White iPhone 5S inside a blue flower vase

How to take control of your iPhone notifications

Have you ever caught yourself checking your phone for the umpteenth time while thinking “this ain’t right”? I know I have! The damn thing kept beeping, vibrating and flashing its screen at me, and like some pavlovian response I kept picking it up and interacting with it even though there was nothing there that I needed to deal with. Because let’s be honest: there’s rarely anything important going on on our phones. There’s never a life-and-death situation. There’s a message or a like or a tweet, or you might need to check in on your “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” game, but nothing will perish if you leave the thing alone for an hour or two. We turn our phones off on planes, don’t we? We sleep through the night without interacting with it, and the earth still stands when we wake up! So how can we make our damn iPhones a little less… intrusive?

Turn off your notifications

God yes. Do this right now. You know all those things that will never ever notify you of a life and death emergency, but still light up your screen whenever there is a new like or follower or comment? Tumblr and Pinterest and Snapchat and Instagram and god knows what? Make them shut up and leave you alone. How, you ask? This is how:

The non-intrusive iPhone: How to make your iPhone shut up and leave you alone.

First you find your “Settings” menu and navigate to “Notifications”.

The non-intrusive iPhone: How to make your iPhone shut up and leave you alone.

Find the apps that you want to shut up

I’m guessing you’ll have a lot of those, and you will have to go through these steps for each one. It only takes a few seconds though, and it is completely worth the effort. The image to the right shows the settings for an app that I have allowed to pester me: my public transport app. You could just turn off notifications altogether, but you can also choose to just turn off sounds or lock screen notifications or remove the badge app icon. You also get to choose the visual style of your unlocked on-screen notifications, or deactivate them completely.

The non-intrusive iPhone: How to make your iPhone shut up and leave you alone.

And here’s what my Snapchat settings look like. Snapchat is one of those apps that I don’t really use very often, but I like to keep it around so I have left the badge app icon on just to remind me whenever I have received a picture. All the other notifications are off.

It really is that simple

But stay vigilant: whenever you install a new app you will be asked if you want to allow the app to send you notifications. Just say no, people. Just say no.

The result of doing all this is that you will have to consciously remember to pick up your phone and unlock it to see if there is something going on. I still had to spend some time breaking the habit of automatically picking up my phone and checking it every 10 minutes, but it was a much easier habit to break once my phone stopped trying to grab my attention with its enticing beeping and flashing. Having to remember to check it yourself means that you get the mental space to think “do I really need to check my phone right now?”. And of course, more often than not the answer will be “no”.

Other things I have done 

  • I turned off the e-mail notification sound. Yes, I know this is essentially covered by the screenshots above, but I feel like it needs a mention on its own because it is so easy to think that e-mail is one of those mega-important things that you just can’t tune out. Pfft. If I’m not sitting by my computer at work then there is no reason for me to read e-mail. I can if I want to, but there’s nothing going on in my inbox that needs to be dealt with right away. Nothing. Ever. The only sounds I have activated on my phone are calls, texts and reminders.
  • I only keep the sound on my phone activated when I’m at home, because when I’m at home I want the phone to be sitting on a table far away from me and tell me when there’s something important happening. When I’m at work I send and receive texts through iMessage on my MacBook, and I can see calls when my phone lights up on my desk. There’s no reason to keep the sound activated when I’m out of the house. I don’t keep it on vibrate either.
  • I no longer bring my phone into meetings. I’m 100% less distracted, and checking your phone during a meeting just looks disrespectful unless you’re a main honcho and actually need to deal with important things on your phone. Say it with me guys: We’re just not that important.
  • I uninstalled my top time wasters. Bye bye Tumblr, bye bye Pinterest.
  • I no longer charge my phone on my bedside table. I charge it in the living room. No phones in bed, darling. It’s really unsexy.
  • When you’re with friends and family, put the phone away. Ever been out with a friend only to have them stare at their phone half the time? I have, and I’m sure I’ve been that person as well. Don’t be that person. That person is a butthead.

Do you have and phone-related tips to share? And are you trying to spend less time on your phone?


21 thoughts on “How to take control of your iPhone notifications

  1. Yes to all of this! My sound is always off and I don’t get any notifications. I do check in regulary to see if there are any new Kardashian updates ( a girl has got to keep herself busy on the train right).

    • Haha, I was wondering if anyone would actually admit to play that game! I had it installed for a little while but not for very long. I did have the Tamagotchi app for way too long, though.

  2. This is a very timely post as I’ve been thinking a lot about the place of my phone in my life lately (more specifically, since my phone was “lost” on new year’s eve, and during the 2 days I didn’t have a phone, I realized just how important it had become to me, if just because I don’t know any door codes or phone numbers by heart AT ALL).

