Holy smokes there are a lot of messaging apps. Right?

  • Email
  • Slack
  • Hangouts
  • Telegram
  • Signal
  • WhatsApp
  • Basecamp

And that doesn’t count all of the social apps that have essentially become secondary messaging platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.

I’m in a constant battle with how to manage alerts and notifications from all these different places, while still being able to go about my life and not having it dictated by my smartphone.

I’ve seen new apps show up that have a goal of having one universal inbox for all of these services, but that sounds like the actual definition of hell for me. Not to mention I do prioritize messages from some apps higher than others. More on that later…

What Hasn’t Worked in the Past

It’s embarrassing how many different things I’ve tried to keeping these notifications in check, while still being accessible and able to run my business. But I’m a man on a mission and I’ll gain control of these notifications even if it means my last act on this planet is removing the battery from my smartphone in a symbolic and artsy way.

I’ve Gone Cold Turkey

Meaning, I’ve deleted all these apps from my phone and reserved all of my online activity strictly to the desktop.

There were definitely things I liked about that approach, but it had some major flaws too.

  1. FOMO was constantly in the back of my mind. Not missing on the social stuff really, but I feel super responsible for keeping work moving, and I never want to be a bottleneck, so I had this constant nag in the back of my mind that I needed to crack open my laptop and check in”.
  2. Smartphones aren’t going anywhere. If anything, mobile devices are going to be the most integral piece of technology we interact with day to day, much more so than computers.
  3. I’m actually a lot better at doing certain things on my phone. In a lot of ways it’s more convenient and efficient to do them on my phone than it is on my computer.

This method certainly ended up being a cutting off my nose to spite my face” kind of approach.

Extra reading: Why I Don’t Believe in Digital Fasts

I’ve Limited Phone Usage to Specific Times of the Day

This kind of worked, but it also required an immense amount of willpower and really only worked when my routine was 100% intact, which turns out… is almost never. I’d try and use my phone for 5-10 minutes each hour at a scheduled time (time boxing, kind of), but this ended up being a fail because there are occasionally things that are more urgent than 45 minutes, and the minute you leave the office for a meeting, or are at away at a conference, the whole system falls apart.

I’ve Disabled All Notifications

This approach got me closer to what I was after; being able to take advantage of the convenience of my device, without having it control my life, but ended up being a horrible fail.

I’d find myself in a habitual cycle of opening and closing the apps I was most concerned about just to see if anything had happened. This was FOMO at its absolute worst. Not only did I feel a need to check-in, I had the apps available to do it. So I’d just be constantly opening and closing with no clear objective and wasting all sorts of time.

What’s Working Now?

Right now, the thing that’s working best for me is to set my notifications on my messaging apps like this:

I don’t allow any alerts, with one exception: iMessage. iMessage is the way I talk to my family, and they always get moved to the front of the line. My employees know that if something is urgent, and they need my attention right away, they can send me something via iMessage.

Aside: Our team has a very clear understanding of what urgent” actually means, and they’ve never messaged me for anything work related, ever.

The only notifications that I allow are badges. This makes it so that when I have a few minutes, and I make a deliberate decision to check my phone, I can page through the screens and respond or reply to everything there. I don’t get inundated by things on my home screen, or a bunch of unnecessary junk in my Notification Center (thanks autocorrect for capitalizing Notification Center ?).

I go to the apps and invite them into my life. They don’t force their way in.

I take this one step further by putting only my most frequently used and important apps on my home screen. Even email doesn’t get a spot on my home screen (I’m typically a lot faster and more thoughtful with email on my Desktop anyway).

At last count the number of apps on my phone was close to 200, so I have to be super judicious about what gets that coveted home screen real estate. When I’ve got some downtime with my phone, I can dig through the secondary pages and app folders and check their notifications.

So that’s what’s working well for me, in this moment. I’m sure it’ll continue to change, and my approach will continue to evolve, but overall blocking alerts and allowing badge notifications has worked super well for the last month or so. Maybed it’ll work for you too?

How do you stand up to this firehouse of never ending notifications? Hit me up in the comments. I’d love to discuss!

May 21, 2017