Three Techniques to Make Your iPhone Your Servant Instead of Your Master

These techniques will work on other “smart phones” (and computers) too, but to keep things simple I’ll address the iPhone.

  • Aggressively turn off notifications. A notification is only useful for something that you need to act on immediately – e.g. your Uber has arrived, your significant other wants to meet you for lunch in 15 minutes, or Tile has found your lost cat and you need to go pick him up before he runs off again. If you receive a notification for anything that you don’t need to act on immediately, take the immediate action of going to Settings > Notifications and turning the notification/app badge off. This will make your phone clean and remove the subtle, constant mental friction that occurs when you scan over unnecessary app badges, not to mention the non-subtle friction of a notification popping up when you’re doing something.
    • This means email notifications too – all of them: badges, banners, and sounds.
    • If an app that needs notifications on misbehaves (e.g. your ride-share app sends you a marketing notification), delete it and go to a competitor. You’re the boss – fire them for interrupting you.
  • Put every app you don’t need instant access to in a “Stuff” folder. No more digging through folders or flipping through screens wondering if Pages is in “Business”, “Lifestyle”, or “Productivity”: On my iPad, I have one screen for personal, one for work, and a Stuff folder. Apps I constantly use are in the dock. I’m working toward a single screen of apps on my iPhone. To run an app, tell Siri “Run Word” or swipe down and search for it (i.e. start typing its name). I find that frequently Siri will already have guessed the app I’m looking for when I swipe down.
    • My home screen has only four (of six) rows of apps, plus four apps in the dock.
    • Advanced tip: My IM apps are in a folder and my Phone apps are in another folder. This makes IM badges and Phone call badges appear in one place.
  • Process your email inbox once a day (or less). Use a service like SaneBox or Boomerang’s Inbox Pause to automatically hold your email until the next day. This lets you batch process your inbox into actions and reference materials without new items coming in while you work on the old. I personally:
    • Use SaneBox and have a Gmail filter that sends all email to @SaneTomorrow. This makes all my messages skip the inbox and has SaneBox deliver them to my inbox in a batch each morning. No, it doesn’t go into an infinite loop. 😉
      • If there’s something you do want to appear in your inbox, add that to your mail filter (e.g. I allow server errors from my development environment through so I can see them immediately when working on something).
    • Use AirMail on my Mac and/or iPhone to process my inbox into OmniFocus actions