The iPhone vow of silence (Inbox Zero for iPhone Apps)

Reducing distractions for better concentration.

Since I switched to an iPhone, I’d been mourning the notification setup of my old Palm Treo. Each calendar item, to-do, or phone call showing up on a nice little list. You could easily get to this list and check things off. Think of it as a little bulletin board that you can pull post its off of as you go through your day.

I liked this - but wasn’t able to get this type of feature form the current iPhone OS. Recently, I decided to stop fighting the iPhone’s notifications and embrace them. But I found my loophole in an interesting way.


  1. The Home Screen is the Bulletin Board. Instead of a special area for reminders, the Apps themselves use a Badge (the little red icon number).
  2. Think of each App as an inbox. If you don’t know about inbox zero, go read about it right now!
  3. Noise = Distraction. After toying with the sound settings, I realized that (for me) the notifications don’t cause stress. I can read them as they happen or let them pile up and it’s fine. It’s the noise that bugs me. It’s like a little siren saying “I’m on fire! Unlock this phone and put me out!”. When the bells go off, my concentration goes out the window. This can widely differ from person to person, but noise is my single most derailment factor.
  4. Shut off Sound Notifications. That’s right. I turned off all sounds for all apps except phone calls. Now my iPhone sits quietly on my desk, gently lighting for new notifications that can be read in a few seconds - or ignored for an hour if need be.
  5. Phone calls are important. Currently, phone calls are the only noise my iPhone makes. I’ve switched gears so that SMS, Facebook, Twitter, and other notifications are always a passive way to talk to me. If you want my attention right now, call me. Otherwise, you’ll get put into an inbox and processed later (Remember: think Inbox Zero for the iPhone)

The results? I still check my phone as often as before. So far, I haven’t missed any thing important. My texts may be delayed 10-15 minutes. Big deal, right? Need me right now? Call Me.

Want to try it out? Here’s the skinny on how silence your iPhone:

Start by going to Settings > Sounds, then change all of these

  • Silent = Vibrate “On”
  • Ring = Vibrate “Off”
  • Set the Ringer volume to a level that makes sense for you. It will keep this setting until you change it with the toggle. (Note: Talk volume is completely seperate, so it won’t be affected by this setting)
  • Pick a Ringtone. I keep it on a non-alarming song snippet that isn’t easily recognized as a song. This way, I smile when the phone rings.
  • New Text Message “Off”
  • New Voicemail “Off”
  • New Mail “Off”
  • Sent Mail “Off”
  • Lock Sounds “Off”
  • Keyboard Clicks “Off”

Then, Head back over to Settings > Notifications

  • Notifications “On”
  • A list of Apps should appear for any Apps that have push notifications enabled.
  • For each app choose
  • Sound “Off”
  • Badges “On”
  • Alerts “On” (if you want it pushed as a popup notification)