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How Turning On My Notifications Helps Me Spend More Time Unplugged

February 26, 2019
Why I Turned My Phone Notifications Back On _ Tiny Ambitions

TL;DR I changed my mind and turned on all of the notifications on my phone to save me from myself.

‘Take time away from your phone.’ ‘Disconnect. Be more present.’ These are all things we’ve heard ad nauseam in the slow living community. Heck, I’ve written more than my fair share of posts on this topic too. I’ll link some of my favourites at the end of this post.

But, a recent technology downgrade and re-upgrade has changed my perspective on how I allow my technology to be part of my day.

A couple of years ago, in typical minimalist fashion, I turned off all the notifications on my phone. The sole exception was text messages, which are normally the most important for me.

‘I’m not going to be distracted any more,’ I thought. ‘This is the beginning of a new relationship with technology.’

One of the earliest steps in simplifying your life involves taking back possession of your time from your tech. This is a noble goal. But, I now believe that our faith in the importance of silencing notifications has been misplaced.

Downgrading to a (Moderately) Smart Phone

Due to my ‘new’ phone acting up and being glitchy of late, I decided to temporarily downgrade myself to an old iPhone I had kept just for such occasions. I only re-installed the bare necessities of apps (Instagram, Twitter & Spotify).

Because I had re-installed the apps, the notification settings were reset to their defaults. That meant, for the first time in years, I was actually being notified on my home screen about things going on in my social networks.

You’d think these kinds of notifications would make me spend more time on my phone scrolling through my feeds or more time being generally distracted. But, to my surprise, I actually found the opposite to be true.

All of The Notifications

Before, in no-notification land, I had to unlock my phone and go into a specific app to see if I had any notifications. I know I didn’t have to go into my phone, but that was the reality.

Now, with some key notifications turned on, I can immediately see what’s going on in my networks without having to actually go into the app – which would inevitably lead to more time spent on my phone. With my notifications front and centre, I can make the decision to follow up in the app, or dismiss them and deal with them later.

Since making the change, more often than not, I’ve chosen to dismiss them. Because of this, I’ve actually spent less time on my phone than when I had notifications turned off. Win-win!

App Decluttering

The other part of this is that in the back and forth between my phones, I also drastically reduced the number of apps on my phone. I uninstalled any apps I don’t use on my daily basis and removed from the home screen apps that I don’t use but my phone wouldn’t let me get rid of. All in all, I removed almost half of the apps on my phone (25 uninstalled, 22 kept).

I’d like to think that my ‘smartphone’ has no impact on my life or mental health. But, I know that that is not the case.

I’m just as surprised as anyone that turning on my phone notifications has actually helped me use my phone less. It’s the kind of thing that makes no sense.

Do you use notifications on your phone? Do you think they help or hurt the amount of time you spend on your phone?  

Related Reading:

Image Credit: Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

  • Lisa March 12, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    This is really interesting, Britt! What a great post. It’s funny how these things can be counterintuitive sometimes. On the surface it sounds contradictory, but when you explain it, it makes complete sense that having notifications on, combined with fewer apps, actually saves you time and helps you stay unplugged. I think turning off notifications can really help some people (meaning – people who have a completely different relationship with technology that you or any of us minimalists do!). For people who feel they just have to look at every notification in case it’s something ‘important’, I think it could be very useful to turn them off. I remember – years ago now – when my husband had all his notifications on and it used to drive me absolutely insane. They were mostly useless notifications from news apps and the like, and I would jump in my seat because they were so loud and frequent!! Apps seem to send notifications for just about anything!

    • tinyambitions March 13, 2019 at 8:11 am

      Absolutely! There seems to be a notification for everything. Even now, I’m still editing what apps can send me until I find the right mix. I also have everything in silent – I’d lose my mind if my phone dinged every time I got a notification!

  • Amanda March 1, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    As I commented on Instagram, I typically have my notification turned on during the day, and off evenings and weekends.

    When I’m at work, I don’t want to be tempted by my phone, but I don’t want to miss my text messages either. I RARELY get texts, so when i do, they tend to be important. So I leave notifications on so that my FitBit will buzz. Otherwise, I quickly glance at my phone a few times throughout the day, and only act if there is something that requires immediate attention. (Which again is very rare.)

    During evenings and weekends, I’ll just be honest, I’m on my phone far too much! I don’t need the notification on because the phone is usually in my hand already. How sad… I need to find a better balance for while I’m at home.

