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Taking Control of Notifications to Take Back Your Attention

Taking Control of Notifications to Take Back Your Attention

notificationsReceiving a reminder of an upcoming meeting or task from our smartphones can be a great way to remember to be somewhere to get something done on time.  All too often, however, our smartphones beep, flash, and vibrate at us every few minutes to provide us with information we don’t really need.  And we know that regaining our attention after such a distraction can take ten minutes or more, particularly if we were engaged in deep thought when interrupted.

Fortunately, there are many ways to keep smartphone notifications down to a minimum, so that they occur only in the circumstances that are most helpful to us.  It can take some effort, but the payoff is well worth it.  Here’s just three examples of ways to take back control of your smartphone notifications to minimize distraction:

  • Aggressively disable notifications you don’t need.  All smartphones let you enable or disable notifications on an app-by-app basis.  The easiest way to do it without taking too much time is just to open the notification settings in your smartphone and completely turn off notifications for each app that you don’t need to hear from.  Be aggressive and honest with yourself and only keep notifications on for critical apps.  Tornado warnings stay, new high scores in your favorite videogame go.
  • Select the minimum output necessary for each type of notification.  There’s no need to be notified of every new email by a sound, vibration, and pop-up message simultaneously on all of your devices.  I suggest using messages unless a sound is necessary; they won’t disturb you if your phone is in your pocket and you can always check missed notifications later.
  • Use “do not disturb” mode to disable all notifications simultaneously.  Every smartphone operating system has its own version of “Do Not Disturb” mode (it’s actually called “Do Not Disturb” in iOS, “Interruptions” in Android and “Quiet Hours” in Windows).  The simplest and most useful features are the ability to turn off all notifications with a single switch for that family dinner or walk on the beach, and the ability to set a schedule for automatically turning notifications on and off every day (no need for Facebook updates while you’re sleeping).  There are lots of additional setting for power users who want to tweak exactly when, where, why, and how to receive notifications.

Keeping notifications in check is a constant battle.  Every time you install a new app, or even update an old app, you may find yourself receiving notifications you don’t want.  But once you get a taste of a smartphone that stays quiet except when you want it to tell you about something truly urgent and important, you’ll never go back.

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