Tech Tip: Breakup with Notifications

Do you ever find yourself getting distracted by all the notifications on your phone? Where you pick it up and check it constantly only to find that the notification wasn’t all that exciting? Me too.

My phone and myself have a unique relationship. I write blogs on it, share on Instagram, do some Bible Studies, stay connected with family and friends, while also get sucked in to mindless scrolling, playing games on it where I’ve gotten to absurdly high levels, and I’ve allowed it to dictate my time. So I write this post for you from a place of continual learning.

What you’ll find below are two exercises, some brain science, and some tips on how to improve your relationship with your phone. I’m not here to tell you to throw away the phone and get a flip phone, though sometimes I consider doing just that, but instead want to encourage you to be intentional with your phone. When you use it, I want it to matter.

Screentime Check

So to start, let’s talk about your screen time. Have you ever checked your screen time on your phone?

I have an Apple Device and when I go to the Settings –> Screen Time –> See All Activity, it shows me my daily average of screen time, any limits I set on my phone, what categories I use most, my daily “pickup” rate which is how many times I pick up my phone throughout the day and open it.

I initially was going to share with you my own habits here, but I don’t want this to be a comparison between you and me. Instead, I want this to be a comparison between you and you. What’s important is that you establish your starting line. What are your current habits? How can you improve them? How can you measure yourself, against yourself to see progress?

So, before you read anything else in this post, I encourage you to check your own phone screen time. Look at not just how often you’re on social media, but how many times you pick up your phone a day. Check what apps you use the most. Check those that you click first after picking up your phone. Where are you spending the most time that you are kind of embarrassed to admit? How many total hours do you spend on social media? What about on streaming? Or games?

What you’re seeing here is just data. It’s recordings of events that have happened in the past That’s it. The numbers you now have influence over are those in your future. So now that you’ve checked your screen time history, let’s talk about how to change your screen time future.

I want to remind you that boundaries with technology are something I continually work on. I don’t have it all figured out and it adjusts based on my schedule and commitments. What I share with you below are my general guidelines and what I’ve found to be helpful.

Dopamine Hits

Let’s start by talking about the notifications on your phone. I personally do not do well with many notifications. When I’m notified, I find myself picking up my phone to check what it’s about out of pure curiosity. If you remember from my blog on Social Media Slot Machines, there was a quote from Brad Stuhlberg I shared that said,

“When a gambler awaits her next card at the blackjack table or pulls down the lever on the slot machine she gets a hit of the powerful neurochemical dopamine. Dopamine excites and arouses us. Under the influence of dopamine we feel revved up and alive. Unlike other neurochemicals that are released when we’ve achieved something, the far more potent dopamine is released prior to the payoff of an event. When we are longing for or desiring something deeply. In other words, we don’t becoming addicted to winning, but to the chase.”

Because of this addiction to the chase, and the anticipation of what the notification says on the phone, picking up the phone after a notification has become no longer about the notification itself, but the anticipation of seeing something new and the dopamine increase that’s likely to follow.

The way the habit loop works with your phone is this:

Pick Up Phone –> Dopamine Increases –> You Feel Happy –> Dopamine Decreases

How do you get more dopamine and feel happy again? Well your brain chemicals tell you that you want to pick up your phone again. Have you ever thought you heard your phone and so you check it and realize nothing is there? You swore you felt it vibrate or heard the ping but realize it actually never went off? That’s a notification in your brain letting you know maybe you have some separation issues from it. That just maybe you’re a little more addicted to it then you realize. And that the brain just wants another dopamine hit.

So when your brain tells you, oh just pick up your phone again, check that notification, here’s where I urge you not to. Not all notifications are made equal. A weather notification about a cold day or one about the latest Target deal do not give the same level of happiness as a text from a family member or call from a friend. You accept all notifications, no matter how un-excited you are about them in order to make sure you don’t miss the exciting ones. Don’t accept mediocre notifications. Adjust what notifies you so they’re worth your while.

Notifications Exercise

So how do we do that? How do we remove mediocre in effort to only get notified on what truly matters? Here’s how:

  1. Go to your notifications and turn off those you know you don’t need. The ones for the bagel shop you really shouldn’t be visiting or the game on your phone you really don’t need to play. Turn off the easy app notifications fully first. Don’t just change the banners, but literally turn all notifications on the app to “off” in your settings.
  2. Hopefully by now you mabe only have 10-20 left. Congrats, the easy part is over. Now let’s do what’s hard. Here’s where I encourage you to ruthlessly eliminate all but 2-5 app notifications. Yes, I’m serious. My personal encouragement is to only keep Phone, Facetime, and Text Messages on and literally turn everything else off but you do you. Yes, that means I think you should turn off email notifications. Yes, and that means Instagram too. Oh and Facebook Messenger, and Facebook itself. Yes turn off the Target app and your 3 airline apps. Are you even flying right now anyway? Turn them off. Ruthlessly eliminate all but the absolute essential apps where the notifications lead to TRUE connection the majority of the time.
  3. When you get down to 5 or less apps, C E L E BR A T E ! That’s a HUGE accomplishment for some of you. I hope you feel like a weight has been lifted. (If you instead feel FOMO, or you still have 12 apps with notifications, then I challenge you to ask where you find your value? In being distracted? In being notified by things that don’t change your life like BoGo Cookies and sales on shoes and from stores that don’t personally know you? Let the fear of missing out go. Focus rather on what you ARE getting than what you’re not.)

If you skimmed through all that and decided that exercise wasn’t for you, that’s okay. You get to choose what distracts you. But I will continually encourage you to be distracted by your kids, or your spouse, or your friends, or the outdoors rather than your phone. Get distracted by what surrounds you that is living, not by a device.

So now what?

Well now that you have checked your screen time, learned some brain science, and adjusted your notifications, let’s talk about some additional tips if you want to take this further .

Tech Tips

  1. Put your group texts on do not disturb. Automatic 20+ texts per day you’re not notified about? Yes I’ll have one of those.
  2. Adjust your texts to not vibrate or make a sound when you get one. Just keep them as a banner on the home screen or a number signifier on the app. I promise your screen time will go down significantly. Mine has.
  3. Delete the Facebook / Instagram / Insert Other Social Media here app from your phone completely. Yes, I said completely. ONLY use these in the browser. Yes it’s WAY more annoying but you’ll be on them WAY less.
  4. Delete any other apps that don’t serve you. Put an app that does serve you in the spot instead. I put the Bible app where I had Instagram when I took a month off, and I clicked open the bible WAY more in that month than I had the month prior.
  5. Set boundaries or screen time limits. I have social media set to 1 minute on Sundays and 1 hour during week. Do I go over the hour? Sure do. But am I more cognizant of the time and do I have to choose to allow myself over the hour? Yep. I have to literally tell my phone how much more time I want.

We all hear about how technology can be bad or it’s turning us into more anxious and more depressed and more hyper sensitive than before. Is that true? For dang sure. But I also know that technology can bring connectivity in ways it hasn’t before. I’m not telling you to break up with your phone. Instead I’m encouraging you to set boundaries with who gets your time. When you use the suggestions above as a guide, those who will still get to connect with you are the people who matter via texts messages and phone calls. You will still hear from those you know personally, and will hear much less from those that don’t.