1. Email notifications on the phone
My accounts, both personal and work, are Gmail-based. I’ve experimented with high-priority alerts, no alerts at all, and low-priority alerts. By far, my favorite alert setting is what Android calls visual-only. This means that when I actively take the time to check my phone alerts, there is a visual representation of what’s come into my inbox. I can quickly scan it for anything of immediate importance and then dismiss the alert, all without opening the app. There’s no noise prompting me to look, which fits my mantra that emails should be seen and not heard.
I’ve also experimented with turning off email notifications altogether. For some accounts, this is a must. My work email, for instance, receives email constantly. I don’t need an alert to know that inbox will always be filling up. I also need to be able to disconnect from my office job on evenings and weekends.
Turning off notifications on my other accounts — my personal email, and the one I had for my side hustle — has yielded mixed results. It was certainly more relaxing — I turned off the notifications long enough to feel like I was getting a vacation — but I also missed some stuff that I wished I hadn’t. So I switched them back to low-priority, visual-only notifications.
2. Email notifications on my computer
Gmail and Outlook have options that will generate a subtle pop-up every time a new email appears in your inbox, no matter what screen you’re on. Turn them off right now.
The last thing you need is to split your focus for the few seconds it takes to read the pop-up, because refocusing on the interrupted task will take you at least as long as it took to read the notification.
Multiply this one interruption by the number of emails you get in a day, and the result is an unacceptable misuse of time and brainspace. Check your email when you decide it’s time to check your email. Do not check your email while you do everything and anything else.
3. Fun time-wasting apps
At any given time, I have one to three games on my phone. Sometimes I’m in a waiting room for 30 minutes and need something to do. Sometimes I just want to solve a puzzle. Sometimes I want to unwind by doing a little virtual dragon slaying. But there is never a time when I want a pop-up notification — silent or chirping — alerting me to the fact that for a limited time I can buy an upgrade for $29.99.
My games get their alerts silenced. No notifications whatsoever — no sound, no visual. My guildmates want me to jump online right now to help them slay the titan? I’m sorry, but that is not as important as my flow. In fact, the obstacles between you and a productive flow state are their own monsters to slay.
4. Daily apps
There are only four things that make noise on my phone: phone calls, text messages, the alarm clock, and calendar appointment reminders.
Those items can shout at me to get my attention. Everyone else has to raise their hand and wait their turn, even if it’s something I use all the time
I’m currently trying to establish a meditation habit — if you haven’t noticed, I have some anxiety, and I could do with being more centered. But as much as I’m enjoying my burgeoning Headspace practice, you better believe that I would delete the app in a fit of rage if it dinged to remind me to be calm.
Instead, it silently flashes a daily visual reminder to “get some headspace.” When I see it, I take a deep breath and tell myself I’ll do it later.
5. Apps I don’t use daily
For me, these are shopping and rideshare apps.
Am I glad I have Uber downloaded so I never again have to stand on a sidewalk at 2:00 a.m. using up data, shivering, hoping I can remember my PayPal password so we can get a ride home before my drunk friend gets herself in a fight with some random who just bummed a cigarette off her? Yes. Yes, I am. But I don’t need Uber every night. And I don’t need to order express pickup from Panera for lunch every day. So no, I don’t want to see any notifications from them.
I don’t immediately turn off notifications when I download a new app. But the first time that app tries to interrupt me, I go into settings, hit ‘Notifications,’ then shut it down. (Except my bank accounts. Unauthorized purchase on my credit card? Yes, notify me!)
6. Social media apps
I don’t need a notification every time someone friends me or likes my post. I’ll see it when I go into the app at a later time. But a tag? Sure, I want a silent notification so I can review that (and probably remove the tag, because that was a seriously unflattering picture).
Maybe you, too, get on social media when you want to, not when the rest of the world demands to interact with you. If that’s the case, you’ll either want to disable phone notifications or create a visual-only, silent notification. Go back to ‘Settings,’ then ‘Notifications’. By tapping on Facebook, for example, I can then tap on each kind of alert-generating action — when someone friends me, DMs me, tags me, etc. — and I can choose for that specific action what sort of notification my phone is going to give me.
Side note: If you haven’t already stopped Facebook, Twitter, etc. from sending you emails every time someone merely farts in the general direction of your media presence, take this moment, go into the social media platform’s settings page, and turn off anything that says “send email” or “send text” under notifications.
7. Apps that try to sell you stuff
No. Just — why? — no. Just no. Turn it off now. You don’t need a ding or even a visual notification to be parted from your money.
Even if it’s a sale notification. Just no.
Your attention span is worth more than a discount on yoga pants.
8. Web pages that want to send me notifications
This is my newest pet peeve: I’ll go to a website, usually a product site or a news site, and I’ll get a pop-up window stating that this site “wants to share notifications.” I’ll be asked to choose “allow” or “block.” Because my lovely, syncing Chrome account stretches across many devices, what this means is that I am allowing the product site to push notifications to my phone.
Oh, hell no.
Now every time I get that option, I click “block” with great gusto.