Taking Back My iPhone

We live in a time where access to information and other people is ubiquitous. Need an answer to a question? Google it. Want to know what your friends are up to? Check their Social Media profiles. Want to communicate at all hours of the day with co-workers? Email them, Slack them, assign a new task on the company Trello Board.

This constant access has its benefits but it can also cause stress, ruin our work focus, and cause mental health problems. Our lives can easily become overrun with the requests for our time, attention, and focus whether they be from other people or from the apps and services we rely on. This is not right. Technology is supposed to work for us not against us.

In this vein, let me share a quick story with you in the hope that you have had a similar experience:

My phone was constantly buzzing with notifications from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, Slack, Discord, text messages, phone calls, Snapchat, and other apps. I’d wake up to a phone filled with notifications and apps adorned with red badges, I’d get interrupted during times of focus, I’d even get bugged while trying to spend time with my family. I had become available for interruption too much and my time, attention, and focus were being stolen by these notifications. I started to dread looking at my phone.

Does this resonate with you? Are you annoyed by the access and power that other people and apps have over how you spend your time, attention, and focus? I know I was. So a few weeks ago I made a drastic decision:

I completely removed notifications for 85% of the apps on my iPhone.

Currently, I have 98 apps installed on my phone. Quick math shows that only 15 apps are allowed to send me notifications. Those apps are:

  • Anchor
  • Apple TV Keyboard
  • Discord
  • Due
  • FaceTime
  • Find iPhone
  • Messages
  • Patreon
  • Phone
  • Reminders
  • Services
  • Simple
  • Slack
  • Things
  • Wallet

You’ll notice that no Social Media app has notifications turned on, nor does email. These apps were notorious for pinging my phone all day and sometimes even all night so I just turned it all off. Now I check them when I want to and it is glorious.

Proof of Concept

As a result of choosing to severely limit my notifications I was no longer getting pestered by Facebook, so I didn’t open the app for about 12 days. When I finally did open the app I had 34 notifications waiting for me. I looked through the list of things that Facebook thought were worth my attention and of the 34 things that passed Facebook’s “value test” I can say without a shadow of a doubt that none of them actually provided any value to me. That’s right, 0 of 34 notifications were important, informative, or useful. So I deleted the app and moved on with my life.

Now, back to what is actually still on my phone.

A Smarter Notification System

Of the apps I listed above, only Due, FaceTime, Messages, Phone, Reminders and Things have badges and/or sound. None have banners. These are the apps I allow to interrupt me because they either help me communicate with the people who are important to me or they help me get things done.

That leaves 9 apps listed that don’t have badges, sounds, or banners...so where do their notifications go?

The Lock Screen

The Lock Screen is amazing and has become my triage center for the notifications I do allow. The Lock Screen is great for 3 reasons:

  1. The notifications are actionable
    • I can tap on each notification to be taken directly into the app for immediate action
    • I can easily reply to messages from the Lock Screen Notification
    • I can 3D Touch to quickly view the information and dismiss the notification by swiping down if I decide I don’t need to take action immediately
  2. They can be dismissed easily
    • This will get even better in iOS 12 with notification batching...I can’t wait!
    • A simple tap on the X clears away notifications I don’t want to see
    • Easily dismissing notifications is important because I want to be able see the notifications but I also want to be able move on from them without friction
  3. They are always a swipe away
    • A simple swipe down from the top of the phone reveals the Lock Screen, so at a moment’s notice I can reference my notifications and just as quickly get back to what I was doing.
    • The important thing to note here is that viewing the notifications is my choice. I’m not being pestered or distracted to look at a notification right when it comes in. I get to look at them when I want to and no sooner.

All of these reasons are what make my current notifications set up so powerful and freeing at the same time. I get only the notifications I want and I get to access them in a globally available yet elegant and friendly way.

What About the Apple Watch

I’ve made another change to my day-to-day availability as well. When I’m at home during the day, I don’t wear my Apple Watch and I try not to carry my phone with me too much. I used to wear my Apple Watch every second I was awake because of the Activity Rings. I was under the spell of “if the rings don’t close, then I didn’t actually take those steps or get those exercise minutes in”, which is ludicrous. I don’t need some colorful rings to confirm the veracity of my activity for the day. My activity happened whether the rings say so or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Apple Watch but I don’t need to wear it for the 16-18 hours I’m awake every day. It is a tool, a convenience even, but to be shackled to it is a bad idea. The Apple Watch needs to serve me when I want it to and then get out of my way the rest of the time, so I’ve made that switch in my mind about it and I’m happy with the results. I wear it when it serves me best and then I take it off when I no longer need or want the access it provides.

So, essentially, this is my new point of view: I’m available only when I want to be. I decide when and how apps can notify me and I only engage with correspondence when I see fit. My time, attention, and focus are mine and I choose to protect them.

The end result of this new perspective is less time consuming Social Media and being served ads. I don’t want my time to be used to make these companies more money. Also, I am subject to far fewer interruptions, I’m less available to people, apps, and services that aren’t important to me, I get less distracted when I do use my phone...do you ever pick up your phone to do something and get distracted by a notification and ten minutes later you realize you’ve been watching lolcat videos and don’t remember what you needed to do on your phone in the first place? That sucks and now I don’t have that problem.

Protect Your Time

In total, only 6 of the 98 apps on my phone have the privilege of attempting to interrupt me, after all I may not have my watch or phone on my person. Only 15 apps get access to my lock screen. The other 83 apps wait quietly in the background for me to call upon them.

This new approach to protecting my time, attention, and focus has been invigorating. Maybe you think my approach is a bit too much, that’s fair, but I highly encourage you to consider what changes you could make to the notification settings on your devices so you too can reclaim control over them and dictate to what level your time, attention, and focus are available for interruption.

Apple, TechCam Brennan