iPhone is a funny thing. On the one hand, it may be One very useful device As ever, at least in terms of staying connected and productivity. On the other hand, it’s also the single biggest distraction in the history of people trying to Keep focusing on one thing While tempting you with all the things you can do on a computer you carry in your pocket.
The reason is not complicated. Having a device in your pocket that allows you to stay connected all the time means you are well connected all the time. This means that While you can send an emailFaceTime, Slack, Messaging, or whatever else you do to connect, you can also YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and binge-watch Netflix.
Sometimes – maybe often – you start out by trying to do one, and end up realizing that you’ve been doing the other for the past three hours. The fight is real, friends.
But even if you resist the YouTube algorithm, even the apps you use to be productive can turn out to be a distraction. Email is a special challenge for me. I can’t tell you how many times I take out my phone to send a message or take a picture and see the red number badge above the app icon.
That red badge is the worst thing ever. It just calls out to let you know how many people want your attention. Surely, this number represents all the important things that you need to do at this very moment.
Mostly, however, they are just rubbish. Literally. On any given day, I will probably receive 250 to 400 emails. There are probably dozens I care about, and of those, there may be three or four that I need to deal with sooner rather than later. The rest: trash.
The problem is that staring at that red badge, I have no idea which is which. All I see is a number that never stops growing. Finally, I realized I could do something about it. I turned it off.
You can do that too, you know. There’s no telling that the badge on an app icon should be making fun of you all day. There are enough things to distract you from your focus, and you don’t need any help from the little red notification badges.
Fortunately, it’s really easy. In the Notifications section of the Settings app on your iPhone, you can select which apps can display notifications. In most communication apps, this includes the ability to show badges. Just turn them all off.
By the way, this might be more useful on a Mac. If you spend a lot of time staring at the screen, and you find yourself getting distracted by the red dots on the Mail, Slack, or Messages icons in the dock, just turn them off. Your life will be happier, less stressful, and possibly more productive.
Try it for a week. It will seem horrible at first, but I promise you it’s a much more peaceful way to work and live. You’ll eventually stop worrying so much about how much of your attention you need throughout the day, and be more insistent about the time you devote to your inbox. I tend to peek at it two or three times a day, deal with what’s urgent, and delete the rest.
Pro tip: On my iPhone (and my Mac), I also have Mail set to send me a notification only if I get email from a small number of people. Mail makes it easy to designate certain contacts as VIP, and you can choose to only receive notifications when they email you.
This way, even if I don’t have a constant reminder of emails that require my attention, I can tell if one of those people has sent me something. You can also set this for apps like Messages, Slack, and Mail using Apple’s new focus setting.
The point is, sometimes, I want to see when an email arrives from my wife, a certain co-worker, or when a message comes in from one of our daughters. In this case, I can just click and handle the notification dropdown banner, without seeing how many unread messages or emails I have.