Why Productive People Turn Off Phone Notifications

Five Key Strategies

Coach Tony
Aug 8, 2016 · 3 min read

Screw notifications.

Who’s the boss? You or your phone?

The whole concept of notifications is, for the most part, completely backward.

You bought your phone as an expensive, advanced computing tool. And instead of you wielding that tool according to your best interests, the tool has ended up wielding you.

My coaching group did a month of work on single-tasking and taking control of notifications was the simple exercise that everyone considered the biggest win.

Below are the big realizations and strategies that you could use right now to manage notifications on your phone.

#1. Multi-tasking is for idiots

I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Rather, literally, multi-tasking interrupts learning.

Here’s a lay explanation of something important going on in your brain.

When you repeatedly exercise a neural pathway in your brain, the neural fibers in that pathway grow additional protective myelin. That’s learning.

The problem is that it takes sustained focus to trigger the myelin growth. Multi-tasking interrupts the trigger for myelin growth before it gets started.

So, you think multi-tasking is a virtue because you’re working so hard, but, the reality is that you’re retarding your intelligence. While everyone else works and gets smarter, you stay put, your intelligence frozen in time.

Notifications are alarms that trigger multi-tasking. You should hate them as much as you hate your office fire alarm (ours seemed to get tested monthly).

Getting rid of them takes about five minutes and permanently eradicates an entire category of multi-tasking.

#2. The Easy Change: No Badging

On iPhone at least, there’s a huge propensity to put red dots with numbers on top of every app.

These are called badges and what they say to you is “Urgent: opening this app is WAY more important than whatever else you are doing.”

But the good news is that you never need this feature.

If the app matters, you’re going to open that app on your own time.

Go through your apps and turn off all badging for every single one.

#3. Text messaging and inboxes

Because I’m older than 30, I get very few text messages, and they often are urgent. So I leave my text messaging notifications on.

However, if you send hundreds of text messages per day, consider the opposite approach. If this is you, then you use your text messaging the way I use my email inbox.

In that case, schedule time when your #1 focus is text messaging. You can even schedule that multiple times per day. You just have to commit to only processing your text messages during that time.

The only thing you can’t do is have text messages interrupting your work all day. This is the sure-fire way never to get smarter and never to meet your real potential.

Special case: Slack. I don’t have any Slack notifications on my phone. Slack is supposed to be asynchronous, so use it that way.

#4. On-Demand Services, i.e. Uber, Postmates

These are the only apps to leave uncontrolled notifications on for. Occasionally they take advantage by trying to sell you something.

But for the most part, you do want to know when your Uber arrived or when food is at your front door.

#5. Reminders, i.e. Calendar, Coach.me

Reminders are the one category of app that uses notifications the way they are intended.

You set a reminder and get reminded as a service to aid your memory. That’s fantastic.

So leave notifications on for your calendar or any other app where you control the timing and purpose of the notification.


Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Coach Tony

Written by

Evangelist for great coaches and excellent personal development advice. CEO/Founder of Coach.me. Publisher of Better Humans & Better Programming.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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