I hate the red badge notification on my apps.
I hate it. I hate how it makes me feel like there are little soundbites of information waiting for me, piling up in my virtual phone world waiting to be glanced at.
Similarly, I can’t stand having the steady litany of news alerts, spam emails, and the occasional unanswered text on my lock screen. I keep my little phone world very tidy (much like the rest of my life).
But when my phone sits next to me at attention in my cube while I work, every time the screen lights up, I can’t help but look over at it. And as a result, I found myself incredibly distracted throughout the day—breaking focus and feeling increasingly stressed by the amount of notifications competing for my attention (many of which were the ‘false alarm’ type of notification where it’s just, say, an email from Lulus telling me I haven’t spent enough money with them this month or the 342nd news alert about the damn Grammy’s).
There was a point early last week where work was so chaotic that I felt like I legitimately needed to put my phone on Do Not Disturb so I wouldn’t be distracted or feel that strange, visceral compulsion to glance at the phone every single time the screen lit up. So I did.
It. Was. Awesome.
I felt so incredibly untethered from the constant ping-ping-ping of the useless cyber minutia. Weirdly enough, I felt calmer. It seemed shockingly simple—why did I have to subject myself to the endless stream of bullshit? It’s not that news alerts and emails are unnecessary or useless, but they don’t need to be attended to immediately. They don’t have to take immediate mental priority over whatever task is at hand simply due to timing and proximity.
The Atlantic highlighted research a few years ago that suggests any sort of notification, whether you click on it or not, is enough of a micro-distraction to derail your focus.
But the most amazing, serendipitous consequence was unrelated to productivity. Not only was I less distracted, but I started looking at my phone only when I felt the energy to engage with the people who were living in my little phone world.
Do you ever get stressed out when you have text messages you haven’t responded to? Even if there are just a few, sometimes I feel like I literally have to psych myself up to virtually socialize—especially at the end of the day after a full day’s work and intense workout. Sometimes I just don’t have the mental energy to be funny, interested, and interesting. Sometimes I’d rather just hang out completely alone and decompress.
(Although I have this theory that nobody actually knows what it really means to be alone anymore because the smartphone is such immediate and gratifying access to everyone you’ve ever met that you’re never truly by yourself, but I digress).
Truly, I don’t think it’s natural to be connected all the time. Sure, we’ve rapidly evolved toward that state of existence in the last decade or so, but I think it’s important to remember that things have not always been this way and they don’t have to be that way. There’s nothing wrong with opting out and unplugging when your constant Internet access and communicative device becomes more of a stressor than a resource.
“Do Not Disturb” mode has flipped the script on my relationship with my phone. Rather than the phone buzzing and flashing, interrupting my life, it sits asleep silently until I decide to summon it to life. I can wait in blissful ignorance until I have the time and mental energy to give my full attention to the people who have contacted me.
I feel like I’m more thoughtful in my messages with friends, rather than just firing off the first thing that comes to mind so the conversation is un-bolded in my Messages app. Communicating with a purpose—with true intention—is so much more enjoyable and worthwhile than merely playing verbal ping pong with empty conversation. Truly, I’d rather just not text if I have nothing to say.
I never want to feel like personal relationships are a burden. I want to be present with the people I care about and give those relationships the love and attention they deserve.
The other night I felt super drained by 8 p.m. so I gave myself the permission to just plug the phone into the charger, set the alarm for the next day, and not look at it again. I slept better and answered people at 6 a.m. with fresh energy and a renewed f*** to give about what they were trying to communicate.
Quality > speed. Try Do Not Disturb for a day and see if you feel better about your relationships, calmer, less reactionary, or less existential dread about impending nuclear warfare (or whatever the hell else CNN is pushing to your screen that day).
Thanks for reading!