Welcome to Week 2 of Apps month! After culling unnecessary apps last week, it’s time to make the ones that remain just a bit quieter. (Or a lot quieter.) Your attention span will thank you.

To catch up on last week’s action, or see what we covered earlier in the year, check out the Tidy ’24 Calendar at your leisure.

Apps Week 2: Silence the Distractors

This week, we’re working to eliminate some of the distractions that derail our ability to focus. Too many services and platforms intrude on our extremely finite attention, often without our realizing it.

“Sure, I’ll allow notifications…after all, what’s just one more app? It’s not that hard to deal with one or two more notifications each day.”

…except when it is, because they pile up. When you have 50 things demanding your immediate attention during the day, it’s nearly impossible to focus on anything, and the three things that matter get lost in the 47 things that shouldn’t be allowed to interrupt you in the first place.

As a defense mechanism, we often ignore the wall of alerts on our device–not accidentally, but intentionally. We figure that we’ll go back and hunt through the list occasionally if we need to deal with something.

But this solution doesn’t make sense. We’re throwing away excellent attention-getting tools by treating them as “check-when-needed” things. A better solution is to allow notifications only from the things that are really worthy of interrupting us. Everything else gets to wait until we want to look at it.

Action Steps:

  1. Figure out which apps generate a lot of notifications. This is most easily done by looking in the Notifications area of the Settings app on your devices.
  2. Turn off notifications for all apps that should no longer be allowed to interrupt you with immediate notifications.

You can find out which apps generate notifications on iPhones or iPads by going to Settings -> Screen Time -> See All App & Website Activity, then scrolling down to the Notifications section for a list sorted by noisiest offender.

On Android devices, go to Settings -> Notifications -> Notification History. (You might have to enable this setting on Android before it’s usable.)

On either platform, you can also simply look at the notifications you have right now or list the ones you know you see often.

Concerning which apps to silence, here are some suggestions I try to follow:

  • Disable email notifications. When you want to check your email, open the email app and go to your inbox.
  • Disable YouTube notifications. When you want to see new videos, open the YouTube app and check your subscriptions.
  • Disable news headline notifications. When you want news, open the news app and doomscroll to your heart’s content.
  • Disable social media notifications. When you need a dopamine fix, or you actually want to check on your friends, open your favorite app. They all keep track of notifications separately inside their own platforms anyway.

To turn off notifications, you generally have two options. First, you can go into each app, find the relevant settings that control its notifications, and turn them off there. This method gives you more detailed control over what to allow, but it can take time to figure out exactly how to do this in every app.

If that doesn’t work or you want the easy, more sledgehammer-like option, you can also control notification permissions at the operating system level. Just go into the main Settings app, then the Notifications section. Individual app settings are right there on Apple devices, although on Android, you’ll need one more click on the “App settings” entry first.

Finally, if you’re using iOS, you can enable scheduled notification summaries to go even further. This feature lets you collect and postpone notifications from specific apps to be delivered all at once at certain times of the day. Even if you don’t shut off anything else, I recommend taking advantage of notification summaries. To my knowledge, this feature is not yet available on Android.

Remember, the goal here is to silence the things that distract you. It’s not that news, email, YouTube videos, or even social media are unimportant–though it’s worth considering that as well–it’s that deciding when and how to consume and process these things should happen on your own terms, at a time you intentionally set aside. NOT in tiny chunks all throughout the day every time someone else decides to knock on your brain’s front door and pull your attention away from whatever hopefully productive thing you were doing before.

How Does This Help?

There are many negative consequences to constant interruptions: lack of focus, low productivity, increased stress, and the conditioned response to sounds or other stimuli that make us even more prone to distraction. Losing focus on one task, even for five seconds, requires significantly more than another five seconds to get back to the level of concentration and “flow” we had before. We like to pretend this isn’t true, but it is.

It’s worth doing everything possible to eliminate unimportant things from our lives. We only have so much time, and living with divided attention just makes it slip away faster. Don’t feel bad about leaving certain apps or notifications enabled; keeping things that are only fun or subjectively “unproductive” is fine as long as it’s a conscious decision. Just ensure you value them enough to give them your undivided attention on your own terms.

Who Does This Help?

If you’ve been slowly collecting apps and passively allowing notifications with each new installation, you’re in for a treat. Most of us have never bothered to purge every unnecessary notification we receive, just like we haven’t bothered (until last week!) to purge the apps we don’t need. But even if you don’t end up with an utterly silent phone, significantly reducing the distracting noise will positively affect your day-to-day interactions with your devices.

Who Does This NOT Help?

If you already have few apps installed or haven’t allowed many of them to generate notifications, or if you already handle your phone or tablet such that it can’t distract you—keeping it in another room most of the time, for example—this week’s exercise won’t help. Also, good for you!

Quick Review

For week 2, your task is to silence the distractors. First, identify which apps generate the most notifications. Then, aggressively turn off every notification you don’t absolutely need.

I bet you’ll start appreciating the fact that your phone is no longer demanding attention like a hyperactive puppy. Enjoy the silence, and I’ll see you next week!

If you have any questions about this week’s task or anything else about digital organization, comment below or contact me anytime.

Happy data-taming!

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