Apple first announced the Push Notification Service almost ten years ago. At the time, it was the number one feature request for iOS 3—by far. At the time, you had to unlock your phone, open an app, and wait for your instant messages or your eBay bids to refresh… slowly.
Today we get notifications for everything. From the moment we wake up to our heads hitting the pillow at night, our phones buzz with new Stories on Instagram, Slack messages, mobile games, and that limited time offer for Warby Parker glasses—free with your HSA! Oh, and Bitcoin is up.
In less than a decade, a once-novel means of staying connected has become the idiosyncratic hum of our lives, like a mosquito constantly buzzing in our ears. I firmly believe this hum is noticeably distracting us from being our most creative selves.
Five years ago I read about Jake Knapp’s distraction-free iPhone experiment (removing email, Safari, and all feeds) and immediately tried it.
And then I immediately went back. 😬
I just couldn’t disconnect. It wasn’t practical, especially in the 2013 heyday of social mobile apps and in my role as the sole designer at a startup.
Fast forward to today. I’ve become increasingly aware of the mental overhead the buzzing is causing me. Whether I was at dinner or in the bathroom at work, or watching TV on the couch. And it wasn’t just my phone. I’ve begun to notice just how often others’ phones lights up too.
It felt like fog in my brain. Like Harrison Bergeron’s headphones shouting random nothingness so he couldn’t think or be creative. My apps were constantly there to save me from my own thoughts. Instead of creating, I was force-fed whatever some algorithm thought was better.
I turned off notifications that weren’t helping me do a specific job better.
Sounds, badges, and banners are now turned off for almost every app on my phone. My new philosophy is off-by-default instead of on-by-default.
Some fun highlights:
- Email: no sounds, badges, or banners. I check email way less often now
- Home Screen: no more ❶ badge cleanup duty
- Snapchat: app icon badge only—I check Snapchat on my time
- Slack: no sounds, badges, or banners
I kept alerts on for things like iMessage (basically just family) and banking (like suspicious activity). I also kept them for apps like Lyft and Google Calendar—things that I need contextual alerts for when I’m doing something in the real world.
It’s been three weeks and I don’t miss them at all.
I deleted feed apps that kept sucking me in.
No Instagram, Reddit, Apple News, or Facebook.
As a designer, there’s an incredible amount of pressure to tell a great story about your career. We must hang out with other designers regularly, post beautiful and artistically novel photos on Instagram, and chime in on industry drama on Twitter. My relationship with my product design career is a bit more casual… and keeping up with the digital Joneses is just not for me.
That feeling of being an outsider when I see peers doing awesome stuff and putting themselves out there gives me an incredible amount of anxiety. Am I wasting my career? Do I go outside often enough? Why didn’t my friends and I meet for brunch this weekend—or last?
So I decided the best thing for it would be to stop digitally consuming other people’s lives and wishing they were my own. I’m not on Instagram or Twitter anymore. My Facebook is deleted (though, for different reasons).
I still chat with friends on iMessage and Snapchat, though! There we can be one-on-one (or a small group) and the social pressure is totally gone.
Instead of filling the void with my phone, I’ve come to realize there is no void. The fog has lifted, and the sun is shining. It’s quiet.
In the last three weeks, I’ve felt more centered. Creative ideas come easier, I feel like I can multi-task more at work, and I’m more engaged in conversations. I’m also writing for the first time in almost 6 years. I’m like a better version of myself. And I don’t miss the siren call of my phone.
Now it’s your turn.
As a designer, it can be hard to disconnect. I challenge you to try. Give yourself a day… and see if you can turn it into a week. You should notice any change in how you experience the world around you pretty quickly!
If not, you can always go back, right?
Many thanks to Jake Knapp for sending me down this rabbit hole 4 years ago. His blog, Time Dorks, takes a fantastic look at not just disconnecting from your phone, but generally making time for what really matters.
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