Have some respect for yourself
If your phone vibrates or dings or yells at you, what do you do? Do you check it immediately?
Now how often is what you received more important than what you were already doing? Is it important enough that you're willing to lose about 25 minutes on the task at hand? Research from Gloria Mark at the University of California Irvine shows that that is the average amount of time it takes to get back to tasks after being distracted.
Every notification comes in as an urgent priority, however, they are rarely important. So, that means you're not that important. These things don't require your immediate attention. Really what this means is you're a lot more important.
Here are the practices I have in place, to fight back for focus.
Problem: We let our phones interrupt
Do you not want to be present? It's impossible to be when you allow everything to grab your attention.
Solution: Do not disturb me
It's rare that anything needs your attention immediately. For years, I have had do not disturb on on my phone and I've never felt like I missed anything important. I have instead stopped missing a lot of important focus time.
You may ask "but what if someone does need to reach me?" Well the repeated calls feature is perfect, if someone has a real emergency they'll certainly call more than once, so that let's them cut through in the moments they truly need you.
I can't think of any moments where I've wished that I had do not disturb turned off. I can, however, think of many instances where I've checked my phone and realized I worked for hours straight without being distracted, only to see a pile of notifications that would have prevented that.
I actually took this to the extreme the past two weeks by turning the "Silence" section to "Always." It takes focus to the extreme, because even when I'm using my phone I'm not getting distracted by my phone. I can write an entire text and not even realize I have Facebook Messenger message that came in until I've finished that one. I would say don't start with this setting, ease into it by just getting used to Do Not Disturb by itself.
Problem: We allow notifications
How many notifications do you get per day?
20? 100? 1000?
Every single one is a potential source of distraction. However, oftentimes, we simply dismiss the same app that beckons us everyday.
Solution: Don't give em a chance
First, when an application asks you to turn on notifications, actually stop and consider if they're worth it. If an application starts to cloud your feed, they distract you from other notifications you actually do want to check at some point. But more importantly, they distract you from life.
Second, when you are constantly dismissing the same notification, just go into settings and turn off notifications for that app. Maybe even just delete the app. For me, Instagram is the application that I don't need any type of notification for. I check in when I feel like browsing content, occasionally I'll have messages or likes, but I never feel like I need to know about these things before I want to open the app.
Problem: We prevent productive notification habits
Here's my home screen:
These are all of the badge notifications that I have on my phone.
Now what's your phone look like? 6024 unread emails?
How many badges cause you stress to see? How many actually provide you value?
Solution: Rethink badges
Look at the picture above
First, a notification on my Messages app means two things:
- I have an unread message (okay duh)
- I have not had the time to respond yet
I don't read messages until I know I can respond. I'm really forgetful, but this prevents me from reading and then not responding.
Second, look at Streaks. This is a habit tracking habit. I want stress from this. I want to drive that to 0. But if I had badges all over the screen, I'd miss that gentle push. I'd be gently pushed 100x in all sorts of directions instead. And look, one toddler pushing you is pretty manageable, but 100 is something that should be saved for nightmares.
Third, I don't need notifications from things that can be responded to whenever. My email app only has badge notifications on. When I check my phone's lockscreen, I want to see what I have that needs attention soonish. Lots of things can be checked into when there's a badge notification. That means, when I've already opened my phone up for something else, I'll just take the time to clear through it.
We accept too many things as just the way that they are. It's easy for people to believe that they need to be always present. However, if you just try these changes, you'll realize that's not really the case. I still have plenty of people talk to me, in fact, at times I will respond quickly and continuously. But it's when I have dedicated free time to being present with others digitally, not when they pop in to decide that for me.
Use notifications productively, or else they will use you.