The iPhone is a funny thing. On the one hand, it might be the single most useful device ever invented, at least in terms of staying connected and being productive. On the other hand, it's also the single greatest distraction in the history of people trying to stay focused on one thing while being seduced by all of the things you can do on a computer you carry in your pocket.
The reason isn't complicated. Having a device in your pocket that lets you stay connected all the time means that you are, well, connected all the time. That means that while you can email, FaceTime, Slack, message, or do whatever else you do to communicate, you can also YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and binge-watch Netflix.
Sometimes--maybe often--you start out trying to do one, and end up realizing you've been doing the other for the last three hours. The battle is real, friends.
But even if you resist the YouTube algorithm, even the apps you use to be productive can turn into a distraction. Email is a particular challenge for me. I can't tell you the number of times I pull out my phone to send a message or take a photo and see the red number badge above the app icon.
That red badge is the worst thing ever. It just calls out to you letting you know how many people want your attention. Surely, that number represents all of the important things you need to do right this very moment.
Mostly, however, it's just garbage. Literally. On any given day, I get probably 250 to 400 emails. There are maybe a dozen I care about, and of those, there might be three or four I need to deal with sooner rather than later. The rest: garbage.
The problem is that staring at that red badge, I have no idea which is which. All I see is a number that never stops growing. Finally, I realized I could do something about it. I turned it off.
You can do that too, you know. There's nothing that says you have to have the badge on the app icon taunting you all day long. There are enough things to distract you from your focus, you don't need any help from little red notification badges.
Thankfully, it's actually really easy. In the Notifications section of the Settings app on your iPhone, you can decide which apps can show notifications. In most communication apps, that includes the ability to show badges. Just turn them all off.
By the way, this might be even more useful on the Mac. If you spend a lot of time staring at a screen, and you find yourself getting distracted by the red dots on the Mail, Slack, or Messages icons in your dock, just turn them off. Your life will be much happier, less stressful, and probably way more productive.
Try it for a week. It's going to feel terrible at first, but, I promise, it's a much more peaceful way to work--and live. You'll eventually stop worrying so much about how much needs your attention throughout the day, and be more intentional about the time you devote to your inbox. I tend to peek at it two or three times a day, and deal with what is urgent, and delete the rest.
Pro Tip: On my iPhone (and my Mac), I also have Mail set to only send me a notification if I get an email from one of a small number of people. Mail makes it easy to designate certain contacts as VIP, and you can choose to only get notifications when they send you an email.
That way, even if I don't have the constant reminder that there are emails requiring my attention, I can see if one of those people sends me something. You can also fine tune this for apps like Messages, Slack, and Mail using Apple's new Focus setting.
The point is, sometimes I want to see when an email comes in from my wife, or a specific co-worker, or when a message comes from one of our daughters. In that case, I can just tap the drop-down notification banner and deal with it, without seeing how many unread messages or emails I have.