Six minutes ago, that was my iPhone vibrating on the table. I slapped my phone and activated silent mode, all while thinking:
I'm gonna be honest — I HATE notifications on my phone. And I’m not alone.
According to Pew Research, 57% of smartphone users consider themselves distracted because of their phone.
At the same time, a buzzing phone prohibits us from achieving the psychological state of “flow” as conceptualized by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to the right.
This is our ability to “get in the zone” on a project. Flow is when we’re fully immersed in something, laser-focused on the current task. However, if we're constantly receiving pings and dings from our phone ... it's impossible to get in the zone.
But if we CAN achieve flow - by avoiding distractions - it will allow us to:
Get 2x done in half the time
Be more present in face-to-face conversations
Improve work/life balance (and stop working so many dang hours)
To achieve this, it's vital to understand the two drivers of smartphone distractions:
Internal triggers - Our subconscious urge to check Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram when we’re bored or procrastinating.
External triggers - Notifications that trigger us to open the aforementioned apps.
If we can understand how to avoid internal and external triggers, which I'll explain below, we’ll NEVER AGAIN be distracted by our phones. And I’m speaking from experience.
Here's my exact process for becoming distraction-free on my smartphone by eliminating both internal and external triggers.
Destroy internal triggers by burying distracting apps, hidden within a group, on the last page.
When I was bored, whether commuting to work or sitting at home, I'd subconsciously grab my phone and start flipping through social media apps. It was a waste of time, which I realized, but I couldn't help myself. I was addicted.
Then I learned this trick from Nir Eyal on how he stopped checking email so often. Since implementing it, my usage has decreased by what feels like 10x less than before.
Step 1: I sorted apps I considered productive versus not distracting:
Step 2: I put all distracting apps into one group on my phone, labeling it "wasting my life away.” Then I moved the group to the last page on my smartphone:
The apps are now buried on the last page. Instead of swiping open my phone and seeing Twitter, I have to scroll to the last page. And since they're hidden, sometimes multiple days go by without touching any of these apps. I suppose it goes by the old adage: “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Wait ... How do we choose which apps to bury?
Well, I picked apps that are (for me) mindless entertainment, rather than learning or creating. If an app isn’t helping me (1) create something new, or (2) learning something valuable … I label it distracting.
Next Question: Why don't I just delete those apps I consider distracting?
Sometimes I want to upload a memorable picture to Instagram, send a quick tweet, or show my friend a hilarious video on reddit. What I don’t want are these apps to be my subconscious solution to boredom, or distract me from being present from the person I’m with at the time.
Of course, burying apps doesn’t solve the problem of notification overload.
Destroy external triggers by removing notifications and leveraging 'Do Not Disturb.'
According to behavioral psychologist Nir Eyal, notifications are psychological “external triggers” designed to make us open the app. Notifications create an “open loop” in our minds, as curiosity takes over ...
Who is the notification from?
Did someone share my article?
Did anyone like my photo?
As a result, I leave my phone on Do Not Disturb pretty much 24/7. When it’s not on silent, I feel like my phone is controlling me … versus me controlling my phone.
To activate Do Not Disturb on an iPhone, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Then tap the crescent moon icon:
For most Android phones, you can hold the volume button down on the side until “Silent” mode is activated:
Now my phone isn’t constantly buzzing. In fact, it never buzzes (except for phone calls). Rather, I see all notifications at once, whenever I check my phone between breaks in my 90-minute work intervals.
All notifications are distracting, but not all notifications are valuable. When I check my phone, I want to know my Mom texted me ... but I don't care if someone followed me or liked a photo. I can check that on my desktop. So I shut off ALL notifications except for these four apps:
My phone, messages, email, and calendar are enough to make me crazy. So I shut off notifications from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any other random apps. Now when I check my phone, I have a clear view of only apps that matter:
If you're suffering with smartphone distractions, like I was, try this method. It only takes 60 seconds and will reduce distractions by 10x.
I guarantee it will work.
Originally published Jul 10, 2015 5:05:00 PM, updated June 15 2021