Ownership Mindset: turn off your notifications

Are you in control? One simple way to find out is to set your phone/tablet/computer aside just for a few hours and see how this makes you feel. What you feel might surprise you. Let’s take back control.

Where are you reading this? There’s a 60% chance that you are reading this on a mobile device. In the time that it takes you to read this article, count how many notifications you receive. These notifications can be on any device, as long as it is a device that is near you, distracting you. Not enough studies exist yet to truly measure how distracted we are by notifications, but this study indicates that we receive 100s of notifications per day and view them within 3 minutes on average. There are about 960 waking minutes in a day and averaging 100 notifications equates to being distracted for over 10% of your day. Ten percent! You can fudge the math all you want, but if our devices distract us for 10% of our days, how can we ever do anything, how can we ever own our days?

Notifications cause stress…a lot of stress.

More research suggests that minute-by-minute notifications stress us out big time. Now, this research isn’t exactly scientific or empirical, but we can imagine the logical conclusion that an empirical study would find: notifications stress us out because of the expectations resulting from notifications.

We might think:

“What if I miss that big headline?”

“I NEED to respond to this email right now, or…”

“Yes! S/he responded.”

The reality is, it doesn’t matter. Miss a text from a client? If you’re good, responding an hour later instead of 20 seconds later won’t matter. We create the pressure. It’s internalized. Expecting that everyone is readily available all the time is ridiculous.

I turned off my notifications…and nothing changed.

Not too long ago, I decided that I was far too distracted. I constantly checked social media, waited for people to respond to text messages, had my email account open at all times, and just generally didn’t pay attention to any one item because I was trying to pay attention to everything. There was a fear of missing out. I think. The fear that I might miss out on an opportunity (something paid preferably) was large and looming.

Then, a miracle happened. I finished Deep Work. As a result of finishing that book (which is a little gimmicky, frankly), I put my phone in airplane mode for 24 hours. It was a Saturday so I felt safe. I had no WiFi as I was traveling.

Honestly, the first four or five hours were torturous. What if I missed a potential client email or call? And what if something incredibly important happened? What if someone really needed to get ahold of me?

Then reality set in. I’m not that important. That was the first realization. Second, not everyone is constantly connected. I don’t need to check emails every five minutes. I don’t need to see whether 100 or 1000 people read my latest blog post. It was all unnecessary and feeding two parts of my brain: ego and fear.

Ego and fear.

My ego wanted response. I constantly (like many of us) look for validation through likes, comments, and responses. I don’t care whether they are positive, all I care about is the response. My fear wanted knowledge. Shallow knowledge. Having all the news apps constantly pinging me about things that don’t matter to me (and likely don’t matter long-term or to very many people) kept me going. I desired constant updates from everyone and on everything.

But why? As time kept going on my day of radio silence, I became more present. A lot more present. Suddenly, I noticed that almost everyone around me was on their phones. They were taking pictures, videos, making calls, texting, and doing whatever else people do on their phones. Very few people were enjoying where we were (the International Hot Air Balloon Festival). Seeing a hot air balloon go from a small bag to a giant, flying balloon was astounding.

I felt more too. The temperature, the wind. These elements that I became numb to because of my phone. Sound. Holy crap! It’s so loud out there in the world. It’s not loud because people are loud or because there was heavy traffic. It was loud because nature’s sounds are loud! Birds buzzing by, distant alarms, the sound of the wind coming down off the mountain. It was incredible.

Being present is incredible.

After my experiment ended, I turned my phone back on. Buzz, buzz, buzz. It lit up like a Christmas Tree. Funny thing: nothing happened. Everything I missed was completely insignificant to my life in that moment.

After I combed through everything I “missed,” I went one step further. Who needs notifications? What purpose do they serve? Better yet, who needs apps? So, I methodically went through my phone, every app and every notification setting. I deleted close to 50% of my apps and turned off notifications for every single app except the phone app. I don’t get many calls any way.

Now, I am in control.

I have control. It’s back. I choose when to look at my text messages; my texts don’t choose to notify me. I decide when to look at my email. I choose when to read the news and what content to read, no more notifications about from news algorithms. It’s wonderful!

Until I realized that I wasn’t in control, I thought I was. It was an alarming realization. My phone owned me. So did my computer. Now, I own them.

From a bigger picture, the organizations (Apple, Facebook, Google, etc) try to own us through their very clever marketing tactics that make us want notifications. These companies put fear that we might miss out into our brains. And when we take back control, the fear dissipates. The organizations don’t control how we work, when we do, and what we want.

It’s been an incredible process to take back control, and I urge you to try it. I’d love to hear how it went. Email me or write in the comments!