One of the principle appeals of a smartwatch is easy wrist-based notifications but things can get a little out of control. Read on as we show you how to tweak your Apple Watch notifications to your liking.

How Do Apple Watch Notifications Work?

Before we dive into actually managing your Apple Watch notifications, let’s run through a quick overview of how the notifications function by default so you’ve got a solid understanding of the notifications and what you may or may not want to modify.

RELATED: How to Sync Photos to Your Apple Watch

By default your Apple Watch will mirror all notifications from your iPhone. Whatever you’ve configured on the iPhone side of things (“Yes, I want Twitter notifications; no, I don’t want Facebook alerts”) will simply pass along to the Apple Watch. Whatever notifications are turned on when you pair your Apple Watch are cloned and when you install new apps whatever notification settings you select upon installation are also mirrored.

When your iPhone is unlocked and you’re using it no notifications are passed on to your Apple Watch as the assumption is you’re looking at your iPhone and wrist-based notification is not required. When your Apple Watch is off your wrist, locked, or in Do Not Disturb mode all notifications are also silenced at the watch level and remain on your iPhone.

When your iPhone is sleeping or locked and your Apple Watch is on your wrist, unlocked, and Do Not Disturb Mode is disabled, all notifications are transferred from the iPhone to the Apple Watch to properly alert you.

In the following sections we’ll take a peek at how to temporarily silence notifications, how to manage notifications (both in mirror mode and watch mode), and how to make your notifications more private so they don’t reveal their contents (messages, pictures, and so on) without your acknowledgement.

How to Silence Your Apple Watch

While you can permanently silence individual notifications sometimes you just need to quiet things down until the meeting is over. There are a couple ways to silence your Apple Watch; let’s run through the different methods and you’ll be armed with the right trick for the right environment the next time you need to keep your wrist from chirping.

Silent Mode and Cover to Mute

The first, and most literal, way to silence your Apple Watch is to mute the volume with the Silent Mode. You can access the mute/Silent Mode function one of two ways. You can swipe down on your watchface to open up your Glances and then open the Settings Glance where you’ll find a crossed-out bell icon. Press the bell icon and you enable Silent Mode.

The alternative way to mute the watch is to click on the crown, opening up the Settings menu, and navigate to Settings -> Sounds and Haptic. There you can both adjust the volume of the alerts and toggle the Mute function on.

There’s one very neat trick you’ll need to use the Apple Watch app on your iPhone to enable (but it’s totally worth it the minor effort): cover to mute. Open up the Apple Watch app and navigate to Sound & Haptics in the main settings list.

Within Sound & Haptics toggle “Cover to Mute” on. Now, should a loud notification interrupt your meeting, you can perform the very natural motion of covering up your watch with your other hand and that action will mute the notification.

Do Not Disturb Mode

Conveniently, because the Apple Watch is so tightly integrated with the iPhone, you can turn on Do Not Disturb Mode on either the watch or the phone and it automatically mirrors between the two devices. (This also means if you’ve set a Do Not Disturb schedule on your iPhone it will automatically extend to your watch too.)

To enable Do Not Disturb from your Apple Watch swipe down from the main screen to access your Glances and use the quick access button on the Settings Glance. You can also swipe up on your iPhone’s screen to access the Control Center and tap the Do Not Disturb icon there too.

Do Not Disturb Mode should be considered a quieter, but not silent, solution; whatever adjustments you’ve made to the Do Not Disturb settings on your iPhone will be used by your watch (e.g. if you’ve told Do Not Disturb to allow phone calls from your Favorites contact list then your watch will allow them too).

Airplane Mode

If you’re super paranoid (or your boss is super unamused by interruptions) you can always go for a full network kill switch and toggle on Airplane Mode. Like Silent Mode and Do Not Disturb Mode, you can toggle Airplane Mode from the Settings Glance on your watch. Unlike Do Not Disturb Mode, however, it isn’t mirrored between devices. Airplane Mode is toggled independently for both the Apple Watch and the iPhone.

How to Manage Your Notifications

Temporarily silencing notifications is one thing but sometimes you no longer want the notification at all. There are two ways to deal with notification overload on your Apple Watch: from the iPhone settings and from the Apple Watch app’s settings menu.

Adjust the iPhone’s Notifications

The first way to manage your notifications involves simultaneously adjusting your notifications on both your iPhone and Apple Watch by making sweeping adjustments to the the notifications of both through the iPhone’s Settings menu via Settings -> Notifications.

Recall that the default state is that all iPhone notification settings are mirrored to your Apple Watch. If you adjust the degree of notification in the iPhone Settings then the notification to the Apple Watch will also be adjusted. If you turn off a notification at the iPhone level then it won’t even be available for adjustment on the Apple Watch.

Adjust the Apple Watch’s Notifications

Within the Apple Watch application on the iPhone (not on the watch itself) you can toggle notifications off as well as fine tune the notifications specifically for the watch.

The core Apple applications like the Calendar, Mail, and Reminders apps can all be custom tweaked within the Apple Watch app to customize the notification experience. You can either leave them as “Mirror my iPhone” or you, on a app-by-app basis make adjustments. Let’s say, for example, you wanted to see your upcoming calendar events but you didn’t want to get an alert on your wrist every time an attendee confirmed they were coming. You could adjust that setting on the iPhone but that would remove the notifications on both the phone and watch.

Instead you can hop into the Apple Watch app and make the adjustment by selecting the Calendar app and checking “Custom”. This in turn will bring up notification options just for the watch which you can adjust to your liking.

While that customization works for the core iOS apps it doesn’t work for third party apps like Facebook. For third party apps the toggle is binary: either you get all the notifications from the iPhone or you get none.

How to Make Your Notifications Private

The final bit of notification tweaking we’ll highlight before we end our notification tutorial is a terribly handy tweak. By default when you get a notification on your Apple Watch it shows what the notification is. If your friend texts you a work-inappropriate picture, for example, the preview of that picture pops right up on the face of your Apple Watch where coworkers who don’t share your particular sense of humor could see it.

This is where Notification Privacy comes in. When Notification Privacy is enabled you still receive a visual alert on the watch but the contents of the alert are not revealed until you tap on the screen to confirm you wish to see it.

In the example above you can see the privacy function in action: when I received a message from fellow How-To Geek writer Matt Klein I was still notified that I had a message from him but the contents of the message weren’t displayed until I tapped screen. Other apps provide even less information. When you get a Gmail notification, for example, it’s just the Gmail logo and you have to tap on it to see the message.

While it does add in an extra layer and bit of friction to your notification system it is a great compromise between no notifications and having the contents of your notifications visible to everyone.

With just a little tweaking and a lot of taking advantage of the streamlined notification system found in the Apple Watch you’ll have your notifications wrangled and just right in no time.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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