Start the year by turning off your phone notifications
Tell your phone to shut up and use it on your terms.
What if I told you your phone didn’t have to blare, beep, or light up like the Fourth of July every 10 minutes? It’s easy to forget, but you can eliminate home screen notifications without your work or personal life suffering. I would know, because I haven’t heard my Slack burp or the New York Times siren wail in more than three years—and my quality of life has only improved. This year, I think you should join me.
The science of notifications is, in a word, alarming. Thanks to decades of behavioral psychology research at their disposal, user experience designers are able to create addictive experiences with ease. Visually, they know that bright colors and layers of complexity, like a mix pop-ups, banners, and numbered notifications are hard to look away from—even if we say we hate the clutter. Auditorily, they understand the human ear is hypersensitive to the range where a baby cries, and have tuned their apps accordingly. Together, this stimuli is almost guaranteed to pull you out of the present moment and back to your phone. No one wonder many tech executives have strict rules for using their own products.
There is a library’s worth of advice on how to cope with this. It ranges from the frustrating (turning your phone grayscale sucks) to the dubious (the same companies that seek to addict us now benevolently introduce features that allow us to self-monitor our usage). But muting notifications strikes the perfect balance between destruction and addiction: You eliminate the worst part of the phone experience, while keeping intact all of the essential functions a phone serves in the modern world.
Take my iPhone 7. It’s a cold piece of metal and plastic, but inside are apps I, unfortunately, can’t do without. Slack and email are important for keeping in touch with my coworkers, especially in an era when more and more people work remotely for some part of the week. The actual telephone feature is indispensable: I use it to talk with sources for a story, call my mom, and feel a little bit safer when I’m walking home at night. The search browser, camera, and the Pocket app, which stores articles I want to read later, are all daily uses.
But here’s the thing: I can use all of these features when I’ve consciously decided to use these features. I don’t have to put myself at the mercy of a clever UX designer, whose job it is to instill an artificial appetite for Instagram scrolling or breaking news binging at all hours of the day and night. Those essential features are always there waiting for me.
Disabling notifications in an iOS system is easy. Go to the settings app, and select notifications. Each app on your phone has its own notifications, which are subdivided by the place they appear: lock screen, notification center, and banners. You have the option to eliminate all notifications for a given app, or turn them off in specific places according to your needs.
Android operates similarly. You can open settings and manage all of your notifications there. But many versions of Android have a shortcut: when a notification comes through, hold down for a moment, and a gear icon should appear, allowing you to mute all of the alerts coming from that app then and there.
What and how you mute notifications depends on your individual needs. I’ve disabled lock screen notifications for everything except incoming phone calls and Slack notifications. (Those alerts I manage separately; the Slack app allows you to set reachable hours and mutes everything else.) This way, when I elect to open my phone, I find emails and text messages waiting for me, but they rarely interrupt my day. Whatever you choose to eliminate—or keep—2019 is the year to embrace the silence.