When you got your first iOS or Android smartphone, you probably allowed it to send you notifications for every possible event. It was a thrill to have this pocket computer alert you when someone sent you an email, shared a photo, or liked one of your Facebook posts.
But if you’re anything like me, you probably got tired of all these notifications after a while. Some are legitimately useful – a text message from a friend saying they’ll be late for dinner, or an important email from a co-worker – but most are just interruptions causing an information overload.
Too many notifications can decrease your productivity, especially in the workplace. Each time your phone plays a sound or vibrates, your attention strays from the task at hand as you look at its screen, or maybe even search for it if it’s not visible. This is obviously dangerous when you’re driving, but even if you’re at your desk or in a meeting, notifications are distracting, and too many can hinder you as you attempt to accomplish your important tasks.
As smartphones have matured, operating systems have added tools to fix this information overload. In this article, we’ll explain how to slim down your iOS or Android notifications and simplify your life.
Built-in Smartphone Tools to Reduce Notifications
On iOS, Apple recently introduced Screen Time, a feature that records how much time you spend on your phone, how many times you pick it up each day, and how many notifications you receive. This is meant as a diagnostic tool, so you can take the appropriate steps. And Google rolled out a Digital Wellbeing app for those Android devices that can update to Android Pie, which will offer similar features.
How Many Notifications Are Too Many?
Using Apple’s Screen Time on my iPhone, I can see that I receive about 73 notifications per day. (This number is for both my iPhone and my iPad; Screen Time collates information from all your devices, if you wish.)
This is quite low compared to most people. I only get notifications for things that are truly important. I get notifications for text messages and iMessages, I have my calendar notify my of events, I want to be notified for reminders I have created, and, as you can see above, I’ve had a number of notifications from eBay this week, because I’ve listed several items for sale.
But if I go further down the list, I have only received six notifications for email, and none for Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, services that I use regularly, because I turned these off long ago.
What Kind of Notifications Do You Receive?
Looking at my numbers above, you can see that the highest count is for Messages, the iOS app for receiving text messages. At least half of these messages were two-factor authentication codes to log into websites; most of the others were from my partner, or from people I work with. I don’t generally carry on long conversations via messaging, so I don’t get bothered much.
My calendar is my main time management tool, and I need notifications for tasks I have to perform. These may be tasks I need to finish by the end of the day, or appointments. These are useful, even essential notifications, rather than interruptions.
On the other hand, I used to receive notifications from Twitter for mentions and new followers; from Instagram for likes and followers. Even though I had set them to not alert me audibly, each time I looked at my phone, I would see a long list of banners. And, yes, knowing that you may get notifications makes you more tempted to keep glancing at your phone. (Apple’s Screen Time tells me that I picked up my devices about 70 times a day, most frequently to use the Safari web browser, check email, or look at Twitter.)
How to Slim Down Your Notifications
You may need specific notifications for your work. You may be responsible for managing your company’s Instagram account, and need to know when users interact with you. You may need to use a project management tool, or Slack, to communicate with your team, and need notifications for those apps as well. And you may send and receive a lot of text messages regarding your work. But there are certainly notifications that you can cull.
You can tweak notification settings on both iOS and Android. On an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > Notifications, and you’ll see settings for each app on your device. You have options to turn on or off notifications, choose a banner style, enable or disable sounds, and more.
On Android, you’ll find this in Settings > Apps & Notifications. Tap Notifications, then App notifications, and then tap each app to see your options, such as disabling notifications, allowing a notification dot, and, with some apps, there are notification categories that you can turn on or off.
Do you need to be notified about every email you receive?
How to Turn off Email Notifications on iOS and Android
On iOS, you can turn off notifications for your email, but still get alerted when pre-defined VIPs send you emails. To do this, go to Mail, then, above the mailbox list, tap Edit, then tap the circle next to VIP if it’s not already visible. Tap Done, tap the i icon to the right of the VIP mailbox, then tap Add VIP. Select the account you want to add to this mailbox. (You can select as many accounts as you want.) Next, go to Settings > Mail > Notifications, and turn on Allow Notifications, if this isn’t on. In the VIP section, select the style of notifications you want to use (badges, vibrations, and/or banners).
You can then turn off notifications for your email accounts at the top of this screen (note that I leave badges on, so I can see at a glance how many unread emails I have).
On Android, the process is a bit different; there is no VIP feature built into the operating system. With certain email apps, you can create VIPs, and if you use Gmail, or if your domain is hosted on Google’s G Suite, this article describes how you can set this up using a web browser.
The Nuclear Option: Do Not Disturb
Both operating systems also have a Do Not Disturb setting so you can shut off notifications when you really need to focus. (On iOS, this is in Settings > Do Not Disturb; on Android, Sound > Do not disturb preferences.) This nuclear option is great to use when you’re in meetings, or when you want to make sure that your attention won’t be compromised.
Managing your notifications removes interruptions, keeps you from being distracted, and allows you to spend more time focused on what is really important. Take some time to adjust your settings and free yourself from the annoyance of being interrupted by your devices.
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