How to Avoid Notification Overload on Apple Watch

The Apple Watch lineup

One of the best features of the Apple Watch is that, because it sends notifications from your iPhone to your Watch, you can keep your phone in your pocket more. Forget having to pull out and unlock your phone to see your text messages and Twitter mentions, voicemails or sports scores. With the Apple Watch, all you need to do is glance at your wrist.

Even better, the Apple Watch's haptic feedback means that you'll feel a vibration any time there's a notification to check; otherwise, you can focus on whatever else it is you need to do.

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How to Avoid Notification Overload on Apple Watch

Apple Watch notification overload

 Sam Costello

This is great, except for one thing: if you've got a lot of Apple Watch apps, you could find yourself overwhelmed by push notifications (learn more about push notifications and how to control them). Nobody wants their wrist vibrating every time something happens on Twitter and Facebook, in your voicemail or texts, when there's breaking news or updated scores in big games when your Uber ride is approaching or you're getting turn-by-turn directions. Getting that many notifications is distracting and annoying.

The solution is to take control of your Watch's notification settings. This article will help you choose what apps you want notifications from, what kind of notifications you get, and more.

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Choose Notification Indicator and Privacy Settings

The notifications tab in the Apple Watch settings

Sam Costello

Believe it or not, none of the steps required to manage notifications on your Apple Watch require the Watch itself. Instead, all notification settings are handled on the iPhone, most of them in the Apple Watch app.

  1. To begin, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone
  2. Tap Notifications
  3. On the Notifications screen, there are two initial settings you need to select: Notifications Indicator and Notification Privacy
  4. When enabled, the Notifications Indicator displays a small red dot at the top of the Watch screen when you have a notification to check. It's a helpful feature. I recommend turning it on by moving the slider to On/green
  5. By default, the Watch displays the full text of notifications. For instance, if you get a text message, you'll see the content of the message right away. If you're more privacy conscious, enable Notification Privacy by moving the slider to On/green and you'll have to tap on the alert before any text is displayed.
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Apple Watch Notification Settings for Built-In Apps

Choosing Calendar settings in the Apple Watch settings

Sam Costello

With the overall settings chosen on the last page, let's move on to controlling the notifications your iPhone sends to your Apple Watch from the built-in apps. These are the apps that come with the Watch, which you can't delete.

  1. Scroll to the first section of apps and tap on the one whose notification settings you want to change
  2. When you do, there are two settings options: Mirror my iPhone or Custom
  3. Mirror my iPhone is the default setting for all apps. It means that your Watch will use the same notification settings as the app does on your phone. For instance, if you don't get notifications for text messages or from Passbook on your phone, you won't get them on your Watch either 
  4. If you tap Custom, you'll be able to set different preferences for your Watch than your phone. What those preferences are depends on which app you select. Some—like Calendar, shown in the third screenshot above—offer a number of settings, while others, such as Photos, offer only one or two choices. If you select Custom, you'll need to make a set of other choices
  5. When you've picked your settings for each built-in app, tap Notifications in the top left corner to go back to the main Notifications screen.
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Apple Watch Notification Settings for Third-Party Apps

Choosing per app notifications for the Apple Watch

Sam Costello

Your last option for avoiding notification overload is to change the settings for the third-party apps installed on your Watch.

Your choices, in this case, are simpler: Mirror your iPhone or get no notifications at all.

To understand why these are your options, you need to know a bit about Apple Watch apps. They're not apps in the sense that we've come to know: they don't get installed on the Watch. Instead, they're extensions of iPhone apps that, when the app is installed on your phone and your phone and Watch are paired, appear on the Watch. Disconnect the devices or remove the app from the phone and it will disappear from the Watch, too.

Because of this, you control all notification settings for third-party apps on the iPhone itself. To do this, go to:

  1. Settings
  2. Notifications
  3. Tap the app you want to change
  4. Select your preferences

Alternatively, you can choose not to get notifications from third-party apps at all. Do this in the Apple Watch app by moving the slider for each app to Off/clear.