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Can You Live Without Email Notifications?



I’ve been using the iPhone 4S as my primary phone for the past 11 days. As part of my testing, I was surprised to learn that I could do without email notifications.

Because there is no good way to use Gmail Priority Inbox with the iPhone’s built in mail client, even the new for iOS 5 mail client, I have been using the Gmail web interface.

This was a big deal for me, because it meant that I would have to do without push email notifications, which I thought were incredibly important to me, when I listed my concerns of switching from Android to iPhone.

As it turns out, going without the constant notification icon is awesome.

Background. I’ve never been one to get the notification sounds for new email, because my phone would never be silent, but I always relied on my notification icon on Android to tell me to check my email.

For the past 11 days, I took the approach I take on my computers, turning off all incoming mail notifications. Instead of feeling compelled to see who had emailed me, and then compelled to take an action, I checked my email on my schedule. I even managed to make it through several meals without checking my email and a whole car trip to the mall and back.

Mail AppBy avoiding these distractions, each of which can take 5 minutes to recover from, I am able to focus more on the work I am doing. This principle is repeated in almost every productivity book I’ve ever read, but it never hit me to take the same steps when I go mobile. While you can go to the extreme, and set up auto replies that spell out when you will respond to emails, in most cases this is not necessary. Anyone who needs instant access to you (and deserves it) should have the means to do so without using email.

I still keep notifications on for Yammer, which we use internally. This allows anyone on the team to get in touch with me, and they all can send me a text if it is incredibly important. When I want to get notifications, I will also log in to IM+ to connect to Google Talk and AIM.

If you can’t turn off email notifications during the day, why not try to turn them of at night. This doesn’t mean you can’t check your email when you get home, you just won’t be pulled to do it quite as much. At least once you adapt, and stop checking for new notifications every 10 minutes.

I’m still unsure if I want to use this process full time, especially on days where I am mobile for long stretches, but so far I am enjoying my no email notification experience. This isn’t limited to the iPhone, you can turn off email notifications on Android as well. Below, you’ll find how to turn off email notifications on iOS 5 and on most Android devices.

How to Turn Off Email Notifications on iOS 5

  1. Tap on Settings -> Notifications
  2. Tap on Mail
  3. Toggle Notification Center to Off
  4. Choose None for the Alert Style
  5. If needed, go to Settings -> Sounds to turn off audible alerts

There you have it, if you need to turn them on, simply revers the toggles. You can also turn off the unread number on the Mail icon if that is too much of an alert for you.

How to Turn Off Email Notifications on Android

You may need to turn off notifications in multiple places if you have Gmail and a Work account setup on your phone. The default mail app will vary from phone to phone, so I’ll start with Gmail.

  1. Open Gmail
  2. Press Menu -> More -> Settings
  3. Choose your Account
  4. Scroll to the botom and uncheck Email notifications

On the default email client for my HTC ThunderBolt, I follow these similar settings.

  1. Open the Mail client
  2. Press Menu -> More -> Settings
  3. Tap on Notifications
  4. Uncheck email notifications

The steps may vary form device to device, but will be similar.

So, Can you take the no email notification challenge? If not, what’s holding you back?



  1. Adam Truelove

    10/25/2011 at 11:53 am

    ” I have been using the Gmail web interface”

    And that is one reason I love Android.  The Gmail app.

    • Josh Smith

      10/26/2011 at 6:55 am

      That is perhaps the hardest shift to make. Still coming to terms with it, will share more on it in a future post.

  2. Anonymous

    10/25/2011 at 4:46 pm

    ios5 native mail client doesn’t support imap ?
    That’s surprising to me.

  3. Josh Smith

    10/26/2011 at 6:54 am

    I can link Gmail up via exchange, but it doesn’t support priority inbox. Which means ridiculous amounts of crap. I have 5 unread in my priority inbox right now, but 178 in the full inbox.

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