So there you are, doing your best to connect with a friend over a cup of coffee, but you can’t help but notice the pulsing alert on your phone’s touchscreen. What if it’s your babysitter trying to reach you, or a nasty email from your boss?
You surreptitiously unlock your phone to see what the fuss is about—and just like that, you become one of those people who can’t keep their hands off their handsets, even when there’s a flesh-and-blood person in front of them. (Oh, and that message on the screen? It was a promo for a half-off sale. Great.)
The good news is that your Android phone or iPhone boasts a series of tools that can help you concentrate on the people who matter, rather than being distracted by random calls, messages and alerts.
Read on for four ways to keep your eyes and hands off your phone, starting with...
Let the Do Not Disturb (iOS) and Priority (Android) modes screen your calls
Sure, activating Do Not Disturb mode for iPhone and iPad (tap Settings > Do Not Disturb, or tap the Do Not Disturb button from the swipe-up Command Center pane) or “Priority” mode on Android (click the volume button, then tap Priority) is a great way to keep your phone from buzzing during lunch, but you may still find yourself tempted to check your messages. After all, what if your spouse is trying to reach you—or your irate supervisor, for that matter?
Here’s a trick that’ll help keep your mind on your Caesar salad: just set Do Not Disturb and Priority mode to screen your calls and text messages, allowing only the most important ones through. That way, you’ll be confident that your silent Android phone or iPhone isn’t actually ringing off the hook with mission-critical calls, and more likely to pay attention during your lunchtime chat.
- Tap Settings > Sound & notification > Interruptions, then make sure the Calls and Messages switches are toggled on. Next, tap Calls/Messages from and choose the Starred contacts only option, then go through the Contacts app and star only those contacts who really, truly matter to you.
- To enable Priority mode, click the volume button to make the volume slider appear, then tap Priority.
- Finally, sit back and give your full, undivided attention to a (grateful) friend.
- Tap Settings > Do Not Disturb > Allow Calls From, then pick the Favorites setting. Once you do, calls and text messages from those on your iOS Favorites list will ring through even with Do Not Disturb mode switched on.
- You can also pick a specific contact group for the Allow Calls From setting, but you can only set up contact groups using the Mac version of the Contacts app. Open the Contacts application on your Mac desktop, then click File > New Group to get started. As long as you’re syncing your contacts using iCloud, your desktop groups in Contacts will sync up with the Contacts iOS app.
- You can also enable the Repeated Calls setting, which will allow urgent callers to break through Do Not Disturb mode if they call twice within three minutes.
Enable 'VIP' alerts for email messages (iOS only)
There’s little chance you’ll get through an important meeting without glancing at your iPhone if your screen is constantly flashing with alerts for new email messages. Luckily, the iOS Mail app has a feature that can ease your email notification overload.
Mail’s 'VIP' alerts give you separate notifications for your most important email contacts, perfect for leaving you alone unless a message from a close friend or someone in upper management lands in your inbox.
Open the Mail app, back up to the main Mailboxes screen, tap the VIP mailbox, then tap Add VIP to add a contact to your VIP list. Once you’ve added some names to the list, tap VIP Alerts to manage your VIP notifications. You could, for example, give messages from VIPs a special ringtone or a custom vibration when they arrive in your inbox, or allow VIP alerts—and only VIP alerts—to light up your lock screen.
Turn on alerts for Gmail’s Priority Inbox—and off for all your other inboxes (Android & iOS)
While iOS’s Mail app will let you pick and choose your VIPs, Gmail has its own secret formula for determining which messages are most important to you.
Using your prior emailing habits as a guide, Gmail’s Priority Inbox sifts through your incoming messages, finds the email that you’re most likely to answer, and puts them into an “Important and unread” folder. Everything else (such as random email promos, newsletters, and other lower-priority messages) goes into the aptly-named “everything else” section of your inbox.
Once that’s done, you can set Gmail to alert you only when new messages land in your Priority Inbox—and hopefully, you’ll feel better about leaving your silenced phone alone.
- First, you’ll need to enable Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature. Open Gmail, tap the menu button in the top-left corner of the screen, tap Settings, pick a Gmail account, then tap Inbox type > Priority Inbox.
- Tap Manage labels, then make sure that Priority Inbox is the only Gmail label with notifications turned on. (If you don’t see a 'Sound on,' 'notify once' or similar tag next to a label, then notifications are off for that label.)
- If you’re using Gmail for iOS, you’ll need to enable Priority Inbox from the desktop version of Gmail. Open Gmail in a desktop browser, click the Settings button, select Settings, click the Inbox tab, select Priority Inbox from the Inbox Type drop-down menu, then click Save Changes.
- Go to the Gmail for iOS app, tap the menu button in the top-left corner of the screen, tap the Settings button, choose the Important Only option under the Notifications heading, then tap Save.
Turn off unneeded lock-screen notifications (Android & iOS)
So, you’re in a meeting, your phone is sitting dutifully—and silently—on the table in front of you, and you’re giving your colleagues your full attention. But then it happens: Your phone’s lock screen lights up, and your eyes can’t help but flick down to the display ... which is nothing more than a random Facebook update.
Luckily, it’s easy to pare your lock-screen notifications down to an absolute minimum—or turn them off completely, even when you don’t have Do Not Disturb or Priority mode switched on.
- To keep your phone’s lock screen from lighting up when notifications come in, tap Settings > Display, then toggle off the Ambient Display setting.
- You can also completely turn off notifications for a specific app by tapping Settings > Sound & notification > App notifications, then tap an app and enable the Block setting. (Nope, you can’t only disable lock-screen alerts for a given app; it’s all or nothing.)
- While you’re at it, you might also want to turn off your handset’s pulsing notification light—you know, the one that’s saying “Look at me, look at me!” all the time. Go back to Settings > Sound & notification, then toggle on the Pulse notification light setting.
- To completely turn off an app’s notifications, tap Settings > Notifications, tap an app, then toggle off the Allow Notifications switch.
- If you only want to disable an app’s lock-screen notifications, leave the Allow Notifications switch on but turn off the Show on Lock Screen setting.