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How to save your iPhone and Apple Watch from notification hell

Early on in any relationship, your app will make one simple request: “I would like to send you notifications.” Sure, it makes sense for a breaking news, banking, or even a weather app, but what does Temple Run really need to tell me when I’m not in the middle of a run? Or any number of other games and random apps for that matter.

Maybe you’ve hit OK thinking, “Yeah, I’ll change that later,” or “I don’t know what it would actually send me, but I don’t want to feel left out.” Maybe it didn’t bother you as much when the phone was in your pocket or sitting on your desk / nightstand / couch — but what about when it’s on your wrist? When each notification is both unavoidable and potentially visible to the world around you?

With the Apple Watch now rolling out worldwide, let’s take a moment to really look back and evaluate just what we need our phones to actively tell us at all hours day and night. Seriously, you gain nothing by letting Temple Run ping you at any time.

The iPhone

Not every iPhone notification has to be mirrored on the Apple Watch (more on that later), but cleaning up your phone’s notifications helps lay a good foundation. Everyone with an iPhone should do this — and if you don’t have an iPhone, that’s okay (albeit a bit perplexing why you’ve read this far, but hey, you do you).

Hop into the Notifications menu (via the Settings app) to see all your notifications-laden apps separated into two groups. Bad news? You have to deactivate the undesirable pings by hopping one-by-one into their individual sub-menus. Good news? It’s just one switch once you get there.

I can’t tell you what to do here, but I can strongly suggest to err on the side of turning off notifications — and for the ones you keep, take a moment to get granular with settings like sounds, lock screen placement, and badge app icons.

Some apps let you fine tune even further from within the app itself. Gmail and Slack have settings that are pretty easy to find on your own, while Twitter and Facebook require a slightly deeper dive.

Good? Good. Now let's turn to the Watch itself.

The Watch

While yes, you can change a few settings from the Apple Watch itself, your iPhone’s now-permanent Watch app has all those same settings and many, many more. So don’t even bother with your new wrist ornament — let’s use the bigger screen instead.

First things first, from the My Watch screen, go to Sounds and Haptics and turn off all Watch sounds. All of them. You’re welcome.

Now to the notifications pane, presumably the reason you started reading this in the first place. Note the important top line:

Notification alerts appear on Apple Watch when you’re wearing it and it’s unlocked. And you won’t get alerts on the Apple Watch if you’re actively using your iPhone. To view missed notifications, swipe down on your watch face.

Got that? Your Watch won’t buzz if your iPhone screen is on and in use — and if you want to view the notification later, you swipe down on the watch face, identical to how you’d open the notification pane on a smartphone.

Now, finally, we’re up to the list of notifications themselves. The only third-party apps listed are the ones that also push notifications to your phone, so if you cleaned that up, this part’ll be much easier. By default, all your iPhone alerts are mirrored. Let me be clear: this is a list of all the apps that are allowed to buzz your wrist. While some apps (notably Dark Sky) do some novel things with their Watch notifications, most are just variants of your iPhone notifications. Kill mercilessly.

The final step? Stop looking down at your gadgets so much. This is the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that by now you’ve probably heard a thousand times over. The Apple Watch’s best feature is that it gets you to check your phone less — but that doesn’t mean you have to now replace all the time by checking your wrist. Especially not for Temple Run notifications.