Stay Sane By Minimizing All the Distracting Notifications on Your Smartphone and Computer

By Chris Hoffman on February 14th, 2015

Smartphones and computers are notification-generaitng machines. Every app wants to constantly ping you, interrupting your life and pulling you out of that “flow state” while working.

All those notifications are a distraction. At best, they’re constantly dinging in your pocket all day while you try to live your life. At worst, they’ll cause you to ignore all your notifications and miss the important ones.

iPhone and iPad

On Apple’s iOS, each notification you receive is clearly associated with a specific application name. Applications don’t get permission to send you notifications when you install them — they have to ask for permission. If you don’t want to receive notifications from an application, make sure to say “Don’t Allow” when you’re told that a new app wants to send you notifications.

If you’re getting too many notifications from an application, you can modify the notification settings for that app. Head to the Settings app and tap Notifications. You’ll see a list of installed apps that have permission to send you notifications. Tap an app to modify its settings.

Apple’s iOS offers a lot of ways to customize the notifications you see. To disable notifications entirely for an app, disable the Allow Notifications slider. You can also modify the other settings here. For example, if you wanted to see a badge icon over an app when there’s new content in the app — but don’t want it ringing in your pocket, popping up and notifying you, or appearing in your notification center — you can disable the “Show in Notification Center,” Notification Sound,” “Show on Lock Screen, and “Alert Style When Unlocked” options, leaving only “Badge App Icon” enabled. You’d see a subtle counter informing you of new content on the app’s icon without all the standard notification annoyances.

Some apps may offer more fine-grained notification settings in their own app’s preferences. For example, you may want to receive email notifications for emails from your family and boss — or for a particularly critical email thread — but not for every little newsletter and notification email that arrives in your inbox. Follow our guide to getting notifications for only the emails you care about on your iPhone for ways to trim down your email notifications without missing the important stuff.

Android

By default, every Android app you install that has the notification permission is allowed to send you notifications. However, Google allows you to disable notifications for any app.

When you receive a notification you don’t want, you can simply long-press the notification in your notification drawer and select “App Info” on Android 4.x or tap the “i” button on Android 5. This will take you directly to the app info or notification settings screen for the app that generated the notification, and you can disable notifications from there. It’s useful in case an app ever tries to disguise advertising notifications without telling you which app they’re from. This is a system-level manual override.

On Android 5, you can also open the Settings screen, tap Sound & notification, and tap App notifications. Tap an app and select “Block” to disable its notifications.

You can often control notifications in an app’s settings, which will generally give you much more information about the types of notifications you want to see from the app. This will let you choose exactly which notifications you want to see.

Gmail is very powerful on Android, and it gives you a lot of control over which email notifications you want to see. You can choose only to see notifications associated with a specific label in your Gmail inbox, and set up filters that automatically direct important emails you want to be notified about to those labels. This will let you cut down on those email notifications. Check out our guide to getting only the email notifications you care about with Gmail on Android for more information.

Windows

Windows doesn’t have system-wide notification controls in the same way mobile operating systems do. If a desktop program is bugging you with notifications, you can change this option in its settings. You can also right-click the taskbar, select Properties, click the Customize button next to Notification area, and select the “Hide icon and notifications” option for applications you don’t want to see system notification bubbles from. This only applies to standard system notification bubbles, and many applications use their own, different style of notifications.

If you’re using those Windows 8 “Store apps,” which now seem to be called “universal apps,” you can control their notifications from the Change PC settings applicaiton. Press Windows Key + C or swipe in from the right to open the Charms bar, select Settings, and select Change PC settings Navigate to Search and apps > Notifications to control which apps can show notifications.

Mac OS X

Most apps will use the system’s notification service on a Mac, which means their notifications will pop up in a standard way and appear in the Notification Center. This means you have a single place from which you can control those notifications just as you do on iOS. To access these settings, click the Apple menu on the bar at the top of your screen, select System Preferences, and click the Notifications icon.

You’ll see a list of all the applications that have permission to send notifications, and you can customize those notifications just like you can on iOS. You can choose to disable sounds and banners for an app, for example — just leaving the badge on the app’s icon on the dock for a less-distracting reminder you should get around to check out an app.

Chrome OS and the Chrome Browser

Web browsers are gaining notification systems, too. In Chrome, you can control which websites can display notifications by clicking the Chrome Notification Center icon in the “system tray”-type area on your operating system. Click the gear icon and uncheck apps and websites you don’t want to see notificaitons from.

You can also access similar settings on Chrome’s settings page — open the Settings page, search for “notifications” with the search box, click the “Content settings” button, click “Manage exceptions” under notifications, and revoke permission from any websites you’ve given permission to to show notifications. If you can’t revoke permissions because a website address is in italics, it was added there by an app or extension you installed on Chrome.

Linux Desktops

There’s no system-wide way to configure notifications on Linux desktops. If you see notifications from an app and you’d rather not see them, you’ll need to head to that applicaiton’s settings screen and disable the notification option.


Take control over your device’s notifications! You don’t have to disable notifications you like and find useful, but there’s no need to live in a world where your devices are constantly beeping at you and presenting you with unnecessary information. That will just drain your attention, focus, and sanity.

If tech companies have their way, your wrist will soon be abuzz with notifications throughout the day, too. Be prepared to manage the notifications that can appear on your smartwatch if you ever get one.

Image Credit: Johan Larsson on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/14/15
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