Why I Turned Off Text Messaging Notifications (And You Should, Too)

Most of my friends know that I haaaaaaate text messaging (SMS) with a passion. If they want to get a timely response to something (or really, if they want to be assured of a response at all), they’re much better off sending it via email. Why? Well, my given rationale used to be that SMS is an outdated technology. We all have email on our phones these days, so what is the purpose of using an SMS to send a message that goes through a completely separate channel that you can’t reach on any other device (unless you’re also using MightyText for Android) and isn’t easily sorted/searched (unless you’re also using an app like SMS Backup)? I hate adding another inbox to my day when I already have three work and two personal email addresses, and texting just never seemed to serve enough of a unique function to warrant the hassle of keeping up with another.

The real reason I don’t like texting, though, is that it’s such an in-your-face mode of communication. On most phones, when you receive an SMS, it pops up on the top of your screen, blocking you from doing anything else until you answer or ignore the text. I know that most people don’t intend their message to be this way, but isn’t that a little presumptuous and rude to think that your message is so important that I’ll want to stop whatever else I may be doing in order to read it? So most of the time, I just hit “ignore” and go back to whatever I was doing, intending to get back to the person later… except that I frequently forgot to get back to the person at all. Sorry, friends! Whereas, if they had sent me an email and I couldn’t look at it at the time, it would be right there in my inbox staring me in the face and reminding me to answer so I could archive it and get it out of my inbox. Inbox Zero FTW! (Text messaging, you’ll note, has no inbox zero.)

But there’s another better reason to eschew text messaging, and it gets at that concept of interruption. I think it’s pretty obvious that if you want to be productive, you need to minimize interruptions to your work, right? Unfortunately, text messaging (and other notifications) are a huge hindrance to that. You may have noticed that in my Sunday Links I Love feature, I’ve been including a lot of articles lately about the perils of interrupting your workflow, like Dan Ariely’s 3 Costs of Multitasking. “Switching time” between tasks costs us a lot in productivity, and Scott Belsky’s intro to 99U’s reactionary workflow blog post further shows us where we’re going wrong:

“In an era of mobile devices, instant connectivity, and automated mailing lists and notifications, it is all too easy for people to contact us. As a consequence, we live our lives just trying to keep our heads above water. Our ability to prioritize and control our focus is crippled by an unyielding flow of incoming communication: email, texts, tweets, facebook messages, phone calls, and so on (and on).”

This is so true, but for me, I’ve found that text messaging is the most distracting of all of those. Except maybe phone calls, although no one seems to get mad if you ignore those and call the person back later. (Check out Dharmesh Shah’s Sorry No Calls for a great read on that topic.) I should note that I currently have tweets and Facebook message notifications turned on for my phone; I have them set to show up in the status bar, but not to show up on the home screen or otherwise make my phone light up, vibrate, or make noise. People seem to accept that you might not answer a Facebook message right away, so that seems just fine.

But that brings me back to texting. A few weeks ago, I was trying to get work done (on my computer) and I kept getting text after text on my phone – and I found myself getting totally irrationally angry at the friend sending those texts. But it wasn’t his fault that my screen was lighting up with each text and that I was getting distracted from my work! That was something totally within my control. I had already been thinking about doing this for a while, but in the heat of that anger, I decided to pull the trigger and just turn off text notifications.

When I had thought of turning off text messaging many times before (particularly when I ended up on those awful group texts where people send something to the whole group that’s only really aimed at one or two people), I had always assumed that I’d need to set up some kind of autoresponder when I did so. “Hi, this is Laura; I don’t check text messages so if you’d like a response, please email or call me instead.” Unfortunately, I hadn’t found a great app with that kind of autoresponse capability. And more importantly, I knew I would look incredibly crazy/weird to those who got that response. Sure, my close friends wouldn’t care (though they’d probably tease me about it – fine). But that’d be really awkward to meet some guy at a bar, exchange numbers, and then have him get my autoresponse. I wouldn’t date me after that, either!

That day, though, I didn’t think about what would happen without an autoresponse – I just turned off those damn text notifications. I changed my settings so they don’t make noise, they don’t vibrate, they don’t show up over top of everything else, and they don’t show up in my status notification bar. Instead, they just show up on my phone’s main screen text messaging widget, so I’m reminded at a glance of how many new texts I have and that when I’m ready and have the time, I can go answer them.

