A lot of advice people give about how to free up mental space and open your mind’s resources are going to be about meditation/mindfulness.
Mindfulness is super important and everyone should practice it, but I’m a novice meditator at best, so I’m not the right person to advise you on that. If you want to know where to start, I highly recommend Insight Timer where you can find tons of free guided meditations* which are perfect for beginners.
*and they are slightly less guilty of Whitewashing than other apps with highly curated content that comes almost exclusively from white people
So meditation is great and all but it’s hardly a life hack or “one simple trick” for getting back some mental space. This post is about one thing you can do one time, spending 10-20 minutes and increasing your efficiency by leaps and bounds.
One step to free up mental space – the classic method
I’m almost embarrassed to say it because it’s so simple.
Go into your phone settings. And turn off notifications.
That’s it. That’s the one step.
Now, most of us want or need immediate notifications from a subset of apps. But I recommend being reeeeally choosy about that.
Texts you probably want right away, but the second one I usually see mentioned is email. But why? Even if your entire job is over email you simply do not need to see every email the second it comes in.
As someone who doesn’t rely that heavily on email, I disabled notifications entirely. Because what is the worst that could happen – am I going to just not check email? Of course not! I’m still using my phone, I’ll still check it twice a day at a minimum, and more often when I’m expecting something. (90% of the time it’s a 2FA code)
I spent a significant amount of time thinning out my notifications. I kept it to things like calls, texts, and scheduled reminders because that’s how I attempt to keep myself from drifting off into the recesses of my mind and/or the internet each day. Other people may not use calendar/to-do list reminders and that’s fine.
As an android user, I also make use of widgets whenever possible so those sometimes take the place of a notification, but in a way where I only see them when I want, rather than having the apps demanding my attention on their schedule.
And if you’ve got desktop notifications turned on dear god turn them off. They’re even worse than on the phone.
Another option – have an app do it for you
Does it still sound like a lot of effort? Or are you afraid you might miss out on certain notifications?
The app Daywise is an absolute hero for this. It may honestly be my #1 recommendation to free up mental space and enhance productivity in general.
Daywise does all the work above for you. But rather than disabling your notifications altogether, it shows them in a bundle at scheduled times during the day. (I think default is 8AM, 12PM, 5PM, and 10PM but you can adjust.)
You can set which notifications you want to see immediately, and which should be bundled. You can also still customize which notifications you never want to see within your phone settings. (Thanks Yahtzee. I needed to know each time the last 400 people commented on your chat.) All Daywise does is intercept the notifications being sent to the notification bar and checks to see if it should be allowed through or if it should be kept in the Daywise inbox until the next scheduled bundle arrives.
The third way to free up mental space
If you don’t want to use Daywise, I get it. You do have to give it access to all your notifications which isn’t insignificant. Luckily there’s still a way to make this job of refining your notifications a little easier.
It’s similar to what experts recommend when junk emails come in. Rather than just clearing them without reading, again and again, every day, when something comes in that you know you don’t want, just scroll to the bottom and click unsubscribe (or mark as spam – but please use as a last resort when you’re dealing with a mailing list that is actually acting like spam.) Do this a few times a day and you’ll quickly find your email is more relevant and less tiresome.
On Android, cleaning up your notifications is even easier than unsubscribing from junk mail.
- Pull down notification bar
- Long press on a notification you don’t want to see
- Turn off the button that says “allow notifications from this category”
Done. Now, I particularly like this because it doesn’t completely disable notifications for a certain app. It only disables those certain types of notifications, which may be Important, General, Promotion, Reminder, etc… But if you do want to disable all notifications from a single app, you can find that setting when you click “Details.” Even better, click “Notification settings” (circled above) and you can manage all of your recent notifications quickly and easily from one place – including those being bundled by Daywise.
There you have it. Three ways to reclaim your own attention and free up mental space for the things you actually want to save it for.
What is your most annoying notification? The one you could never disable?
What could you accomplish if your smartphone – theoretically a productivity tool – wasn’t constantly robbing you of your own attention?
Hit us up in the comments or on Discord! After all I can’t in good faith direct you to Facebook right after encouraging you to reclaim your attention 😘