Dumbing down the Apple Watch


I’ve been on the smart watch fence for a while now. My main concern is creating one more distraction in a growing list of distractions. A mini computer strapped to your wrist sounds like a terrible idea, particularly when focus is in short supply.

Having worked hard to minimise my digital dependencies the past few years, is buying a smart watch about to undo all this good work? Probably.

But I also like the idea of running without a smart phone stuck to my arm. I want to track runs comfortably, without sweating into my phone. So a smart watch seems like the obvious solution.

But which one to choose? Garmin or Apple? Or one of those other ones?

I went with an Apple Watch SE for a few simple reasons:

  • An Apple Watch will most likely play nice with my iPhone and MacBookPro, with zero effort.
  • The Apple Watch SE is affordable compared to some smart watches.
  • I want to be able to plan routes and follow them whist running. This will be handy when running in new places that I’m not familiar with. An Apple Watch SE won’t do this be default, but you can download an app – RunGo or Footpath, for example – that will do this for you.
  • To my knowledge, routable mapping is only available on the elite running Garmin watches. Meaning I’d have to spend at least £600, when I’d rather not.

I’m no elite runner, so the Apple Watch SE is perfect for my needs. But it still does things that I’d rather it didn’t.

Ideally, I only want to use my Apple Watch for tracking stuff and staying active. Other than that, I want it to be as dumb and distraction free as possible. That means restricting messages, emails, phone calls and notifications – unless they’re reminding me to be active.

If you’ve read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, then you’ll be familiar with the idea of dumbing down a smart phone. Whilst Cal focuses on the idea of switching to a dumber phone, there are still things you can do to make an existing device dumber. Clearly the same principles apply, whether the device in question is a smart phone or a smart watch.

Here’s the steps I’m taking to dumb down my Apple Watch SE:

  • Delete all unused apps
  • Always keep it on silent
  • Turn Work Focus on when I wake up
  • Turn off non-activity related notifications

And here’s what I’m (mostly) using my Watch for right now:

  • Hourly reminders to stand up and move around.
  • Waking me up in the morning via vibrate (so much nicer than an alarm).
  • Tracking my activity, workouts, heart rate and sleep (and I’m sure more things I haven’t yet discovered).
  • Using RunGo for directions on new running routes.
  • Paying for things via Apple Pay.

Importantly, all messages, phone calls and emails are restricted to my phone or laptop.

So, is my dumb(ish) Apple Watch distracting? Less than I was expecting.

Am I enjoying it? 100%.

The only annoying thing is that I have to charge it every day. But it’s a small price to pay for the utility it offers.

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