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Improve your life with PULL Notifications

No bone had he to bind him,
His speech was like the PUSH
Of numerous humming-birds at once
From a superior bush.

From Emily Dickenson’s “The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man”


I lost my cell phone a couple of weeks ago, and made up my mind to not get a new one.  Apparently… that is not an option.  People in this world are committed above all else to having cell phones, but they are almost as committed to making sure that YOU have a cell phone.  Must be something about network effects.  The whole thing makes me think of this old Married to the Sea:



If having a cell phone is the only way to have any hope of having friends, doing business, raising kids, and living life, then I wouldn’t exist, because nobody had a cell phone at my house until I was pretty old.  And even then it was a CAR phone.  Remember those?


Anyway, I was strongly encouraged to get a phone in the most persuasive manner by all the people I’m closest to, so I capitulated and agreed.  But there are conditions.

I leave it on airplane mode in my pocket.  I also pretend that I’m in a place where phones aren’t allowed, all the time.  Therefore, I never look at the phone when I’m having conversations, or really in eyeshot of other people, period, unless they are staring at their phones and I can’t convince them to look away.

Remember, looking at your phone is a shackle, not a reward.  That little bit of dopamine or serotonin you get from seeing who liked your like is false happiness, not real happiness.  Looking at your phone in the middle of a conversation is the worst thing you can possibly do.  Your friends will just think you’re blowing them off, which is a problem, but your kids will think you’re blowing them off, which is much worse.

Push notifications are the new smoking

I read an article recently that sitting in an office chair all day is “the new smoking.”  I think I’ll start referring to everything I don’t like as “the new smoking.”  So let’s get started:

What if an annoying guy sat next to you and read your phone all day.  Every few minutes he’d poke you in the ribs and say “hey dude, check this out.”  “Check out FB dude.”  “Someone texted you.”  Or even worse, “Whazzzzzzzzz-APP.”

That’s what push notifications are!  They’re an annoying guy, sitting next to you, snatching away precious time and even more precious attention away from you.  They have no place in your life.  It’s the new smoking!

I can convince you of the terrifying power of the push in one word.


Yo is an app that lives in the notification layer.  That is a place marketers want you to inhabit, but I assure you, you don’t want to live there.  Push notifications are so powerful that a company that essentially is a pure notification layer play just got a $1.5MM investment.  A few decades ago, nobody would have believed that consumers would carry around a device that would let advertisers ping them at will, but that’s the world we live in.  Friends can ping you at will too, which is almost as bad, because you have only so much attention to go around.

The solution to all these problems:  PULL notifications

I’m not suggesting your friends aren’t important, or that you can’t interact with them on a regular basis.  But do it on your time.

Here’s my solution:

  • Turn off all push notifications on your phone.  Seriously, every one.  IOS makes this easy, so does Android.
  • Put every single app that allows you to communicate with others on one screen, all by itself.  These are mine, and yours may vary.  Looks like this:


  • Go set up your own “pull notifications.” Mine look like this, the idea being that I need to force myself to “pull” communications at certain times (after settling in at work, just before lunch, just before end of day, in the evening while there are still a few hours before bed, etc).  You might have wildly different needs, and you’ll know when it’s important to force yourself to pull and check.  I’ll likely look at my phone more frequently than this, but these five times are important, at least for now, on weekdays:


  • Next, turn off your ringer on your phone- and the vibrate too.  GO SILENT.  If you are an on call firefighter, neurosurgeon, have a 39 week pregnant spouse, etc., then you can leave it on, but have a phone number ONLY for emergencies if possible.  The freaking guy who has the nuclear football doesn’t even need his phone on ring, because he’s got the President right there.  For 99% of us 99% of the time, there’s absolutely nothing that’s better to hear now rather than an hour or two from now.  Talking on the phone is important, but it’s much better to plan phone calls in advance, whenever possible.  In the following situations, you really don’t need a mobile device anyway.  How many calls about Canadian Pharmacy and car warranties can you take anyway?  Besides, you’ll usually be in one of these scenarios anyway:
  1. At work with a desk phone
  2. At home with a landline
  3. With your significant other, who is a “normal” phone person
  • So, you’re set up now.  Every time your phone alarm goes off, you go through the six or so apps you have queued up and PULL in the communications.  Respond immediately to each of them, or like away, but do your best not to get PULLed into a conversation.  If you need to talk to someone, pick up the phone and call them.  Texting is more efficient for quick points but completely inefficient for long conversations.  It’ll save a bunch of time AND MORE IMPORTANTLY give you hours of uninterruption.
  • Use the Pull pings to check your missed calls as well.  If you use a service like Google Voice, you can actually read your voicemails and delete them.  Checking 3-4 voicemails takes 2-3 minutes by listening, but only 10 seconds when GV transcribes them for you.  Then, you can call back or email and set up calls for people you actually want to talk to.

What about friends and family?

If you are in a social situation where friends are hopping from bar to bar, you’ll obviously be inclined to look at your phone much more frequently.  If you’re heading to the airport, you’ll have the sense to see if your airline sent you a delay notice.  If you told someone to call you after 8PM tonight, you’ll have your phone on ring after 8PM tonight.

You’ll still have access to your phone, YOU’LL just have to be the one to think about looking at it.

Of course you need to stay in touch with friends and family, but when they know you are not a phone addict, several things will happen:

  • They will not expect you to be available at any moment’s notice
  • They will do a much better job of planning events in advance in the future
  • Life will be much more like <1997, when people lived fine lives.


Like all of my lifestyle, the point of this strategy is not to avoid life, rather it is to live it more fully.  I’ve always said that time is the only limited resource, and Tim Ferriss has further refined my thinking by considering “attention units.”  It’s your only truly limited, slow-renewing resource, and allowing technology to snatch it away is a grave mistake.

Stop getting pushed around.

Start PULLING your communications.

It’s one of the easiest way I know to change your life for the better, right now.

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