    • tinyambitions March 2, 2019 at 7:04 pm

      I also my find myself on my phone way more on the weekend than during the week – which seems so ironic to me! I check my phone ALOT when I’m at work. It’s a habit I know I need to get better at. Thanks for reading, Amanda!

  • Tread Lightly, Retire Early February 28, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Huh. I’ve not considered doing this, but I think you have a good point. The biggest issue is that during the day it can be really distracting at work and in meetings, which is why I initially silenced them. But perhaps I’d do better just to set my phone to “do not disturb” more regularly. I’m going to think on this some more. Thanks for bringing this up.

    • tinyambitions February 28, 2019 at 6:34 pm

      Thanks, Angela! I didn’t specify this in the post and I realize now that I should have, but, I don’t have any sound notifications on my phone. I agree, that would be distracting. I just have the notifications that show up on your home screen when you check it. I’ve found it a good middle ground between total notification silence and alert overload.

      • Tread Lightly, Retire Early March 1, 2019 at 2:37 pm

        I use my phone for note taking sometimes so even the silent notifications can be annoying.

  • Erin | Reaching for FI February 28, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Oh wow that’s super interesting! I’ve always been a “I don’t want notifications on” kind of person, thinking that it would keep me from having the knee-jerk reaction of always opening up the app whenever I get a notification. But the thing is, I find myself opening up apps all the time “just to see” if anything has happened. Sometimes something has, sometimes it hasn’t. But it almost always results in scrolling for a while after I check my notifications. So I might seriously need to give your approach a try! Oh, I have a like? Cool. No need to go check it out just to see how many I might’ve gotten in the however long it’s been since I last impulsively opened up my phone to check the app.

    Either way though, I seriously need to kick my mindless scrolling at the beginning and end of the day habit!

    • tinyambitions February 28, 2019 at 6:32 pm

      Exactly! “Just to see” becomes lots of minutes spent scrolling. I’m the exact same so this approach has been so useful for me! I know I need to work on my pulsive phone checking, but at least this way I can see what I need to and move on quickly. Let me know how it goes for you!

  • Scott @ Costa Rica FIRE February 27, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    Well, since most of the time spent on my phone is playing games (I’ve recently become addicted to the new Angry Birds Dream Blast), I’d say the notifications have no impact on the overall time on my phone 🙂

    Seriously though, I have a ton of apps on my phone and have gone through and disabled many of the notifications, because many of the apps are very obnoxious with the frequency of alerts. I’ve kept the alerts for some of the apps, but made them silent notifications, so at least my phone doesn’t buzz every time there is an alert. I only see those alerts when I physically open my phone. I just keep the buzz alerts on for the important apps. With notifications tuned, it is then easy after I’ve been away from my phone awhile, to scan through the alerts to decide which apps I should open.

    • tinyambitions February 28, 2019 at 7:37 am

      It sounds like we have a similar notifications philosophy! I purged so many apps during this process that the total number of alerts I get isn’t overwhelming by any means. Mine are also all silent (I never have any sound for my phone turned on, not even the ringer for calls lol). Like you said, it makes it so much easier to scan quickly and decide where you want to look on your phone.

  • theluxestrategist February 27, 2019 at 3:45 pm

    I removed the Twitter app from my phone, and I’m happy that I’ve been spending much less time on there.

    I do have notifications on for Instagram, though, and that doesn’t stop me from spending too much time on it! I default to waking up and scrolling through my feed, notifications or not. I need a fix for this, haha.

    • tinyambitions February 27, 2019 at 6:42 pm

      I go in waves with Twitter. Sometimes I love it and other times I just can’t be bothered. I used to have a morning scrolling problem too! I found it really zapped my energy for the day so now I have a firm no scroll rule until I’m done getting ready for work and about to eat breakfast. Even that little break makes a difference for me.

  • tinyambitions February 26, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    That’s a great question, Jack! I don’t have the sound on for the notifications, they just display now when I check my phone. It’s a good middle ground between no notifications and the incessant ping you’d get if you had the sound on. Since I still just check my phone at my own leisure, I haven’t noticed any difference.

  • Jack The Dreamer February 26, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    This is very interesting. I was of that minimalist mindset to turn off all notifications also because I didn’t want my brain to be flooded with stuff.

    But huh. Turning them on allows you to either deal with them now or dismiss them for later, thus saving you time from going into the phone to check.

    One question though: are you finding if having notifs on, your mind is getting fragmented or distracted from mini moments of pings and alerts?

  • Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.