    This are really useful tips to bring the phone back to its “rightful place” of tool – I have recently removed facebook and twitter from my phone to avoid checking it too often, like you with tumblr and pinterest. But I have also restored the pen and paper way of keeping important information, like key phone numbers, door codes, the address of a new place I’m going… One can’t rely solely on the phone, what if it gets stolen, or runs out of battery? Anyway, good post here ;)

    • Since my phone is always synced up to both my work and home laptops (Apple ecosystem FTW) I don’t think I’d be all that lost of my phone went missing, but like you I have started “backing up” important information on paper: most important phone numbers, birthdays, lists, travel info and so on. You just never know, right? :)

      • Oh my iphone is backed up too, so the data is never totally lost. But when I ended up in front of my friend’s door, in the middle of the street without my macbook, not knowing either the door code or her phone number (and not having any phone to call her in any case), I felt kind of dumb. So the idea was to have a backup of this info in my paper planner in my bag, for field emergencies… But I’ll probably write a post about that one of these days, it’s quite scary how helpless I felt, even for 2 days, without my google maps, any way to call my friends at the last minute, nor the code to their door. You’re like throwing rocks at their window like a monkey :)

  3. J. says:

    I always have my phone on silent, and I’m quite taken aback that more people aren’t conscious about what they want to get notifications for. It doesn’t look very professional to have your tinder, snapchat and facebook going off on your lock screen during a meeting, in my opinion at least.

    I’ve even gone so far to have specific notifications for my personal email and my work email.

  4. Ja til alt dette! eg har for lenge siden sletta diverse appar som ikkje er nødvendige, skrudd av varsel ja. Det eg gjer no er at eg har mobildata av, kikkar ut vindauge på bussen, eller høyrer på lydbok. Har eit mykje roligare sinn, hehe!

  5. Loved this post Maja. I turned off notifications for most of my apps and honestly, I feel so much better for it. I started deleting apps a wee while back just to get rid of reasons to access or use my phone as I was becoming a little too attached to it, if you know what I mean.

  6. Despite having quite a crappy phone that won’t let me install more than youtube, whatsapp and instagram, I also realized that it’s easy to develop pretty compulsive habits and a lower attention span…I try not to carry it everywhere all the time and, like you said, it’s better not to keep it on the bedside table. It bothered me that instead of reading like I always did, I found myself watching youtube videos or checking instagram before falling asleep…

  7. I’m super vigilant about which apps I let bother me with notifications, it has been key in having a harmonious relationship with my phone. I will however admit to sleeping with my phone under my pillow. Wait! Before you freak out and scold me, know this: I put it on airplane mode. No notifications, no noises, and no weird radiation giving me brain tumors. It’s basically just an alarm clock, since I don’t have one bedside. That’s kosher, right?

    • Oh please please PLEASE don’t sleep with your phone in your bed Defne! Just the other week a friend of mine told me how his phone had MELTED during the night and zinged through his duvet and partly through his mattress! They are a fire hazard and it happens more often than you’d think :(

      • Are you kidding me?! That is totally insane! I had no idea. I mean… REALLY?!?!? I thought the only danger was constantly having those cell phone waves pointed at your head, I had no idea it could actually spontaneously combust! Off to google phone disasters now. I guess I have to get an alarm clock now? This confuses me way more than you’d think, cause my side of the bed is just a few inches away from the wall so I have no idea where I’d even put a clock…. Lots of big issues to figure out ;) Thanks for the warning though!

        • I work in telecom so I’m probably a little above averagely up to date on these things. And it’s not necessarily old phones either, the ones I heard about were brand new!

  8. Most of this is completely irrelevant to me, as I own an old model Samsung, but I agree completely with the underlying message you are conveying. I especially, especially agree with your comment about not pulling your phone out when you are with you friends and family. I mean, I don’t mind checking a text and sending a quick reply, but when people spend more time staring at their little glowing screen than they do actually making eye contact with me, I get annoyed!

  9. Oh dear. I like to catch up on what’s been happening on Instagram on my phone at the end of the night when I’m in bed and I also use my phone light sometimes when I’m wandering around the house at night like a burglar but I don’t want to put any big lights on incase I wake anybody up.

    But one thing you’re totally right about …. “we’re not that important”. As I found out when I went wi-fi less for a week and nobody wanted or needed me :( I did also find out that I wasn’t missing much either.

    • That’s the thing, we’re rarely missing out. I have found that most of the things that I check on my phone can be checked on my laptop, so the whole social media/checking news thing CAN be physically confined to my desk if I actually want to. Most often though it’s the “wanting to” that is the problem :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To help me prevent spam: *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.