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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Stupid Easy Way to Make Your Phone Less Distracting at Work

person staring at her cell phone at the office
PhotoAlto/Eric Audras/Getty Images

Wherever you go, your phone probably goes with you. That includes the office. But, as you know all too well, it can doom your workday with endless distractions—a text here, an app notification there, and your focus ends up drifting from the work at hand to what’s happening on your screen.

It’s not surprising, then, that there are a multitude of tricks and hacks out there geared toward keeping your phone from eating away at your productivity. You can put it away or switch on airplane mode or turn it off entirely.

But if you’re the type that generally responds right away and stresses about people thinking you’re ignoring them—or if you have anxious family members who will become concerned for your safety if you don’t reply quickly—those solutions might not be enough.

While they stop notifications from appearing on your end, they do nothing to inform the sender why you’ve gone MIA. Are you in a meeting or at the hospital? Are you making serious progress on that presentation or fuming about what your significant other has just told you?

Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, recommends setting an autoresponder that immediately sends back a note to let people know you’re busy and how to get through if it’s an emergency. It works like an out-of-office email setting—except it’s an in-the-office-and-not-available one for your phone.

phone less distracting screenshot example

On Android, you can use apps such as SMS Auto-Reply Text Message and LilSpace, which also works on iPhone.

You can also turn the iPhone’s Do Not Disturb While Driving feature into a Do Not Disturb While Working one. (The regular Do Not Disturb feature can silence calls and notifications, but it doesn’t regurgitate a message to the sender.) Read on for step-by-step instructions for setting it up.

1. Update Your Software

You’ll need iOS 11, so check first to see if you need to run a software update.

2. Choose Who to Autoreply To

Go into your settings and tap the Do Not Disturb option. You can choose who to allow calls from and who should get an autoreply (maybe it’s all your contacts or just a favorites list of people who need to know why you’re not available until later).

phone less distracting screenshot example

3. Customize Your Message

The default message will say:

I’m driving with Do Not Disturb While Driving turned on. I’ll see your message when I get where I’m going.

But on that same settings page, all the way at the bottom, you can enter any alternative. I set mine to say:

I’m at work! Since my work is to write about work, I’m trying out this nifty autoresponder that turns the Do Not Disturb While Driving feature into Do Not Disturb While Working. I want to see if it helps make your phone less distracting in the office. Send me a screenshot of this message and ask me how it works if you want to try it!

Either way, it will also let the sender know how to get through to you with this note after the message:

(I’m not receiving notifications. If this is urgent, reply “urgent” to send a notification through with your original message.)

4. Add it to the Control Center

To make it easy to turn the feature on and off, go back to the main Settings menu and choose Control Center and then Customize Controls. Tap the green plus sign circle next to Do Not Disturb While Driving.

phone less distracting screenshot example

5. Activate the Feature

Swipe up from the bottom of your screen, tap the car icon, and you’re all set. You’ll still get emergency alerts, timers, and alarms in this mode, but text messages and most notifications won’t appear.

6. Return to Disturb-able Mode

When you’re ready to resume contact with the outside world, hit the home button and tap the I’m Not Driving option that pops up. All the notifications you missed will now appear on the screen.

The autoresponder did its job and let friends and family know I was at work when they texted me, though it’s important to note that it didn’t kick back my automated message on apps such as WhatsApp or Signal. Still, if notifications distract you and unanswered texts—whether you’ve seen them or not—stress you out, this little trick is worth a try.