Text Msg Screenshot

Even without the notifications, it’s still pretty easy for me to check if I have a text message… or 16.

The ironic thing about this system is that it’s actually made me much more responsive to texts than I ever used to be before. It used to be that if you texted me and it wasn’t a convenient time for me to answer, I’d hit “ignore” and most likely forget about your message unless you happened to text me again at a time when it was convenient for me to take a look. I spent a lot of time sending “sorry, didn’t see this till now” texts, so much that it probably would have been productive for me to set that up as an template text message for frequent use :) Now, seeing that count of unread messages on my phone prompts me to go into my text inbox only when I have time to deal with the message (note that I keep emphasizing that), and actually respond. Sometimes that means I might not get back to your text for 24 hours, since I try to make sure I set aside at least a little bit of time every day to go through my text inbox. But usually, I have a few minutes every couple of hours when I can turn my attention to my text inbox – so messages that previously went totally unanswered are now getting responses within hours. Isn’t it better to respond to 100% of texts within 24 hours rather than 10% of texts within 30 seconds and the rest not at all? I think so.

But what about those texts that your friends send letting you know that they’re “running late” or “will be there in 5” or “already here and got a table in the back corner”? I do appreciate those texts and think they’re a good use of the SMS medium. That said, I don’t know about you, but when I’m meeting up with someone and can’t find them, I look at my phone to see if I have a message from them. (Or look at my phone to catch up on email/blogs while I wait.) Either way, I’m looking at my phone, so I’m not going to miss those valuable in-the-moment texts that I do actually need. And if I’m driving or otherwise not able to look at my phone… well, maybe I shouldn’t be looking at text messages? (Novel concept, I know.) With a true emergency or urgent message, the person will call you – so why allow the distraction of all those other messages that aren’t urgent?

I’ve had my text message notifications turned off for about three weeks now, and while I originally thought it would be a silly experiment that I’d quickly abandon after pressure from my friends, I’ve been surprised to find that most of them haven’t noticed – or, ironically, have noticed that I’m more responsive to texts than I used to be. I am really loving the focus its given me and how much more productive (and responsive!) I am as a result of turning off my text notifications. And as an added bonus, I’ve also been sleeping a lot better since I’m not getting woken up by late night texts by friends who are much cooler than early-to-bed-early-to-rise me. (No, I am not turning my phone off or putting it on silent mode, since I want to be reachable by phone in case of an actual emergency that might arise at 2am.)

And in case you think I’m still crazy for doing this? Well, about ten days into my little experiment, I came across this awesome article on Zero Notifications by Joel Gascoigne, where he did the same thing for all of his notifications. I’m by no means the only one who’s found this tactic effective! This is a great way of making your technology work for you, instead of allowing your technology to get in the way of the work you need to do.

Have you ever tried turning off text message notifications, or would you consider doing so? What situations am I missing here where I’d be sorry that I didn’t know of a text right away? I would love to hear your comments and feedback!


  1. Aha! Now I know to email and not text you. Funny thing is is that i often end up ignoring emails I read on my phone because I want to take the time to respond not on my phone, but I end up seeing them and then forgetting about them. I know I should tag them, but I only sometimes remember to do that.
    Amy recently posted…Weekend HighlightsMy Profile

    • Ever since my inbox purge a few weeks ago, I never have more than ten emails in my inbox at any one time (usually more like two by the end of the day) – I filter newsletters and also archive like crazy! So it makes it easier for me not to forget to respond, since the only things I see are things that still need a response. Sounds like we are pretty much exactly the opposite, where you treat emails like I treat texts, and vice versa. I definitely have a bunch of friends in that camp, which is why I’m psyched that this solution has helped me be more responsive to all forms of communication rather than trying to get everyone else to change their ways!

