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Do Not Disturb (Mac)


I love the notification system on the Mac for many reasons, but I find that I have a few problems with allowing my computer to constantly notify me of things. Even if they are things I generally want to be notified about. The first is that they are incredibly distracting. They are intended to get your attention and they are good at it. Usually when I am trying to focus on something important. It seems like every time I get focused on my work there is a stream of banners and alerts from Slack or Mail or Messages that serves to pull me out of the zone. Another problem is that there are times that I don’t really want those notifications to pop up in the corner of my screen for all the world to see. It could be when I am in a meeting or in a public place or even when I am just showing someone something on my computer. What if my wife sends an intimate text while I'm giving a presentation? What if someone sends me sensitive information while the guy at Starbucks is looking over my shoulder? There are countless opportunities for embarrassment. Luckily, Apple gave us a feature that provides a decent solution for both of these problems: Do Not Disturb.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, hasn’t Do Not Disturb been around on the Mac for like a long time? And the answer is yes. Yes it has. But I felt it was worth digging into because I have never really explored it and I find that many people in my life (including myself) complain about some form of at least one of the problems outlined above without ever looking into the built-in tools intended to solve them.

Do Not Disturb on MacOS is very similar to Do Not Disturb on iOS. It will hide all banners and alerts and silence notification sounds. Your notifications still exist (you can find them by opening notification center), they are just hidden away where they won’t distract you. You can set it to let calls through from anyone or to allow repeated calls from the same person to “break through” the filter. You can also set it to turn on automatically during a certain time window, while the display is sleeping, or when mirroring to TVs or projectors. I am not really sure I have a use case for the first two, but I turned the mirroring option on as soon as I learned of it and haven’t turned it off since. No more embarrassing notifications when giving a presentation.

You can also turn it on manually by opening Notification Center, swiping up, and clicking the toggle switch. (Side note, you will also find a Night Shift toggle if you are on MacOS 10.12.4 or later.) A much more convenient option though is that you can activate it by option (⌥) + clicking the notification center icon (its that thing up in the right corner with three dots and three lines). You’ll see it gray out and then you know you’re in Do Not Disturb mode. Since I learned of this shortcut I have used it on an almost daily basis. Any time I need to focus on my work or any time there is a Slack channel or Message conversation blowing up that I don’t really care about, I just tick that little button. Once you do that, it stays in Do Not Disturb mode until you manually turn it back off, or “tomorrow”. I am assuming that means midnight tonight, but I’ve never actually tested it. This is great because I often forget to turn Do Not Disturb off when I’m done with it, but I always know when I open my MacBook Pro in the morning, I have a fresh start (and all the notifications will come flooding in).

If you are one of those people who tries to never take their hands off the keyboard, you will be happy to know that it is possible to set up a keyboard shortcut. You can do this by going to System Preferences->Keyboard->Shortcuts->Mission Control->Turn Do Not Disturb On/Off and setting whatever your desired shortcut is. But in my opinion the built in ⌥ + click method is plenty fast enough.

The Mac’s version of Do Not Disturb is not perfect. There are many things that would make it more customizable: like more granular control over what can “break through” or perhaps a timer that lets you turn it on for some increment of time, etc. But even with its limitations, it is still incredibly useful to most people. It’s biggest limitation seems to be that most people I talk to either do not know that it exists, or they have not taken the time to figure it out enough to be comfortable using it on a regular basis. Every person I have showed the shortcut to has started using it immediately though, so spread the word!