A couple of months before Zoom and Teams took over everyone’s work life, I wrote an article for Wired on how to get a productivity boost and take back control of mobile phone notifications.
It’s easy to imagine the advice back in Q1 is even more pertinent to people working at home in Q2 and Q3.
That’s because one of the obvious reasons for needing to take back control of notifications was too many colleagues will ping a message rather than walk down a corridor for a chat. That message then turns into a conversation which colleagues pitch in their opinions. Before you know it, your phone sounds is bleeping like a reversing lorry.
With no corridor to walk down, those messages and notifications can only be piling up even more, if left unmanaged. So, it’s time to take back control of mobile phone notifications.
Some of the tips, to be honest, were pretty straightforward, such as simply decluttering your phone. That’s number one. Some were unexpected and some were far more effective than I had imagined.
And, by the way, I didn’t make these tips up, they all came from me, as a freelance journalist, speaking to productivity experts
- Delete it all (or most of it). It takes a bit of effort but it’s well worth getting rid of all those apps you never use and which routinely send notifications about the Central Line being busy or a wine you bought six months ago being back in stock.
- Turn off social media alerts. We know we don’t need them but we’re addicted and they’re a massive distraction. If you’ve commented on a post you know is going to be popular, go the extra mile and turn off alerts specifically for that post too.
- Do not disturb. Apart from overnight, use this feature when you’ve got to get your head down. Favourite or VIP the people you know you’ll need to speak to and let the rest wait.
- Badges. This is an obvious tip I hadn’t thought of. Turn off notifications but allow apps to show badges. They’re the little score on the top right hand of an app showing how many notifications or messages it has waiting for your attention. The really clever bit here is to put the main ones you want to check on your home screen. Then, a simple glance will tell you everything you need to know.
- Mute – the feature is there on conversations and apps for a reason. So, use it.
- Check emails at your pace – the advice I got here was to turn off email notifications and to make a rule to check messages every half hour or every hour. If you go for the hour option, the advice is to work for 50 minutes, take a 10 minute screen break and then check your email when returning from that break. Some people like to do this in a half hourly cycle of working for 25 mins with a 5 mins break, followed by checking email.
- Elastic band. This was my most unexpected tip and the type of thing you see in comedy shows. A simple elastic band round your phone should be pinged every time you aimlessly pick it up to check for updates. In the end, the theory is, the feel of the band on the phone will remind you to step away and get back on with something more productive.
So, no rocket science but, I’ll stress again, all tips were picked up from interviews with productivity experts.
I tried them all and have to say it makes a real difference. I recently put WhatsApp back on to full sound notifications for ten minutes the other day. It soon went back to silent delivery.
Trust me, you won’t miss the dozen or so apps you can easily download and you won’t miss every update to a friend’s conversation about their cat, nor a colleague on Slack trying to look busy.