Windows 10

How to Configure Notifications in Windows 10 for Maximum Productivity

I’ll make no secret of the fact that I have a love-hate relationship with notifications. But it is also a changing relationship. Endless notifications can be distracting, preventing you from focusing on tasks and intensifying the feeling that you are drowning in information. Many of us are slaves to our smartphones and notifications play a significant role in that. But PC users are not immune either. Windows 10 has built-in toast notifications in the Action Center, which mimics how mobile devices work. And some applications have their own notification mechanisms, like Microsoft Teams.

Until recently, my standard position was to nuke pretty much all notifications in Windows 10. However, after buying a new device, instead of lurching to the extreme of disabling notifications for almost everything, I decided to try living with most notifications turned on and then gradually disabling those that are either really distracting or add no value. And over the past few weeks, I’ve come to the realization that sometimes notifications can actually save time.

Outlook and Notifications

Some of what prompted this article comes from my attempt at configuring Outlook to work well with Windows 10 virtual desktops. In short, part of that involves disabling the Reminders popup window and envelope icon in the Outlook taskbar button. I only want to switch to my Outlook virtual desktop if really necessary because there’s bound to be something in my inbox that distracts me regardless of whether a new item needs attention. As you may have guessed, I’m easily distracted.

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I disabled all notifications for the Windows 10 Mail app and left Outlook notifications enabled, with the exception that notification banners won’t be displayed; so I need to actively open the Windows 10 Action Center to view Outlook notifications. This has the benefit of allowing me to see new messages that may need attention without being distracted by whatever else might be sitting in my inbox, which in turn saves me time.

For more on how to configure Outlook to play nice with Windows 10 virtual desktops, check out my article on Petri here.

Notifications with Inline Responses

There are of course other app notifications that you can respond to inline. As I recently reported on Petri, Microsoft’s Your Phone app for Windows 10 will soon support the ability to respond to notifications inline in the app and in the Action Center, so you don’t need to open Your Phone or reach for you handset to respond to notifications. Another time-saving feature that if configured to filter out noise, can help you be more productive. It’s all about striking a balance.

But I must give Your Phone a shout out for providing granular configuration. You can configure it to enable or disable notifications from any app installed on your phone. Additionally, it appears that Microsoft recently made a change that lets Your Phone take over notification duties from apps installed on your PC. For example, if you have To Do installed on your PC and smartphone, To Do will be listed under Notifications & actions in the Settings app as To Do (via Your Phone). So, you get notifications for tasks just once and not from Your Phone and the To Do app installed on the PC. I may have imaged it, but I don’t think that’s how Your Phone worked in earlier versions of the app. Although that said, I have Skype listed twice under Notifications & actions in the Settings app; once for Your Phone and again for the PC app.

Configuring Notifications in the Settings App

Managing notifications is easy in Windows 10 using the Settings app. Just type notifications in the search box in the bottom left of the taskbar and then select Notifications & actions settings from the list of results. Under Notifications on the Notifications & actions screen in the Settings app, the first option you get is to turn off notifications from all apps and senders.

How to Configure Notifications in Windows 10 for Maximum Productivity (Image Credit: Russell Smith)
How to Configure Notifications in Windows 10 for Maximum Productivity (Image Credit: Russell Smith)

Some additional configuration options allow you to:

  • Show notifications on the lock screen
  • Show reminders and incoming VoIP calls on the lock screen
  • Show the Windows welcome experience after updates and occasionally after sign-in
  • Get tips, tricks, and suggestions as you use Windows

Then under Get notifications from these senders, you can enable or disable notifications from each individual app or make more granular configuration changes.

How to Configure Notifications in Windows 10 for Maximum Productivity (Image Credit: Russell Smith)
How to Configure Notifications in Windows 10 for Maximum Productivity (Image Credit: Russell Smith)

For each app or sender, you can optionally:

  • Show notification banners
  • Keep notifications private on the lock screen
  • Show notifications in the Action Center
  • Play a sound when a notification arrives

You can also control how many notifications are visible in the Action Center and even assign them a priority so that they appear at the top, or above or below normal priority notifications. Don’t forget that some apps provide even more granular control in the app’s settings. For example, Your Phone let’s you additionally choose which apps show notification banners and you can change which apps installed on your smartphone notify you.

How to Configure Notifications in Windows 10 for Maximum Productivity (Image Credit: Russell Smith)
How to Configure Notifications in Windows 10 for Maximum Productivity (Image Credit: Russell Smith)

Deciding exactly which apps and notifications you should keep enabled is of course partly down to personal preference. I have Facebook and Facebook Messenger notifications turned off. WhatsApp notifications (via Your Phone) go straight to the Action Center without a banner. My notifications settings are so nuanced that I’d even like to see them synchronized with my Microsoft Account so that I don’t need to configure them on each device. But however you decide to configure Windows 10 notifications, it will take some trial and error until you strike a balance that works for you.

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IT consultant, Contributing Editor @PetriFeed, and trainer @Pluralsight. All about Microsoft, Office 365, Azure, and Windows Server.