Shutting Off Notifications: A 7-Day Experiment.

Day One.

I’ve been having worse anxiety than usual lately. (Full disclosure: I have General Anxiety Disorder. I take Lexapro. I love it.)

My anxiety tends to intensify in the summer because I have more time to think and overanalyze. So I’ve done something I’ve read about hundreds of times but never had the courage to do: I shut off my notifications.

Facebook. Twitter. Snapchat. Instagram. All notifications off. (I did leave my text message notifications on for family reasons.)

Let’s see how this experiment goes.

Day Two.

I’ve realized what a habit I had with checking my notifications. Every time I walk by my phone, I hit the home button, only to see a blank screen appear.

But here’s my reaction to that blank screen: Relief.

Not because I don’t have any notifications waiting for me on Twitter or Facebook. I know I do. Since I can’t see them, I don’t feel the instinct to respond right away.

Instead, I’ve intentionally checked my social media once during the day and once toward the end of the day.

Day Three.

It’s Twitter chat day — the craziest day of my Twitter week. As usual, I scheduled all my promo posts first thing in the morning and then went offline.

Usually I spend these days fairly attached to the Twitterverse; even during the school year, I try to pop into Twitter a few times during the day to check for questions or messages. Today, I checked twice at times I personally scheduled to check my notifications.

Yes, there were lots of them. The majority of them didn’t need my attention. I responded to the few that did.

The result: I had less anxiety for this chat than I have in recent memory. Usually this day is a build of anticipation and anxiety, hoping for a productive and insightful chat.

Today I felt calmer going in, and although I had major tech problems during the chat and my stress-level was high, I felt calm coming out of the chat as well — an even-keel throughout the process.

Day Four.

Continuing to love this “notifications-free” experiment. I still find myself hitting that home button on my phone a few times a day, and then pleasantly realizing, “Oh. Yeah. I forgot I did that.” Definitely a sign of what a habit loop I’d planted myself into.

Yet every time I see that blank screen, I still feel relief. I know the blank screen doesn’t mean I don’t have FB or Twitter posts waiting for me, but I can’t believe the power of the blank screen. It’s like an illusion that I know isn’t real, but I’m happy to play along.

Day Five.

Re-listening to @melrobbins’ 5 Second Rule on Audible (I also have the hard copy, but I definitely recommend listening to it — Mel Robbins is an amazing speaker), I was able to reconnect to other reasons for shutting off the notifications that I’d forgotten the first time I listened to the book.

The past five days, I’ve been enjoying the less pressure to respond immediately to messages and tweets. But I also didn’t realize — until Mel Robbins mentioned it — that I’ve also enjoyed the greater focus that comes without checking notifications constantly.

Checking email — and I imagine Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever — releases the same chemicals as pulling the lever of a slot machine, says Mel Robbins. Notifications, especially with a tantalizing “ding,” only prod us further to check now!

I deleted my gmail extension several days ago, and today I deleted my Tweetdeck bookmark. Because how much time does bookmarking really save as opposed to typing the first couple letters of the URL before the rest of the address pops up? Very little. How much productivity and focus do I get from not having that visual reminder?

I don’t know. Not something you can measure. I can tell you that I’ve checked my gmail significantly less — I’d guess 75% — this past week that I’ve been without that extension.

Day Six.

The rabbit hole. We’ve all done it, checked just one thing on social media and then you scroll down. And you keep going…and going…

I’m doing this less often during the day without the notifications. What concerns me is I’m still doing it the 2–3 times a day I do intentionally check social media for messages and to participate in a Twitter chat.

I’ve realized the slot machine metaphor extends to all social media — not just email. We scroll through Facebook for several minutes at a time, but how many posts are we truly moved by or thankful to have seen? One out of ten? One out of twenty?

Same with Twitter. Not that I will ever let go of the greatest professional development tool out there, but even scrolling through a Twitter stream, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole, looking for the next great tweet. It is, in essence, finding a mini-treasure every time you find a tweet that resonates.

It’s time to be more intentional about my social media time. Maybe it’s limiting myself to three minutes on Facebook, or five minutes on Twitter if I’m not participating in a chat. Bottom line is I need to stop reading social media and telling myself I’m being productive.

Day seven.

Here I am, day seven, and the notifications are not going back on. Here’s what I’ve gained from the experience:

  • More relief from not seeing the constant stream of notifications that I “feel” I should respond to
  • Less checking my phone every time I walk by it. It’s a habit I’m still working on.
  • More focus and being “in the moment” without hearing the “ding” of a message and the immediate thought of “I should check that.”
  • More conscientious of my social media time overall — and my need to be more intentional with it.