The Great Notification Cull.

Special Thank You to Adriana who acted as editor on this post.

I, like most of my generation, and every generation after me, am pretty tied to my Mobile Device (I am an Apple iPhone guy). I found that every time my phone buzzed, I would immediately pick up my phone, with excitement in my heart only to find that it was junk mail. The situation only got worse when I bought myself an Apple Watch (Can you tell I am an Apple fanboy yet?). Now, instead of checking my phone immediately, I’ll check my wrist. The watch has the added issue that people think you are inpatient or have to be somewhere else. I found that this constant notification checking was getting in the way of me living or interacting with the real world.

I do a lot of things that require me to stay focused, such as writing code for my job, playing games, and drawing. This constant distraction of checking notifications can break focus, and cause me to take time to get it back. The problem was that I wouldn’t mind that lost of focus, and if it was something that I had to deal with there and then, then it would be useful. The majority of these notifications were not that useful though; they were emails like “Learn Advanced Tactics for Increasing Ad Inventory, eCPM”.

On Monday morning this week, after checking my wrist 10x in 5mins, I decided that enough was enough. A good friend recently has been encouraging me to experiment, so I decided that this is what I was going to do: The experiment was to cull my notifications to only those that are absolutely vital for me to have. It’s probably a good time to clarify that by notification I mean Sounds, Show in Notification Centre, Show on Lock screen and Alert Style of Banner or Alerts (again this is on an iPhone running iOS 9), a the Badge App Icon was acceptable as they couldn’t grab my attention.

I opened the notification settings in the Settings on my phone and started the cull. The criteria of whether an app got permission to send me a notification was very narrow. Basically it boiled down to asking myself “will I miss something if I don’t get a notification?” and/or “will not getting a notification cause me any issues?”. This basically meant that, if I could get the information the notification conveyed in another way, (such as opening that app later) then the notification could go. The other reason that an app could “bother” me is if the information was urgent, for example an IM or a site down alert. I was in two minds about IM’s (Instant Messages) because I can get that information by unlocking the phone and opening the app, but at the same time the established convention around IM’s is that they are instant. I also actually like to be there for my friends if they need someone, so I consider it vital that they can access me. At the end of the mass notification cull, I had 22 apps that I considered should give me notifications, and email was not one of them. The majority of those apps were for instant messaging, one was for my web site alerts and some other apps that it was useful to get notifications from.

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I did all this on Monday morning on the way to work, and so far it has been proving to be a good decision. One thing that I did find difficult was to remember to manually check my e-mail as there isn’t a notification to remind me that I had mail. So far I have found that not having the constant distraction has allowed me to keep my focus on what I am doing, and I have even found things like watching movies and TV shows much more enjoyable.

This change has also made the notifications that I do get more relevant, because I don’t get notifications for just anything anymore; if I get one then it’s important. The one notification application that I did keep which is still a little annoying is twitter. I follow a lot of people on twitter, and it is how I come across interesting things: amazing artwork, or great games, or music. I also follow my friends, but they can get lost in the sea of other tweets, so I switched on notifications for my friends so that I always see what they tweet. It would be nice if in twitter I could “heart” (or favourite) a friend so that they appeared at the top of my twitter feed whenever they tweet.

I am going to carry on my reduced notification regime for at least a month, only adding back notifications for apps that meet the requirements mentioned earlier. I also fully intend to apply those criteria to any new application I install that requests notifications. I will let you know how I get on after a month.

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