May 12, 2020

In these unusual times, much of life has gone online. Work, school, socializing, exercising — all happening in the digital sphere. The result? An absolute avalanche of dings, pings and buzzes.

Phone screen with 20 notifications on the Mail icon.

You may not be able to stop the deluge of online communication, but you can control how your devices alert you about that communication.

Here’s a few tips for managing notifications in the age of information overload.  

Reviewing Notification Settings

 Dr. Seuss has had a profound effect on children, particularly those who grow up to be app designers. Don’t believe us? Try combing through notification settings on any of the programs or apps you use. 

“Would you like notifications in a house?”

“What about with a mouse?”

“In a box?”

“CLICK TO ENABLE PUSH NOTIFICATIONS WITH A FOX.” 

In an effort to give users control, apps have made settings so granular that sifting through them is like an interrogation. The process of tracking down those settings — let alone updating them — can be overwhelming. 

Adjusting App Notifications

The best way to cut the notification noise for the long term is to audit the settings for the apps you use. At the app level is where you can make the clearest decisions about what information is important for you to receive when.

Depending on the app, you can go about this one of two ways: 1) going directly to each app and updating settings or 2) going to your phone’s settings and updating the notification presets, app by app. 

For example, if you work at St. Edward’s and use Workplace, you can go to your Workplace settings > Notifications and decide the following: 

  • Do you want to get notifications on your mobile device, laptop/desktop or email? All of them? None of them?
  • What types of activity (comments, tags, chats, etc.) do you want to get notified about — and through which channels (mobile, desktop, email)?
  • For which Workplace groups do you want to receive notifications — and through which channels?

Alternately, if your phone is the real notification problem, you can open its settings and make your choices for each app from there. Wired's handy guide outlines steps for Android and iOS. 

Do Not Disturb Mode

So let’s say you don’t have time to comb through every single app, and you just want your darn phone to stop buzzing every 10 seconds. 

It’s time for the notification nuclear option: Do Not Disturb. 

Do Not Disturb mode lets you do a few things at the device level: 

  • Set up a schedule for when you do and don’t want to get notifications. 
  • Choose notification sound options (including silent!). 
  • Define exceptions to the rule, noting certain reminders, events or messages you’d like to receive notifications about no matter what.  

To configure the above, return again to your device settings. You also can turn on Do Not Disturb mode manually at any time, regardless of how you’ve configured your normal schedule. 

General Advice for Managing Notifications

Hopefully that was helpful. Before you go forth and conquer those notifications, consider the following rules of thumb:

  • Going through each app to update notification preferences is tedious, but it’s the only way to get exactly what you want. Start with your most-used apps and chip away from the list whenever you have a few spare minutes.
  • If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of notifications, keep in mind the ones most important to you (Canvas announcements, email, etc.) and decide where and when you want to get them. Turn off the rest.
  • For those working remotely, consider whether you want to keep notifications turned on for Workplace or your St. Edward’s email account on your phone. Are notifications on your laptop or desktop enough for the moment?
  • Remember: Instead of getting buzzed for every activity or comment, you can turn checking for updates on apps and sites into a healthy, manageable, scheduled habit.