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Managing Notifications

Notifications on an open iOS lock screen

A few weeks ago, I noticed a drop in my productivity. I took a few days to consider the root cause of why I wasn't being as productive as I thought I should be. I have anywhere between four and eight hours a day when Benedict is napping in which to work and take care of other household tasks. In the past, I'd been able to eek out five to six hours of work without any problems, the rest of the time dedicated to reading, cleaning, or other tasks that popped up. Yet, lately, I'd been having a real problem getting to even just three hours of work. Then it hit me, I was being constantly derailed by notifications on my phone.

Notifications can be a great thing, letting you know when an app needs your attention. For example, notifications might let you know that your mom is calling, that your wife texted you, or that you have a calendar appointment. Yet, if you really dig into this feature, you'll notice that you're getting a lot of notifications that you don't need. Most apps have some sort of notification functionality built into them, but for most of us, the notifications are neither important nor are they necessary. It's important for you to put up barriers in order to protect your time, productivity, and attention.

I decided to take a few minutes, sit down with all of my devices and adjust my notification settings. It's important to not just update the settings on your phone. Your tablet and computer likely also have some form of notifications capability, so managing the settings on all of your devices is required. After all, if you're doing lots of work on your computer, a popup there can be just as detrimental as your phone making a noise at you.

As you go over the settings for each application, ask yourself, "What is worthy of my immediate attention?" You likely don't need to know in the moment that someone has sent you a pin on Pinterest, or that certain apps have been updated. You will want to know when a task is due, an event is starting, or when someone is calling you. A companion question is, "What can I get on my own time?" You likely check all of your apps that provide the most notifications regardless of whether or not you've received a notification. For example, I'll check Tweetbot several times a day, even if no one has DM'd or mentioned me. So, I can confidently turn off Tweetbot notifications knowing that I'll see any new information in a reasonable amount of time. Another aspect to consider when working on making these changes is what types of notifications are available to you. Some may be audible, others may be silent. In this example, I've turned off the audible Tweetbot notifications, but left the text ones enabled so that, when I do pick up my phone, I can see any updates that I’ve requested. At the same time, I've turned off all Pinterest notifications because they're less important to me.

Changing your notification settings represents a paradigm shift. You may no longer see a little red dot with a number on an app and therefore, based on your previous method of checking for updates, may perceive that there's nothing to see in that app. However, the only reason there isn't an app update badge is because you turned it off! In this new paradigm, you go out and actively get information when the time is right for you. So don't forget to do it!

Through the simple process of updating your notifications, you'll get back a piece of your day that you'd been losing to unimportant things. Every app developer wants you to believe that their app is more important than anything that you're doing right now, and most of them are wrong. Be proactive about managing your apps and take back your day.