  2. This was a really good read and I need to try it with my texts. My sisters use them to share picturs all day long of their kids, which is great and all, but I hate how it interrupts me. I should turn off the notifications and wait until the end of the day to review.
    Jessie recently posted…Tilda Tuesday: Training Your Vizsla to Hunt by Katie at Prairie PonderingsMy Profile

  3. I think this post was great- I hate the “interuption” of text messages! I know its a great way for my sisters to quickly share pictures of their kids etc but they definitely go overboard and I probably need to turn off the notifications so I am not always distracted by it.
    Jessie recently posted…Tilda Tuesday: Training Your Vizsla to Hunt by Katie at Prairie PonderingsMy Profile

  4. I’ll text you what I think about this post in 27 separate two word text messages.

    Although sadly
    since your
    notifications are
    turned off
    my joke
    won’t be
    as funny. :(

  5. i agree with you on hating texting. i HATE texting! i am so slow at typing on my phone and am usually in the middle of doing something when i read the text so i read it and get back to whatever it is i was doing. which always results in my tardy response, if i respond at all. it’s not that i don’t like the person, it’s just really inconvenient for me! anyway. just wanted to say that you’re not the only one. i’d much rather get a phone call or email instead of a text. :)

    • Slow at typing on my phone was why I first started hating texting, too! I got a lot better once I got Swype. But yes, you totally get me :)

  6. To me, texting is: Intrusive, divisive, abusive, impolite, abnoxious, annoying, rude, disruptive, tactless, impatient, inconsiderate, dangerously attention grabbing, has no definitive natural conclusion that a phone call has—it just goes on and on…One never knows if the texter will continue or has concluded the texting session.

    It is akin to someone actually continuously interrupting you by patting you and asking one question after another.

    The first thing I did when I got my first mobile phone that was text-capable, was to have my service provider block texting to my phone. If someone wants to contact me, they can call or e-mail me. Those methods of communications are acceptable and can be disabled or not answered temporarily, when one is otherwise occupied and not in position or wanting to answer.

    Texting (and tweeting) has gotten out of hand. I see students walking to or from school and instead of talking to each other, they’re talking or texting other friends that are probably also in a group and doing the same thing! It’s insane!

    I know I can’t stop it and complaining about it gets me nowhere but I don’t have to be a part of this problem.

    By the way, I also stay away from all the so-called “social network” sites. They are such a waste of time.

    Thanks for giving me this soapbox to vent.

    • Bari, I totally agree with your analogy about someone continuously interrupting! I don’t mind social media (like Twitter) as much though because people don’t expect you to drop everything to read it. I try to respond to tweets within a day, which is now my reply rate for texting as well.

    • Hi Laura,
      Thanks for the reply.
      As for “Social Networks”, I have found that they are not always so “social”. I used to be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. and have found that as nice as i tried to be, I was either ignored or in some cases flamed. I’m not just talking about irrelevant banter, I’m talking about supposedly professional special interest groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that were designed to have a conversation regarding topics discussed at these forums (such as graphic design, photography). People use the anonymity they get on these sites to blast anyone for anything. I would sometimes answer a poster who asked a technical or design related question and I’d get responses that I don’t know what I’m talking about, this despite quoting a recognized and respected professional.

      I just got tired of the flames and the inane posts people would do such as posting a photo of what they just ate! Or I would grant a request from someone to be their “friend” and they would bombard me with links to YouTube clips I detest.

      At some point, I decided that I was wasting my time with all this nonsense and decided to make my life easier and productive again, by ignoring all the hoopla surrounding these sites and other internet related time wasters.

      Just think of how much more time one has to be outdoors and walk, run or work in the garden. I have more time to read, build models, help others and just live life to its fullest without the constant nag of someone who thinks I should immediately respond to their urgent, life or death post about the new pair of jeans they bought!

      I grew up without a phone in the house until I was 11. We had no TV until that time as well. Communication was strictly via snail mail. And you know what? I survived and thrived.

      Modern technology is wonderful when used correctly and in logical doses. E-mail is a great time saver and very convenient. Having a phone everywhere I go is great too, but it doesn’t meant that I can just call everyone all the time. When I do call someone, I always ask if they can spare me time at that time or get back to me later. If I’m with other people, I do not interrupt the conversation and attention to them just because someone is calling me. That’s what voice mail is for. I was taught that it is impolite to barge into a conversation unless it was urgent. Therefore, I would not want to interrupt anyone by calling them and assuming they can take my call right away. I expect the same courtesy to be given to me.

      The myth that needs to be broken in general is the one that if you don’t join and do what many are doing, you will be left out and be considered an antisocial.

