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Friday, June 21, 2024

How to Keep Work Notifications From Taking Over Your Life

Thanks to global events that have affected just about everyone on the planet, a lot of us are now working from home some—if not all—of the week. This has definite benefits, unless you really, really enjoy your commute, but it also makes it harder to maintain boundaries between work and everything else.

We're talking specifically about notifications outside of office hours, whatever those happen to be. Think emails from the boss or mentions in the company Slack channel or incoming edits on files: If you keep alerts for these types of events on around the clock, you're never going to escape your job.

At best you're going to find your leisure and relaxation time interrupted by distracting pings; at worst, they're going to pull you into completing a task or following up on a job that can wait until tomorrow (or after the weekend.) If you're not getting notifications, you don't know what you're missing—in the best possible way. Here's how to set it up.

Settings Inside Your Apps

Before you even get into the settings that are available on your phone and laptop, look at the apps you use most often for work: It's likely they have some configuration options of their own to ensure they're quiet at certain times of the day (or certain days in the week.) If you can set up some of your key apps in this way, you might not have to worry about any other settings.

Take Slack, for example. Open up Slack on the web, click your profile picture in the top right corner, then choose Preferences. On the Notifications tab, along with disabling notifications completely (which your superiors might not be too happy about,) you can use the Allow notifications settings under Notification schedule to only permit alerts during certain hours in the day. You can even set specific times for different days.

Perhaps your place of work might prefer Microsoft Teams to Slack. You can't set working hours in Teams, but you can at least customize which channels you get notifications on and which devices notifications are sent to—so you can switch off alerts for your phone while keeping them on your laptop, for example. To configure all of the available options, from the desktop interface go to Settings and more, Settings, and Notifications.

Gmail is another app that gives you more granular control over your notification settings than you might have realized. In the mobile app, tap the Menu button, then Settings. If you've got two email accounts added (for work life and personal life, perhaps,) you can set up these notifications separately. You can also get Gmail to only notify you about "high-priority" emails that you normally mark as important.

Settings on Your Phone

When you've exhausted all the in-app settings, you can turn to your phone. On Android, open Settings and tap Apps and All apps, then pick an app and choose Notifications to set the desired rules. You can turn notifications on or off from here and in some cases choose which type of notifications to silence. In WhatsApp for Android, for example, you can turn off alerts for group chats but keep them on for one-on-one conversations.

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To control notifications based on the time of day, open Settings and head to Notifications and then Do Not Disturb. Under Schedules, you can set the times and days you want your phone to be silenced while still allowing some contacts, apps, and alarms to break through the Do Not Disturb barrier (very handy if you want family and friends to be able to reach you, but not work colleagues).

Over on the iOS side, if you open Settings and then choose Notifications, you can configure the alert settings for every app on your phone. You can have notifications from work-related apps only appear in the Notification Center, rather than popping up on screen, or only keep sounds on for notifications in high-priority apps that you want to hear from outside of your set working hours.

There's also a Do Not Disturb mode in iOS that you can access by going to Settings, choosing Focus, and then tapping Do Not Disturb. You can block off certain parts of the day or week when you want your phone to ping you less often, and you still have the option to mark certain contacts and apps as important enough to be able to get around these Do Not Disturb rules.

Settings on Your Laptop

You have plenty of notification settings to play around with on Windows and macOS as well. From Settings in Windows, pick System and Notifications to set the alert options for each program you've got installed. It's possible to turn notifications on or off for each app, to change whether they actually pop up on screen, and to set whether they make a sound (so you can keep some applications quiet but not others).

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Click Focus assist from System to set up rules about when notifications from any app are allowed to interrupt you. Here you can set specific times of the day that you don't want to be disturbed and give special dispensation to “priority” applications that still have permission to interrupt you at any time. If you want to protect your work/life boundaries, keep work-related programs off this priority list.

When it comes to macOS, the notification settings follow the same sort of approach as on iOS. If you open up the Apple menu and then choose System Preferences, you'll find the options you need under Notifications & Focus. From the Notifications tab, select an application on the left to configure its notifications (sounds, alert style) on the right.

Switch to the Focus tab, and you're able to set up rules about which notifications can come through at which times. You can specify contacts and programs that these rules don't apply to, and you can also set up different schedules and settings for specific situations (so you could have one personal schedule and one work schedule, for example). If you have multiple Apple devices, you can sync these settings across all of them.


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