Notifications in OS X are a relatively new feature but since their introduction in 2012 as part of Mountain Lion they’ve become almost indispensable, sporting their own settings panel and aptly-named Notification Center. Here’s how to make the most of both these features.

If you use OS X, you’ve likely noticed the various notifications that slide out from the right screen edge. These can cover a considerable amount of information and a wide variety of apps, services, and system announcements.

There are two primary components to OS X’s notification system: the notifications settings which are found in the system preferences, and the Notification Center which is accessed by clicking the three lines in the far left corner of the menu bar, or sliding three fingers leftward across the right edge of the trackpad.

Digging into Those Settings

To first understand OS X notifications, we need to dig into the notification settings found in the System Preferences. Alternatively, use Spotlight and just search for them.

Let’s go through these settings step by step and see what you can do. In many ways, the notification settings in OS X are a great deal like those found in iOS. The first item is Do Not Disturb, which lets you set a time and assign conditions during which your computer will or will not interrupt or disturb you.

When we go through the notifications that display in the notification center notice that below each application it will tell you what it is configured to do (badges, sounds, and the alert style). In our example below we picked the notification settings for the Mail application because it’s a good representation of all that you might expect to find. Settings will vary from app to app, but Mail pretty much has them all.

The alert style applies to anything that can display notifications. As the small print below explains, banners disappear automatically whereas alerts persist until you dismiss them.

Below alert styles, you’ll see further app-specific options. What you see here will vary from app to app, but with Mail you get the full treatment.

The first two options are privacy-related. For example, if you don’t want notifications to appear on the lock screen, you can uncheck the box next to “show notifications on the lock screen.”

If you do want message notifications to appear on the lock screen but you don’t want their previews to show, you can configure them to only appear when the computer is unlocked, or you can uncheck the option so previews are never shown.

You can also turn sounds off for that app’s notifications, display badge app icons, and decide how many recent notifications to display in the Notification Center. If you choose to display badge app icons, you’ll see badges overlaid on your app icons, such as here with our Mail app’s unread message counter.

Finally, you can sort how notifications appear in the Notification Center, either by date or manually. If you sort manually, you can click and drag apps into the order you want. This way, apps first or near the top will appear above others.

If you drag an app to the bottom below “Not in Notification Center,” such as in the screenshot, it will not appear in the Notification Center at all.

The Notification Center

Since we’ve been talking about it so much, we should finally spend some time discussing the Notification Center. The Notification Center can be accessed by clicking the three lines at the right edge of the menu bar, or you can swipe left from the right edge on the trackpad with two fingers.

The Notification Center is divided into two panels, Today and Notifications. The Today panel displays system information and widgets that you can add or remove to suit your needs and liking. You can also quickly turn on “Do Not Disturb” to temporarily (or permanently, if you don’t turn it back off) mute notifications.

To configure the Today panel, click the “Edit” button at the bottom.

You can remove widgets by clicking the red minus symbol, or add them by clicking the green plus. You can also reorder widgets by click-dragging the widget by the three lines in the upper-right corner.

When you’re happy with how things appear, you can click “Done” at the bottom of the Today panel.

If you want to add more widgets, click “App Store” to open the Mac App Store to a designated page of notification center widgets.

Note also, on the Today panel there’s a Social section that you can use to update your status via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Messages. Before you can use this section however, you must add accounts to OS X via the Internet Accounts system preferences.

Finally, there are the actual notifications, which aside from sliding out from the screen edge, are also saved on the Notifications panel. To remove them, click the small “X” in the upper-right corner.

Remember, in the previous section we explained how to configure them via the Notification preferences. The Notifications panel is where many of those adjustments come into play. For example, we’ve ordered Facebook notifications to appear at the top, and the system will only show the five most recent ones.

But that’s basically really all there is. It’s a simple system but highly configurable, allowing you to see the information that’s relevant to you and mute the stuff that isn’t, or just turn them all off. Better still, if you use notifications but want a bit of peace and quiet, you can turn on Do Not Disturb and work interruption-free.

Let’s hear from you now. We like feedback on what you think, especially with regard to how Apple has implemented notifications into their system. Is it adequate or do you think they’re lacking in some way? Our discussion forum is open for your comments and questions, so please tell us what you think.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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