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Clearing Distractions

Sep 30, 2020
970 words

bingbing

Everyone knows that sound. My phone, watch, tablet, all making noises to say “HEY LOOK AT ME” and rarely is it anything important. On a normal day, I have about 60-100 notifications on my devices; Each one of these pulls my attention away from my current focus, and while I’ve got better at managing these “micro interruptions” it is still just another interruption.

Over the past couple of years Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all worked on bringing distraction-free functions to their OSes and devices. Windows 10 introduced “Focus Assist” and Apple has “Do Not Disturb” settings, but even them only take away the burden for a period of time and those notifications are still building up behind the scenes.

So I thought; What if I just do away with these notifications, prune down the list of applications to a few essentials that I allow to notify me? I already do with my Apple Watch, which was more out of absolute frustration that I’m getting a wrist notification of an upcoming SpaceX launch from the KSC app. Maybe now it is time to do the same with my iPhone.

Notification Permissions

First off I took my iPhone and mass purged notification privileges from as many apps as I could. The first issue I encountered was seemingly important applications with notifications enabled, but with no details about what would be sent.

  • Health - Does that mean any heart rate notifications?
  • FaceTime - Does that affect when people call me?
  • Steam - I’m guessing I can’t use Steam Guard with it off?

Some applications break down the notification types into groups, Photos, for example, breaks down its notification to “Memories”, “Shared Albums” and “Sharing Suggestions”. It’s useful to have that granularity, but I don’t care about any of the options presented to me. If all applications had this option it’d be very useful to reduce the noise.

After the initial cull I’m left with 41 applications that have some level of notifications enabled.

Sounds

The pesky dings and vibrates, the big interrupter themselves. In almost all cases I don’t want to be interrupted by a notification, so I disabled these on all applications except the critical applications I need to hear from:

  • Phone - for obvious reasons
  • OpsGenie - for those impending call-outs from work
  • Health - if it detects something I need to be notified about, I want to know…
  • Telegram - my wife’s preferential communication method

This alone cut down my “micro interruptions” a lot, no more detecting every little vibration through the desk and checking to see what it is, if it’s vibrating it’s most likely important (or my wife sharing a Catana comic with me).

Banners

Banner notifications are the next tier of notifications to be checked over. These are the on-screen prompts that you get, the main interrupters. By default notification pop on the screen, hang around on your lock screen, and also sit in the Notification Centre. iOS has an option to control all three of these elements, so the next questions for each of the 41 applications were:

  1. If I’m using my phone, do I need to know about it right now?
  2. If not, do I need to see it the second I look at my phone?
  3. If not, then do I need to know about it at all?

As it turns out, I don’t need most application’s notifications right now, Notification Centre is fine, even the lock screen is a push for most of them. Wallet and banking notifications? Sure I want to know about them as soon as I look at my phone, but I don’t need to see the contents of my email inbox that second.

Badges

Badges are useful, especially for messaging applications. In most cases it’s all I need to see, for example; my emails are not massively important and don’t need instant attention. If the application has a notification then it’ll appear as a badge on the application icon. After removing banners for most applications it seems to be the perfect balance, I have the majority of my important applications on my home screen in groups I can quickly see that I’ve notifications and decide to look at them on my terms. My home screen can look peppered with red “8"s and other numbers but at least I can check them when I feel like it, rather than have the notifications flashed in front of my eyes.

The Week So Far…

It has been a good 48 hours now since I made the change, and I have to say it has been bliss. My phone now sits screen up on my desk, I don’t have it dragging my eyes every minute or so when the screen lights up. Sounds and vibrations are mostly a thing of the past and reserved only for the most important items. Since implementing the changes on my iPhone I’ve been able to switch back to “Mirror my iPhone” on my Apple Watch without any negative consequences.

Of course, it can’t be all positives, I’m missing my critical emails. When you login Netflix and other services online you’ll get an email notification saying that a new device as logged in, with my lockdown of all notifications from Outlook I’m also missing these notifications. It’d be useful if Outlook had the option to mute all notifications except for one folder in your account, while the option exists for “Focused Inbox” it doesn’t for any other folder.

I expect I’ll be writing a follow-up article in a month or so to discuss further issues I’ve found, or just to rave about how much it has changed my life. One thing that stands out is that my battery usually lasts just about the full day, and at the moment at 6 pm and at 72%… wow.

🙾

Banner by Hugh Han