Tips for using the Apple Watch for work

Apple's smartwatch can help owners be more productive at work if it is approached properly.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
I recently bought an Apple Watch on a lark and have been honing a system that makes it a productivity tool. Through trial and error I have zeroed in on a set of apps and best practices that turn it into a helpful digital assistant.


Getting notifications on the wrist is a primary function of the smartwatch. Seeing important messages come in while the iPhone is in a pocket is useful and keeps the focus on the things that matter. This only works well if some thought is given to determine what is really important.

The last thing an Apple Watch owner wants is a constant stream of distracting notifications. Getting interrupted constantly by notifications that don't matter in that particular moment is like drinking from a fire hose. You want the smartwatch to show important information and not much else to have a productive work system.

I have long used this principle on my iPhone and have extended it to the Apple Watch. I only turn on notifications for messaging apps -- Mail and iMessages in particular -- and have most everything else turned off. When I get a haptic buzz on the watch I take a quick glance and if it's important I deal with it right away. Otherwise I dismiss it to return to it later.

Be aware that by design if your iPhone is open when a notification comes in that it will not appear on the Apple Watch. This is to conserve battery and minimize distractions as you don't need to get a notification on both devices if the iPhone is in hand.

It's worth noting that some Apple Watch owners are reporting that they don't get notifications on the watch, or if they do they only show up sporadically. There are a number of fixes that have worked for some but not everyone to resolve this issue, so if you're experiencing the problem search the web.

My Apple Watch wasn't receiving any notifications coming through the iPhone at all, and after trying some of the fixes found online I was about to give up on getting notifications to work. What finally resolved the issue was to unpair and repair my Apple Watch with the iPhone. It's been working perfectly since the rebuild.

Phone calls

You can make phone calls with the Apple Watch, and this has turned out to be more productive than I thought it would be. I figured this would be a gimmick, but that's not the case.

I find the ability to answer a call on the watch when I'm striding down the streets of the urban jungle to be a real boon. Tapping the watch and having a brief call to find out that my next meeting has been time-shifted is a big benefit for a productive day. The iPhone stays in the pocket or bag and the Apple Watch fills the need.

Other communication

Along with notifications covered above, text messaging and email interaction are nicely done on the Apple Watch. I tap the notification when it comes in and can instantly reply to the text message. I can reply to important correspondence right on the watch as long as a brief response is sufficient.

Voice input with Siri on the Apple Watch works very well. Siri interprets speech input with almost total accuracy which makes this a productive tool.


The preinstalled apps from Apple work well as expected on the Apple Watch, and there are some third party apps that work nicely. I have been using and testing a number of them and have come up with a couple that help me stay on track during the work day.

Fantastical Apple Watch
A word of caution when it comes to apps on the watch -- be selective which apps you put on your wrist. Many iPhone apps have watch versions included and if you're not careful you can have too many apps on the watch. This makes the home screen bloated which makes it hard to find the app you need in a hurry.

When I set up my Apple Watch I passed on the option to sync all iPhone apps with the watch. This let me go in later and manually choose only the apps I wanted on my wrist. My home screen is easily navigated due to the relatively low number of icons to swipe through.

Smartwatches are good for keeping track of a busy schedule, and the Fantastical app has become my workhorse. The iPhone app is really good and the watch app makes great use of the tiny Apple Watch display. I can see my agenda at a glance, add new appointments as needed, and check upcoming reminders.

I also use Toodledo on the Apple Watch for my task list needs. It syncs with the cloud so I can manipulate my to-do list on any platform, and it is intuitive to use on the watch. Staying focused on what is important keeps me productive, and I can mark tasks as complete with a tap.

As much as I like Toodledo I am currently trying Clear. It is a to-do list app that also handles lists of information. It is operated totally by gestures on the iPhone and iPad, and the watch app looks really nice. It's only on OS X and iOS so that may be a drawback. It's worth a look so I'm giving it a good try.

Those in a corporate environment will find a lot of choices for Apple Watch apps. Developers have jumped to build apps for the watch, including Salesforce and Slack.


Keeping informed about the things that are truly important is where smartwatches really shine. That's why the Apple Watch is so good at notifications, communications, and task list management. That usefulness is extended with Glances that Apple has implemented on the watch.

Glances are screens that are accessed from the watch face that show at a glance the important information from a given app. Not all apps have glances available but many of them do. You just swipe up on the watch face and the last accessed glance pops up. You can scroll through all of the glances available to you which puts a healthy amount of information a few swipes away.

To keep things focused and on track, it's important to only activate the glances that will make a difference. There are quite a few that can be turned off in the Watch app on the iPhone, and it's a good idea to do that.

Working for you

Properly set up as described you can turn the Apple Watch into a helpful personal assistant. Getting only the information you need when it comes in is useful, and in my experience the Apple Watch doesn't distract me while doing so.

Experimenting with different apps and schemes will help Apple Watch owners zero in on a productive flow. Getting the work done is what matters, and the watch can help make that better and easier.

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