It was a Tuesday afternoon during our lunch when it happened. Our phones were face down on the table while we waited for the food to arrive. I had put mine on ‘silent’ mode prior to placing it there, to reduce distractions during our time together … and then it happened. Bzzzzzz. Bzzzzzz.
I put the phone in my pocket so it wouldn’t shake the table again if another email came through.
Our lunches arrived shortly after, as we discussed the all latest going on in our lives. We’ve found it difficult to see each other regularly, so we created an every-three-week recurring event on our calendars to get together and have lunch for an hour.
I felt yet another vibration in my pocket, and I tried to stay focused on what Matt was saying. I couldn’t help but wonder who might be trying to reach me just then. Perhaps it was my lack of poker face, or how good Matt’s hearing is, but he extended his hand with a slight frown on his face and said, “Give me your phone.”
He looked at my home screen and went wide-eyed. Nearly every app had a red circle indicating some alert was waiting for me. All 50+ apps on my phone had something super important to tell me, all at the same time.
“What’s the damage, Doc?”, I quipped.
Within about ten minutes, he turned off all my notifications. All of them. No more red circles. No more chirps when someone tagged me in a tweet. No more dings when a work email pushed to my phone. During the following week, a layer of stress I hadn’t even known was there lifted from my shoulders.
The vibrate function went away as well. I insisted he leave my phone ringer on so I would receive calls when the phone was in normal mode, but when my phone was in silent mode, it was truly silent. No vibrations, no noises, no interruptions.
There is simply no reason an Instagram update should be more important than an hour spent with a good friend. There should never be a time Clash of Clans pulls me away from anything I’m already doing. For over a year, I was letting this device decide when I would be giving attention to it instead of the other way around.
By any app to run free with notifications and distract me from being fully present in my daily life, I gave up ownership of my attention. I allowed it to rob the people around me of the full attention they deserved. It still amazes me to think I allowed such a small thing to have so much power over me back then.
Minimizing Digital Distractions
One year later, not much has changed with how my iPhone is set up. I’d highly recommend this configuration to anyone who wants fewer distractions in their life, less red circle overwhelm, and more control over their attention.
1. Set silent mode so the phone is truly silent.
Despite being called ‘silent’, a vibrate function is anything but. The loud buzzing noise is still distracting and pulls us away from whatever we’re doing. Set your phone so that when flipped into silent mode, it makes no noise at all. This will allow you to focus on the task at hand whether it’s working or relaxing.
2. Only audible alerts for text messages and phone calls.
There is no reason a game or social media app should ever interrupt whatever it is you’re currently focused on. Remove audible alerts and badges for all apps that aren’t critical. Once you adjust, feel free to bring back the ones that work best for you in a more intentional manner.
3. Create boundaries by setting a do not disturb schedule.
Whether it’s evening hours, or a peaceful break during the afternoon, set an automatic ‘Do Not Disturb’ schedule on your phone. I suggest 11 P.M. to 7:30 AM, so receiving a text message doesn’t disturb sleep. It can be difficult to get enough rest consistently, so the last thing we need is to have it interrupted for something noncritical.
4. Repeated calls allow people to get in touch for emergencies.
Emergencies happen. Allowing Repeated Calls will make it possible for people to get through if they call a second time. This function will override the ‘do not disturb’ schedule.
5. Add important contacts to favorites.
Add significant others, children, or contacts that absolutely need to reach you to your favorites list. This way they’ll be able to get in touch when needed. It’s important to let them know when you may need to step away so they can help respect the boundaries you’ve created as well.
Turning off phone notifications isn’t exactly a magic pill. I still find myself getting stuck in the Twitter feed when I’m waiting for my Lyft to show up. I get lost in text message conversations when I probably shouldn’t and I might be checking stats on my YouTube channel a few too many times a day.
What this change does guarantee, is a small step towards taking back the intention in our lives. We’ll never have the present moment again, but that notification sure will be waiting for us when we’re ready.