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Live Good: Why Turning Off Notifications has Vastly Improved My Life

About 2/3 of Americans & Canadians own a smartphone, and in this crowd, I know that number is much higher. I am one of them, of course, and I am very thankful for the little computer in my pocket. It allows me to work on the fly, take photos for business & pleasure, and do a zillion other wonderful things (like call my mom).

The oppression of these devices is a well-trodden path, but regardless of how many convincing videos you watch, it’s much easier philosophized than done when it comes to cutting the chain between us & our phones.

This past year, I have experimented with limiting the notifications on my phone, and I can tell you that has been a huge, healthy step in the right direction!

It began last winter, when I decided for the Lent season to only check Facebook for 10 minutes, once a day. This sounds like a really pathetic resolution, but I knew I couldn’t go off completely (I use it for work), and I have FOMO so I like to have a pulse on what’s going on!

Anyhow, the first imperative was turning off the push notifications to my phone. I didn’t want to be distracted all day with the little icon or a ding when I wasn’t going to take any action, so I turned them off altogether.

I don’t know about you, but I really love the little sound of something arriving. Someone cares to interact with me! There is some new information to receive! I’m not missing out! Isn’t that what our deepest, broken selves are feeling when that notification sounds?

But, for me, I knew that when observed from the outside, the dings on my phone (I use the sound of a coffee spoon tinkling against a saucer) and my response to them made me no different from Pavlov’s dogs. It was like the sound would clink and I would leap up from what I was doing to satisfy my curiosity. “Jump,” it said, and I responded, “How High?”

This is an inanimate object I’m talking about that I was allowing to boss me around.

Taking the Facebook notifications off of my phone was incredibly freeing. Some time after, I did the same for instagram. Then, way, way later, I finally did the same for my email.

Email was the hardest to let go of, because of my perception that there were urgent & important things constantly coming that I needed to address (or at least know about). Owning my own business, this is a legitimate concern.

But, I was struggling to find rest and break and boundaries and enjoyment in all my various circumstances. I often felt antsy when I wasn’t trying to get work done even during times that I had not set aside for working.

There is always more to do in your own business, and the internet never closes; the struggle is real, but were these things really as urgent or important as I thought? Could they not wait until I was ready to respond to them? By looking at my emails during inconvenient times (say, while playing with my kids or cooking), if there was something actionable, there seemed to arise two options:

  • Interrupt what I am doing to take action (by burying my face in my phone, or going to another room to open the computer)
  • Not take action, but feel that unsettled feeling that something needs to be done and nobody is doing it

I finally determined that regardless of how often I checked, there would always be something in my inbox waiting for me, and it would continue to wait for me until I was ready. No more interruptions. No more anxious mind. I was over it!

Now, I keep ALL of my notifications off except text, and I often silence everything except phone calls. I still check email and the other things too often, but I am trying to keep it at bay. I’m striving to only check them when I am ready to pay proper attention (as well as ready to not pay attention to whatever else is at hand -- kids, cooking, work, the world, etc.). Another goal is chunks of the day and one day of the week that are device free. It’s a process. But I’m confident that I am headed in the right direction, the direction of freedom, effectiveness, focus, and healthy balance.

Do you have any examples, tips, or hacks for living better with technology? I’m loving the topic of “Margin” that Shawn Blanc is talking about this month. We clearly all need help (me, first!), so share anything you've got in the comments below.



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