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The Startup

Push Notifications > Delete All?

Push it. Push it real good.

Long gone are the days when the only thing I would receive a notification was from my Walkman in need of a battery replacement. Today, every electronic device in your life wants to send you some type of alert about something they think it’s important. If you really think about it, probably even your local food delivery service has an app that is constantly sending alerts about some sort of super limited discount that is only available for the next 3 days. In our current environment, time is our greatest currency and apps are developed to grab the maximum amount of attention from its users. Even when you aren’t using a certain app, chances are that it will catch your attention, in a very easy and successful way, with a simple thing called push notification.

Our glow from the glow

Now let’s face it, the sad reality is that you can actually feel your adrenaline pumping from the excitement when you see your phone screen glowing or you hear that trademark ping sound. But in actuality, that superficial happiness is only overshadowing some serious negative effects that the glowing and beeping is doing to your focus, productivity, and even mental health. There have been multiple studies about this, but the majority of people still choose to either ignore this topic or do absolutely nothing to change it.

I feel that with notifications, people have the same thought process as a hoarder. They might think something like “Oh I might need this in the future”, or more specifically “Oh I know that this app has given me zero relevant notifications up until now but eventually it’s going to send me something important and I don’t want to miss that.” When I talk to friends or colleagues about this topic I sometimes even hear the good old “I keep my push notifications on just in case” excuse, in which I ask: In case of? That your preferred airline is giving away free tickets for the first 500 passengers that open their app? Or that your celebrity crush sends you a tweet asking you to have a coffee with them in the next 15 minutes? Unfortunately, I highly doubt that any of these or anything like that will ever happen. As the saying goes, if it never happened in the past, is not going to happen in the future — or something like that. People find excuses to hoarder push notifications, and the first step is to admit they have a problem.

My app misses me

I first started to think about this subject when I received a push notification from some app that had just three words “We miss you”, followed by the pensive face emoji. And that got me thinking “Did the app developers seriously thought that I would stop everything to use the app after trying to play some emotional game?”. But here’s the irony of it all, I actually stopped what I was doing to look at that push notification. Granted, I didn’t know it would contain such useless content, however, I saw the damn glow, I paused my work and grabbed my phone. I think in the end the question is: why did I give permission to receive this type of alerts? And so at that moment, I purposely stopped everything and decided to look at my push notifications’ settings.

I found out very quickly that more than half the apps on my phone had push notifications turned on. Which then led me to yet another question and the reason why I’m writing this post: “Do I really need all of these push notifications?”.

Notification Curatorship

After that initial reaction, I proceed to go through every single app with any type of notification settings and really think if it added something to my daily life. I had to consider if a specific push notification was valuable enough for me to stop my day and look at my phone. And as you might expect, I ended up turning off the majority of my notifications from several different apps.

From all the apps I changed the notifications’ settings, I managed to find the four biggest groups of apps that were a constant in this exercise. In the list below you will find these four categories as well as my personal reason and approach to turn off the notifications in each group.

  1. Social Media, the obvious: As you were reading this post, chances are that at some point this group of apps popped into your mind as it did in mine, so that’s where I started. But what I quickly found out is that push notifications from this group can be a little tricky, since a lot happens in these platforms — from likes to shares, and even messages. The curatorship of these apps couldn’t exactly be fixed with a simple “turn off” gesture since I needed some of them. My approach was to actually go inside each app and have a look at all the notifications I was receiving and doing any type of adjustments from there.
  2. Online Shopping, the tease: Although I only like to shop during sale season and I love a good bargain, receiving push notifications about sales or discounts was just pure temptation. I decided to simply turn off all the alerts from these apps, putting them out of sight and out of my mind, and ultimately making my wallet happy.
  3. Games, the sneaky: Now this group totally fell under my radar when I first started this exercise, and only when I was looking at my apps list I realized how useless the push notifications from these apps were for me. I play games on my phone exclusively when I’m bored, and therefore I have zero in knowing which one of my friends just reached the high score in Subway Surfers. Needless to say, I essentially turned off every push notification from the group.

Be a curator

This is the part of the post when I try to explain that, after all of this, I’m not against push notifications. I actually believe that you can make notifications useful and helpful to your daily life and productivity. However for this to happen, you first need to address any possible hoarding problems you may have.

I encourage you to try the same exercise and manage your push notifications. I gave you my list only as a starting point, to inspire you. It’s not a guide for you to follow blindly. If you do this exercise, it’s very possible that your result is going to look different from mine, and maybe you will think of even more apps than I did — which then you should definitely share your discoverments and inspire even more people.

The important thing is to reflect on those “glows and beeps” and what they are doing to you and your daily life. Just think about your priorities and what place do push notifications have, and then ask yourself “Do I really need that?”.

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Filipa Amado

Filipa Amado

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Designer that likes to write about Product Management and Productivity.