The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How to get rid of notifications for unread emails and texts

You are never going to read all your messages, but you can free yourself from the notifications

An illustration of a person vacuuming notifications.
(Illustration by Elena Lacey/The Washington Post; iStock)
6 min

The numbers inside the angry notification bubbles on our phones and computer screens have become meaningless.

I have 66,394 unread emails, 416 unlistened-to voice mails and 316 alerts from my bank. There are push alerts, piling up for everything from old grocery orders to breaking news. Sometimes, just for fun, I’ll hit mute and let the Slack notifications pile up.

I’m not even the worst offender. A survey of friends and co-workers found unread text messages, social media notifications and DMs in the double-digits. Two people had more than 300,000 ignored emails.

By now we all know there’s no prize for reading everything, and that tackling every piece of digital information thrown our way isn’t doable, let alone desirable. Life is too short to waste on unwanted bids for our attention, especially from corporations.

But letting these numbers tally up doesn’t always help. For anyone stressed out by their numbers — which are often an anxiety-inducing shade of red — we have some advice on getting rid of them.

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