Wellness·4 min read

How to Customize iPhone Notifications When They Just Won’t Quit

Woman looking at phone
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Pexels
January 4, 2022

As screen time goes up, productivity decreases. It’s science. And it’s not just affecting your output — studies have shown that increased phone usage during the pandemic correlates with spiked anxiety levels. Whether you’re looking for a mental health break or looking to focus more on actual work, taking a hiatus from your third hand, aka phone, is a helpful exercise. Here are some ways to customize your iPhone notifications when they just won't quit.

For the person who can’t stop picking up robo calls...

Put up your digital “go away” sign. Aka enable "Do Not Disturb" mode. This will silence your calls and notifications — and you can customize which type of inbound you want to kick to the curb. If you have the new iOS 15, swipe down from the upper right hand corner of your phone. Then, hit the “focus” window. Do Not Disturb allows you to quiet notifications and calls (from everyone or everyone except a select few). If you have IOS 14 or earlier, go to Settings > Do Not Disturb to play notification police. Or swipe open the control center on your iPhone. You can tap the crescent moon icon or touch and hold it to turn on “Do Not Disturb” for a specific time frame. 

For the person who responds to texts and emails the second they arrive…

Go sans sound. Turning off text and email notification sounds is a good place to start. To get it done, go to Settings > Sounds > Text Tone. You can also turn off or modify banner notifications (the boxes that pop up when you have a new text or email on your phone). Go to Settings > Notifications > and select the app (text or email, in this case). Turn off “allow notifications” if you want to get rid of banner notifications for a particular app altogether. To keep notifications but modify the way you receive them, toggle “allow notification” on. Anddd then in the “alerts” sub-menu, you can select “temporary” or “persistent” — temporary banner notifications will stay on your phone for just a few secs, while persistent ones will hang around until you open them. The new iOS 15 also allows you to “mute notifications” (see Settings > Notifications) for a certain period of time and lets you opt in to receiving a notification summary in the morning and at night. Think: theSkimm of all your phone’s inbound from the day. 

For the person who’s addicted to Instagram…

Scrollaholics anonymous is all too relatable. You can start by opting out of notifications — but for many people, the habit of clicking towards Insta is more ingrained than that. Set time limits on the app by going to Settings > Screen Time > App Limits. Instagram is also testing out a “take a break” feature that would allow users to opt into notifications with alternate activities (think: take a deep breath, cross something off your to-do list) after they’ve spent a certain amount of time on the app. 

For the person who’s still addicted to Instagram after the above steps…

Delete. The. App. If this sounds extreme...remember that you can always re-download it. Or start by deleting it during the week and redownloading on the weekends. Baby steps. 

For the person who reaches for their phone automatically or out of boredom…

Schedule time for phone use. This will make the time you do spend on your phone more intentional. Put a half hour of social media time on your schedule, and a half hour of other app use or catching up with texts. So instead of aimlessly scrolling while doing a thousand other things, you will be present and involved in your screen time, making you less likely to return for a mindless hit. 

For the person whose hand cramps from phone use…

Sometimes, you need a physical barrier between yourself and the screen. Put your phone in another room while you’re working, working out, cooking, or even watching TV. It will make you more focused and absorbed in the activity in front of you. Oh, and stop bringing your phone to the bathroom. We all do it. And that still doesn’t make it OK.

For the person who can’t stop scrolling in bed…

Take some downtime. Literally. Your iPhone has a “downtime” feature in Settings > Screen Time that powers down apps and calls during times you specify. So if you know you always want a no-phone work block from 8-10am, you can prime your phone to meet those needs. 

For the person who’s sad when that screen time notification pops up…

Set goals. If you want to go analog, these goals can be written down (think: decrease screen time by 10% and work your way up every week in 5% increments until you reach a 50% cut). You can also use your fancy phone features to limit time spent scrolling. Remember the Screen Time feature we mentioned earlier? Setting boundaries makes it harder to break promises. And getting in reps towards your goal helps you build stamina — like working out minus the sweating.   


Your phone might feel like another limb. But with effort and guard rails it can start to feel like what it actually is: a device that’s meant to optimize, not detract from, your life. When you cut down on phone use, and look up every once in a while, you might find a little more joy.

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