By The 1440 Doctor: Jennifer Kanapicki Comer, MD

Alright, today’s the day.  You have a lecture coming up and you need to prepare.  You’ve blocked off today to do it. You sit down, open up powerpoint.  Ding! A white notification flag flashes up in the right hand corner. It looks like it’s from your TA who helps with the course, better see if it’s anything important.  Open up your in basket, scan the email, oh, he just wants to meet about course feedback. Okay, not a big deal. Close the email. Now back to preparing for your talk. Ding! Looks like you have a couple of Twitter notifications. Wonder if your recent tweet got some traction? Better check!  10 retweets already, AWESOME!. Now, really I need to prepare this lecture…

…….Sound familiar?

The average person gets interrupted once every 8 minutes and looks at their phone every 15 minutes.

Our brain uses email and social media like a cognitive slot machine.  Checking your email is like pulling the slot machine handle. Did I get awarded that grant?  July schedule is out, what does my schedule look like? Although this fast fix gets us our dopamine high, much research has shown that spending to much time on our smartphones has negative effects on your focus and mental health.  Studies are showing links between smartphone use and increased levels of anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality and increased risk of car injury or death.

How much time are you spending on your phone?

Did you know that your iphone lets you view your screen time?  For curiosity, go and look it up now. If you have an iphone go to Settings > scroll down to Screen Time.  There it is. Click on your device and take a deep breath. If I look right now it says for the last 7 days I’ve averaged 5 hours 33 minutes per day of screen time (which is 38% down from last week).  Eek! That seems like a lot. If you investigate further you can see what you spend your time on. Messages, email, and facebook are my top 3. I give you this exercise because I think it’s important to know how you spend your minutes.  Remember only 1440 minutes in a day.  

Is where your phone telling you that you’re spending your minutes, where you want to spend them?

I recently challenged  myself to leave the casino, get my dopamine fix elsewhere, and break up with notifications.  Here’s the 4 steps I used to making a clean break:

1. Turn off all push notifications.  

I began noticing I was looking down at my phone a lot because some notification popped in view (how can you not be drawn to the friendly banner?).  Sometimes it was just dropbox saying someone added to our shared folder. Other times it was my calendar reminding me of a meeting or Google shopping express telling me about a new promo.  I then thought why am I allowing my phone to interrupt my day? Every badge, notification, ding! was interrupting my focus. It was like a million EKGs getting handed to me or getting hammered with calls during a shift.  I don’t like interruptions on shift, why am I letting my phone do it to me in my personal life??

Turn off all push notifications from your computer, laptop and phone (everywhere!).

Try it now.  Go to your phone’s settings.  On the iphone go to “notifications.”  I was amazed at all the apps I was allowing to send me notifications.  Click on each app. Go big and unclick the ability to allow ANY notifications.

2. Turn of all badges.  

Stop the temptation.  I didn’t know the name for those tasty morsels I loved seeing that alerted me that I was getting some love, but they’re called badges.  You know that little red dot in the upper right hand corner of an app just screaming “Come check me out!” That’s a badge. For some reason my mind feels very compelled to push on the app to relieve the anxiety of not knowing what information the badge will bring.  Help your mind resist the temptation and turn off all badges. If you followed step 1 you turned off all notifications in all your apps so this will also disable the badges. In case you weren’t that dramatic, go into each app in your settings notifications and really think if you want the temptation of that little red badge.

Stop the temptation. Turn off all badges.  

3. Ready to go cold turkey? Enable “Do Not Disturb.”  

If you want to turn off all notifications quickly on your iPhone, swipe up and tap on the “moon” icon, which is right of the screen rotation lock.  Notifications can still arrive but your phone will not make sounds and notifications won’t wake up your display. You can decide the specifics by going into the “Do Not Disturb” section in settings.  If you’re sitting down and need to tackle a task that truly needs your focus (ex. Article to write, lecture to create, charts to complete) this is your best option.

Want to get some deep work done?  Turn on “Do Not Disturb.”

4. Find ways to NOT check your iphone.  

Finally, I did something crazy- I went old school and bought a watch.  I noticed that I frequently would check my phone to see what time it was which became a slippery slope.  Oh well, while I’m here I should check my email; oh, looks like disaster drill is going to be on May 1st; better check my calendar….and so on and so on.  So I bought a watch and now check my phone less. If you use Amazon’s Alexa think about asking her more questions so you don’t have to check your phone.

In our growing technological world we are forever more exposed to interruptions in our daily life and feelings of anxiety if we aren’t able to check our smartphones or social media.  Stop letting these notifications dictate how you spend your time. Live a proactive life instead of a reactive one.

Break up with the notifications that are breaking up your day.

1440 doctor Action items:

☑️1440 Doctor action item: Go into your phone/computer/laptop settings.  Turn off ALL notifications, badges. If you really want to do “deep work” (more about how to do deep work in future posts) turn on the “Do Not Disturb” feature of your phone.

Want more?

Check out a couple of the following books talking about this concept

The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen

Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, both by Cal Newport.  Deep Work gives you tools to focus without distraction when undertaking a task.  Digital Minimalism helps you live a focused life in this increasingly noisy world.

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