      One other thing that disturbs me. So many are very concerned about privacy and Big Brother and yet they add devices to their life that include video cameras other than for security purposes. On one hand they decry the government intruding on their lives and on the other, they implement those same…

    • Ugh, that is so frustrating to hear about social networks! I agree that a lot of people don’t seem to understand that online discussion etiquette really shouldn’t be that different from regular in-person discussion etiquette, i.e., you still need to have some manners.

    • Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your reply.
      I think that etiquette and the lack of it is mostly due to its disappearing act in all forms of life. This is not an exaggeration. I have been noticing the change in acceptable social behavior not only on the net.

      Instances are commonplace these days where I am asked a question or am otherwise talking in the course of a conversation and the other party abruptly disengages and fixes their attention on something or someone else, exiting the area as they do and leaving me talking into thin air…
      I thought at first that this was a one time occurrence with a specific person. It was not.
      I thought it may be me,- perhaps I’m really boring or annoying.

      I concluded that it is probably a combination of the lack of manners training, growing acceptance of poor social skills, the emergence of many communication avenues that somehow give people the idea that it’s OK to just drop out in the middle of a conversation without an apology or warning.

      When society accepts what used to be unacceptable, the mold is set for the all types of rude and unpleasant behavior.

      I think it’s also an age thing. As we mature we get more detached from the current modes of behavior and there is then that disconnect which typically prompts older folks to utter the cliché: “When I was your age…”

      I appreciate your input. I feel less of an outcast for not embracing texting and other manners of technology driven breeches of good manners and politeness.



    • So refreshing to know others do not find text messaging appealing. It has been my experience that it often seems to end up going sour. The whole time, there’s this pressure to respond, respond, respond. In a perfect world, we would give and receive texts according to when we want them and how we want them. Phone calls have turned out to be, for me, more pleasant with less strings attached. It really is a shame how kids have to use texting to function among their peers. It actually makes me thankful, at age 50, that I escaped being born into the technology of today.

    • Completely agree with everything you said, Ria!

  7. You’ve articulated this very well. I just disabled text messaging and the reaction is crazy. People don’t get it. I simply don’t want to be constantly interrupted 24/7 and I don’t want to feel obligated to respond within minutes to every text that comes in. I have a feeling that most of those texts won’t turn in to phone calls since few of them are really very important, anyway.

    • I haven’t gone so far as to have my carrier disable them, as I’m afraid that I’ll miss something important (particularly since my colleagues are big on texting). I wish I could go that far!

    • That’s exactly what makes people constantly check their messaging, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and all the other sites and services their signed up on: the fear that they’re losing out on something or missing a message. That is no way to live! It’s a paranoid and neurotic way to go through the day. If someone needs to get a hold of you they can always call you—after all you take your phone with you everywhere you go. People let themselves get seriously addicted to constantly being connected with too many sources, all the time! It’s madness. I have lived in a time when we didn’t have a phone at home or with us, no fax, none-mail, no texting and we did fine. Obviously times have changed and there is an expectation these days for faster communication and response and that is fine. But think hard about how much time you spend each day on all you contacts and accounts. Then think about your sanity and how you can make your life much happier by dropping the unnecessary ones.

    • That works for friends, but I would note that it can be a bit hard to tell that to coworkers/bosses :)

      That said, your point about thinking about how much time you spend on various networks: that is exactly why I have a few apps cross-post to Facebook, but I RARELY go on myself.

  8. Hi Laura,
    Unless your work position requires you to be text enabled (which I don’t think is right or legally binding), you can direct bosses and co-workers to call or e-mail you if necessary. If you are on call at your job as a doctor, nurse, police officer, etc., I can understand if the immediacy of contacting you is vital and thus texting can be one of several means to do so. Otherwise, I don’t see how limiting contact options to phone and e-mail is much of a problem. I have a friend who doesn’t even have an e-mail address and rarely uses a PC. I can only reach him by phone and that has to suffice. I also have a cousin who is a judge and has never used a computer at work or home. He insists on writing in longhand. I suppose that in court his assistants take care of all PC related work and at home he can get away with not dealing with a PC. I wonder if he even uses a s cellphone…

    • I think it depends on what you mean by “requires”. My clients/coworkers would be pretty pissed if they couldn’t reach me via text, as frustrating as I find that medium. Would I get fired for refusing to text? I am not sure – but there is actually a possibility.

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