Tame those notifications

I read this paper recently that shows how the mere presence of your smartphone lowers your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Even if your smartphone is silent or turned off, you are still spending resources to not think about it. I am constantly amazed by how many people have their phones pound their brains with notifications throughout the day (and night). It is ideal to set up your phone to use it when you want to and not when it wants you to.

I know it’s extremely difficult to live without a smartphone today. But at least we can change the way we use our phones. I have been experimenting with controlling notifications on my phone for a couple of years now and this is what I have currently settled on. Of course, this may not work for everyone. Also, this is iOS centric and I’m sure a similar approach can be followed on Android too. YMMV!


You don’t need a hundred apps on your phone. Get rid of all the apps that you never use or use once a year or even once a month. You can always download-use-delete such apps. I have about 50 apps installed on my phone at any time (including the ones you cannot delete).

One page homepage

Move all your apps to a single homepage. Group similar apps together into folders. Aim to have three or four rows of apps on your home screen, not more. To locate apps, if your muscle memory doesn’t serve, develop the habit of swiping down to enter app names in search bar. Dock your three or four most used apps to the bottom (For me it’s notes, reminders, safari, due).

Per app notification

Group your 50 or so apps into one of the following three categories

  • off
  • badges only
  • badges/sound/banner

You need to do this once and every time you download a new app. Go into Settings->Notifications and for each app in category 1 slide the allow notifications bar to off. This should eliminate notifications from 50% of the apps on your phone. Just to give an idea, I put all social media, shopping, utility apps in this category.

In the second category, I usually put messaging, mail and other apps that I look at at least once a day. Also remember to yearly mute all groups on WhatsApp. Be sure to slide Show on Lock Screen and Show in Notification Center bars to off too. I like turning these off not only to avoid distractions but also as a security measure. You don’t want your precious One Time Passwords (or other chat messages) sitting on lock screen.

Be very careful about the apps you put in category 3. Ideally it has to be no more than 10% of the apps you have installed on your phone. In my case it’s currently due, calendar, phone, reminders and Befocused Pro (a pomodoro app).

Have one emergency mode of contact (phone calls in my case) and let your friends and family know what that is.

So what’s happening here? Because you have all your apps on one page, every time you unlock your phone you notice all the badges in one glance and deal with notifications in one batch. Or choose to ignore badges on certain folders. And importantly, you won’t have to look at the notifications until you deliberately pick up your phone and unlock it. Win!

Silence that phone

And obviously remember to put your phone in silent mode. I have sounds->Vibrate on Silent turned on as only category 3 apps will send actual notifications (vibrate).




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