New Year Resolution - Kill those Notifications
It's not just our kids that need to limit screen time, we are all guilty of overusing those addictive little devices. I used to devour four books during a summer holiday and now I scarcely get through one because the phone/iPad lures me with games, news, messages, and social media.
All developers have one common objective - to keep us scrolling and tapping on that screen as long as possible. And it's working like a dream. That small piece of tech in our pocket/handbag is all we need to keep us entertained, informed and social for hours on end.
And one of the worst offenders? Notifications. Banners, popups, pings, rings, badges and notification centers, they interrupt everything you do. When you’re walking to work, waiting for the elevator, or making painful small talk with someone you're not that keen on, a buzz from your phone can provide a welcome and thrilling little distraction. It’s a call for attention, an excuse to break from your immediate surroundings and check your phone.
Incessant notifications accumulate into a more draining effect. Constantly being available and under pressure to promptly respond to both work and personal messages has an indelible effect on daily life and relationships. People receive, on average, 64 notifications per day and that's not including the banners telling you there's a new story in the news, or that you've reached a new level in some game or other.
Just one day of shutting down notifications can be fulfilling simply thanks to the lack of distraction and stress that comes from answering to a device every few minutes. And while it may seem like a tiny difference, changing a small habit can alter your whole perspective. It's also a great example for your kids and colleagues.
The widespread addiction to messages is so strong that when researchers tried to recruit 30 people for an experiment where all phone notifications (including text, Whatsapp, and email) would be disabled for a week, they simply couldn’t find any participants so they had to limit the experiment to 24 hours. Despite their reluctance, most participants enjoyed the experience. They found they were less distracted and more productive without notifications. They also reported anxiety about potentially missing messages from friends and colleagues but it still motivated two-thirds of them to change their phone notifications longterm.
Turning off notifications is psychologically beneficial and it’s easier than ever to silence apps you don’t want to hear from constantly. You can still let people reach you in an emergency without having Snapchat pinging every two minutes.
Some people prefer total blackouts using the 'Do Not Disturb' functionality for a certain length of time, some prefer changing notifications on an app by app basis. In Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, you can mute conversation threads for a certain number of hours until you’re ready to read them. Slightly more drastic but very effective is switching off internet access. You can receive calls, but it removes that addictive feeling of seeing new things the whole time whether its the next Instagram post or New York Times article. Without internet access, all that incessant reading of stuff that you forget minutes later is removed. You actively choose what to read or do. You stop caring that you missed your friend's nieces birthday cake pic.
A few years ago I traveled to Antarctica for ten days with a friend. We both love our phones. For ten internet-free days, our phones stayed in our cabin and we whiled away the long hours at sea reading books, playing games and chatting to fellow passengers. After an initial flurry of 'we're safe and sound and it was great' messages, when returned to civilisation, we both found that we had reversed years of phone addiction and were constantly forgetting to bring them with us.
So check your settings, and switch off your notifications! It's a New Years Resolution you won't regret.