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Notifications: 🙅‍♂️ Widgets: 🙌

Headshot of the Author Matt Kreikemeier
Screenshot of a dock on Mac with badge notification

It’s 2019. January is already over 😱. This is about the time when we to fall back into our bad habits (or even more likely, we’re full blown back into our old habits).

This year, I refuse to let that happen. February feels like the right time to refocus, channel our inner Marie Kondo, and tidy up some of our bad habits. Again. This time, for real.

Over the next several weeks I’ll release some of my favorite tips and tricks that help me stay focused, get things done at the office, and (try) to live a balanced life at home.

First: Notifications 🙅‍♂️

It’s finally time to do it. I know you’ve seen other articles floating around the past year. You’ve put it off long enough. Turn. Off. Your notifications. You don’t need them. The average person gets 121 emails per day, that’s 121 distractions just from email! Not to mention Slack, texts, and social media.

Go do it now (iPhone, Mac, Slack). For real. This article will be waiting for you when you’re done.

All they do is distract you from the task at hand, whether it’s working while in the office, or not working when you’re not in the office. You. Don’t. Need. Them.

I know you think you need to respond to things right away — you don’t. I know you want to know how many people liked your Instagram post — it doesn’t matter. I know you don’t want to miss the score of the game — that won’t change the outcome. I know you’re dying to see Toby’s latest cat gif in Slack — it’ll still be there later.

That right there, actually, is what I’ve come to learn during the past year of (mostly) operating without notifications — everything is still there when you decide you’re ready to interact. Sacrificing productivity to try to operate numerous apps/services in real-time is not worth it. Everything will still be there later so get your work done now.

If something is that important, your phone will ring or someone will come tap you on the shoulder. Trust me. Everything else can wait.

Email

Two of the hardest things for me to give up were email notifications and sports notifications. I won’t really delve into the sports notifications, that was just a silly personal preference as a die-hard Spartans fan. However, turning off email notifications was a major struggle, but ultimately, an important turning point for me. I often talk about customer service as being your best marketing tactic. For me, great customer service meant responding very quickly to client questions, ideas, or concerns. I still very much believe that, but I’ve reevaluated my definition of “quickly.” It used to mean “immediately.” Now, it means, “same day” (which is still way faster than a lot of agencies are able to operate).

I’ll talk more about managing email in a future post, but finally convincing myself that my clients will be just as happy if I respond within a few hours as opposed to within a few minutes has meant huge gains in my focus. That focus manifests itself in my productivity. That productivity manifests itself in the quality of my work. And you know what? That’s what our clients really care about — great work.

Work at work. Play at home.

In today’s hyper-connected world, there isn’t much separation between home life and work life. Especially as a small business owner, I feel the expectation to be “always on.” And I am, to a certain extent, for true emergencies. However, I believe it’s important to leave work at work. For me, disabling notifications has been my secret sauce in accomplishing that.

No more Slack, Instagram, or email lighting up my phone when I’m in the middle of racing cars with my boys.

No more (well, a lot less) late nights catching up on work I didn’t do while at work because I spent the whole day furiously responding to email.

It’s crazy how this one simple strategy of disabling notifications has not only made me more productive in the office, but has allowed me to be a much more present father and husband for my family.

Exceptions

Every rule has exceptions. You probably noticed that I said I’ve been “mostly” operating without notifications. I still have text message notifications turned on. My excuse has been that I keep those on for emergencies, which is kind of true. My wife and I mainly communicate via text with updates on our kids and whatnot. But, if I’m being honest with myself, if anything was a true emergency, I’d get a phone call.

Similarly, there are a few important Slack channels that I allow notifications. For certain projects, I need to be more readily available to my team.

However, sometimes I need a break from absolutely everything. When my family group chat gets going (16 of us), things can get out of hand quickly. In those instances, I turn on “Do Not Disturb” mode (Mac, iPhone). You should too. This disables notifications on your phone until you turn it off again, or until the next day, whichever comes first.

From there, proceed with uninterrupted bliss.

Pro Tip #1: Widgets

One way I’ve been able to bear operating without notifications is by leveraging the “widgets” feature on my phone. I don’t really know if people know it exists or not, but if you if swipe all the way to the right on your phone (iPhone), there is a widget screen.

By default, Apple puts a few widgets there, but if you scroll to the bottom of this screen and tap “Edit”, you can turn on/off and organize lots of other widgets.

Why is this a “pro tip”? Well, I have found that it is a super handy way to still get a quick glance at a lot of the things I’m interested in, without needing notifications to disrupt me. I’ve got my calendar, Asana tasks, sports scores, various chats and news all available. Sneaking a quick glance from time to time satisfies my urge to know what, if anything, is going on. Best of all, you can view this screen without even unlocking your phone!

I play around with the available widgets quite a bit to figure out what’s useful. Right now, I’m trying to force myself to use the Google Assistant widget. I do approximately 1 million Google searches every day. As opposed to opening Safari, opening a new tab, and typing my search, I figure this could really save me some time by just using voice search. I haven’t gotten into a good habit yet (mainly because it’s just weird/embarrassing to say many of my google searches out loud around other people 😂), but I have that widget up at the top as a constant reminder to use it to save time.

Play around with the widget area, I think you’ll find it useful.

Pro Tip #2: Empty Home Screen

My last avoid-distractions-tip is to keep the first screen of your iPhone free of any apps (except the dock, of course). This has helped me avoid the distraction of mindlessly opening an app unnecessarily just because I see it there, begging me to have a look.

Why is this even an issue? Well, call it a lack of self-control (fairly), but it’s crazy how I’ll be reading an email or an article and when I’m done, I go to the home screen before setting my phone down to get back to work. In the past, just seeing the Instagram or Twitter teases me to want to open it and check out what’s going on. I now avoid that temptation by removing it from my home screen so that when I’m finished doing whatever I’m doing, I’m not distracted by something else before getting back to work.

My second screen is where I keep my most used apps, and all the rest of my apps are in folders on my third screen — I just prefer the simplicity of getting things out of the way. I realize how crazy this sounds, but it’s a handy bit of organization that aids in avoiding unneeded distractions.


Now that you have disabled notifications, be sure to check back for some additional tips because we won’t be able to notify you! 😂 I have some thoughts on email, to do lists, and mindfulness to boost performance that I think will be valuable.

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