Now, a year later, it’s time to share my thoughts on the experiment.
Phone apps beg for our attention. Most enable notifications by default - and some even require them. Do these notifications really add value to our lives? Or just distract us?
Are you constantly picking your phone up to check for notifications? Or turning your phone over, preemptively ignoring the notifications yet-to-arrive? Even in the middle of conversations? I was constantly distracted. And I wanted a way out.
Need more convincing? There’s a growing body of research to suggest that distractions are a productivity killer:
- After being interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the [original] task
- According to the New York Times, multitasking makes you dumber
In other words, multitasking is out. Monotasking is the new black.
To borrow from Eisenhower, great time management isn’t just about being efficient, it’s about being effective too. To be effective, we need to spend our time on the right things. And to do this, we should prioritise activities on two axes:
- Important activities have an outcome that leads to us achieving our (personal or professional) goals
- Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals
Against these criteria, notifications (at best) rank as semi-urgent, non-important. In other words: they’re an ineffective waste of time. Better to turn them off.
Take back control
To action! Head to your Settings menu and disable those pesky notifications. As of today, I only permit the following:
- FaceTime - for incoming call alerts
- FitBit - for activity goals
- Messages - for SMS and iMessage alerts
- (Facebook) Messenger - for Facebook message alerts
- Phone - for incoming and missed calls
- WhatsApp - message alerts
Everything else is disabled.
The major victim here is email. No notifications for those at all. I work on the assumption that if something is truly urgent, someone will SMS or call.
My general philosophy for all notifications: do I get special value from knowing this thing right now? If not it can wait.
A change in behaviour
A year on, I’d like to share my thoughts on the Zero Notifications experiment. The headlines:
- I spend a lot more time creating, reading and learning - where before I churned through notifications. I also do a lot more “deep” work - challenging tasks that can take a few hours to get into
- I’m a lot calmer. The pressure/anxiety to address notifications is gone
- I still do procrastinate. I check my phone all too frequently - BBC News being a major demon. However I open the app and refresh the news. It’s my choice and my fault. Notifications denied me this choice and freedom before
- I take a longer term view with my time. My planning focus is at the week/month scale, rather than the hour/day.
- I’ve disinvested from some social platforms entirely - notably Facebook. Without the constant pull of notifications I just stopped going back. And I don’t miss it.
Will I stick with the Zero Notifications lifestyle?
Definitely! There’s no going back.
For me personally, Zero Notifications is truly a change for the better - something I can recommend to everyone - even if only for a 1 week trial.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts below.