Back in 2018, I talked about a process you might call digital calming: decluttering my devices by removing redundant apps, and switching off most notifications and badges. Four years later, that remains the single best change I’ve ever made to my use of technology.
Thanks to the focus modes in iOS 15, that process has never been easier …
Here’s what I wrote at the time:
I’ve taken a ‘when in doubt, switch off notifications’ approach. For example, no Twitter alerts. I mostly use it for work, when I’m sat at my Mac with TweetDeck in front of me, so there’s no reason for alerts on my phone. No podcast alerts – there’s always stuff to listen to when I’m in the mood, I don’t need to be alerted the moment new episodes land. No Dark Sky – I check the weather when I care. No eBay even when I’m selling stuff – I only need to know when it’s sold, not live updates of bids. And so on.
I’ve also switched off badges on most apps.
The upshot of all this? My phone feels like a calmer part of my world. It’s not constantly flashing up alerts. I don’t have a long stream of notifications to scroll through on the lockscreen when I take it out of my pocket. I don’t have a mass of apps with those little red dots all demanding I look at them.
It feels like it is now what it should be: a device that’s there to serve me, rather than the other way around.
I said I didn’t know then whether I’d maintain this regime, but I have – and have never been more glad of the fact.
News was a particular addiction of mine, and freeing myself from a constant stream of mostly stressful and depressing news has been a real change for the better. I still follow the news, but I do so when I choose to, not when it comes flying at me.
WhatsApp seems to be the world’s default messaging app, and I’m in a bunch of group chats with different groups of family and friends. That meant I was getting alerts for all kinds of casual chat, so now I have most groups muted, so that I choose when to read chat messages.
Back when I had lots of alerts, I’d be constantly picking up my phone to read them and tap on them. When I glanced at my home screen to see unread counters, it was almost an addiction to read the messages to clear the counters.
It felt like other people – and app developers – were choosing when and how I used my iPhone, rather than me doing so. Today, it feels like it’s there when I want to use it, not when someone else decides I should be alerted to something.
I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for other people to take similar steps. Some people, for example, remove their work email account from their personal devices. Others use do not disturb to create quiet times when their phone isn’t bothering them.
We’re even seeing legal action to support this kind of digital downtime. Back in 2016, for example, France passed a law dubbed ‘the right to disconnect‘ – in which employees cannot be required to send or receive work emails outside of their normal working hours. Italy did the same thing in 2017; Spain in 2018; and Portugal last year, with a ‘right to rest‘ law. A number of other countries are currently debating following these examples.
Here’s my advice for anyone who wants to try the same experiment of digital calming.
First, remove apps you no longer use or need. That reduces clutter on your home screens, and makes it easier to bring your key apps front and center.
Second, if you have time-sucks – apps which get more of your time and attention than they should – consider either removing them altogether, or removing them from your home screen. You’ll still be able to use search to open them, but they won’t be constantly in your face.
Third, have your default notification status be off. Go into Settings > Notifications, and switch everything to Off unless there’s a good reason for you to need immediate notifications of things.
Fourth, for apps where you do need or want immediate notifications, consider switching off Badges – those counters of unread messages.
Finally, if you do need to keep notifications for work purposes, say, then use Focus modes to control when those notifications are allowed, and when they are silenced.
What’s your own approach to digital calming, and what else would you recommend? Please let us know in the comments.
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