at first but it’s a powerful way to keep you on top of the things you’re prone to forgetting.

Notifications play a major role in our lives. They remind us of the things we need to do, what’s happening in the world, and who we’re talking to. Without them most of us would let a lot of what we spend our days on fall to the wayside. But as great as it can be, it can quickly keep you from being engaged with the world around you. If you take the time to develop a way to fight this, you’ll have less stress and more time to dedicate to the things that matter.

Now that you’ve taken the time to create a system that serves you and your productive habits rather than fight against them, you can stay focused on your life’s important moments and work.