Keeping up with important email, text messages, app updates and other notifications and alerts can be tough — especially when you're bombarded with notifications from many different places. Here's how to consolidate all your notifications into one unified, customisable system so you can stay on top of what's important and ignore what isn't.
Some of your apps constantly throw sounds, popups and other notifications your way when you'd rather they stay quiet, while others stay in the background when you wish they'd notify you of important events. If you want to manage the chaos, you can use an app like Growl to put all your notifications in one place and make more sense of the noise.
Growl is a Mac app that integrates with many other Mac apps, sending notifications on their behalf. You can customise where notifications appear, which ones make sounds, what sounds they make, and even push notifications from your computer to your phone. It's lightweight, stays in the background, and can be as loud and detailed or as silent and out-of-the-way as you want. The newest version of Growl is $1.99 on the Mac App Store. Here's how to set it up and tweak it so that you're sure to get every important notification you need, and can forget about the stuff you don't.
Set Up Growl for Optimal Notification Management
Some of you may already have Growl on your system (in fact, some of you might have it without ever knowing how it got there). However, you may not have really delved into its settings and made it the best that it can be, so even if you're familiar with the program, we recommend going through the initial setup again in case we talk about anything you missed. If you've never used Growl before, download and install it from the Mac App Store before continuing.
Start up Growl and click on its menu bar icon to access its preferences. You'll see a few settings on the "General" tab that you can tweak right now — I like to start Growl at login, view notifications in the upper left-hand corner of my screen, and send notifications to the History Rollup (which you can access from the menu bar) after 300 seconds of inactivity (which is about five minutes). I also choose to Rollup only logged notes — we'll get into more detail on what this means later. While you're here, you can also head to the Displays tab and choose the appearance of your notification. You can choose from the default list or download custom themes from Growl's website. If you want to explore the other settings and get acquainted, now is a good time to do so. If not, read on to start setting up your apps.
Set Up the Notifications and Apps You Want in Growl
Since Growl has become so popular on the Mac, most apps already have Growl support baked in. If you head to the Applications tab, you'll probably find that you already have a lot of applications supported — things like Adium, Twitter, Handbrake and uTorrent will register themselves with Growl as soon as they're installed. However, there are a few other mini-apps and plugins we recommend checking out that can give you notifications for even more, including:
Growler for Google Notifier adds Growl support to Google's official menu bar notifier for Mac. It isn't the best notifier, sadly, as it doesn't support multiple accounts or any other advanced features, but the Mac doesn't have very many options. You can also try Notify or Mailtab, which are a bit more feature-filled, but costs a few bucks. If you aren't a Gmail web user, you can also grab a plugin for Mail.app, Thunderbird or Postbox instead. Sparrow supports Growl out of the box.
HardwareGrowler notifies you of hardware events, like when a new USB device is connected or disconnected, or when you plug your computer into a power source.
Sick Beard, our favourite TV show downloader, actually has Growl support baked right in. With a bit of setup, it will let you know when downloads have started or finished. To see how to set it up, check out these instructions.
These are a few extra apps we think you should check out. Lots of apps support Growl on the Mac though, so be sure to check out Growl's compatibility page to see the full list of compatible apps and plugins.
Customise Your Settings, App by App
Now that you've got a few apps registered with Growl, let's see about tweaking each app's preferences to get the best experience.
Open up Growl's preferences and click on the Applications tab. You should see a list of applications. Select an app and click the Configure button to customise its preferences. We'll use Adium as an example here.
In the first window that pops up, you can make Adium use a different style or starting position than other apps, if you so choose. You can also check or uncheck "Enable Logging", which — if you used the preferences I recommended on the general page — will decide whether Adium notifications stay in Growl's Rollup window while you're idle. Thus, I'd leave this on for things like Adium, email and uTorrent — things you'd want to know about when you return to your computer — and turn it off for anything that isn't quite as important.
If you click the Notifications tab, you can customise the settings of each individual notification type. You can enable or disable a notification, tell it how long to stay on the screen and more. So, for example, if I didn't want Adium to notify me of every buddy that signs in, I would choose "Contact Signs On" in the dropdown menu, then uncheck the "Enabled" checkbox. Some of these settings you can edit in Adium as well, though again, what's nice about Growl is that you can do it for all your apps in one place.
I also like to add a sound to some notifications, which you can do here. Giving a different sound to each notification is great, so I can tell whether I just got a work email, a personal email, a text message or a finished torrent just by the sound. Growl's "Sound" dropdown will list all sound files in the default Mac sounds folder, in
/System/Library/Sound, so if you have custom sounds you want to use, just copy them to that folder and they should show up in Growl's preferences.
Add Your Phone to the Mix
Lastly, while you probably get a lot of these notifications on your phone already — like email, text messages and so on — there might be some you only get on your computer. If you want to know when your torrents have finished, for example, you can push those notifications from your computer right to your phone with Prowl (if you're an iPhone user) or Notify My Android (if you're an Android user). Here's how to set them up.
To forward notifications to your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, head to prowlapp.com and register for a new account. Download the Prowl app to your phone while you're at it. When you're ready to set it up, do the following:
- Download the Prowl plugin for Growl from this page. Double click on it to install it to Growl.
- Open up Growl, go to the Displays tab and click on Prowl in the left sidebar.
- Type in your Prowl username and password in the main pane, and check the box that says "Display all notifications using style". Then choose your preferred style that you usually use for notifications (the default being Smoke) from this dropdown menu.
- Check the box that says "Only when the screensaver is active or the display is off", or "Only when Mac is idle". This ensures that you won't get a barrage of notifications on your phone; you'll only get them when you're away.
- At the top of the Displays tab, change your default style to Prowl.
- Log into the Prowl app on your iPhone.
From now on, whenever you're idle or away as specified in Prowl's preferences, any notifications will be forwarded directly to your phone. You can change your notification preferences for Prowl from Settings > Notifications, but you can't change them on a per-app basis. You can, however, give different sounds to different Growl priorities, if you want to have different sounds for certain apps (note that you'd have to change their priority in Growl on you Mac, too).
Notify My Android
Note: For some reason, Notify My Android and the Mac do not play very nicely together. You can forward any notifications you want to your phone, but you can't have them appear on your Mac and your phone — that is, unlike Prowl, you can't set it to forward messages when you're idle. You can either send notifications to your phone all the time, or to your Mac all the time. It isn't ideal, but if you want to set it up anyway, here are the instructions.
To forward notifications to an Android phone, head to Notify My Android's homepage and register for a new account. Download the Notify My Android app from the Android Market, too, then do the following:
- Go to your Notify My Android account settings, and click the "Generate New Key" buton under "New API Key". Leave this page open.
- Go to this page and install the Notify My Android plugin to Growl.
- Open up Growl's preferences, go to the Display tab, and click on NotifyMyAndroid in the left pane.
- Paste in the API key you got in step one. You can leave the prefix box blank, or add one if you want the notifications to say something like "From Whitson's Mac".
- Click the Preview button to test. If you get a notification on your Android, you've successfully set it up. Head to Growl's Application preferences and change the default style of any app you want to "NotifyMyAndroid" to forward those notifications.
From now on, any notifications set to use NotifyMyAndroid on your Mac will be forwarded directly to your phone. You can change the ringtone Notify My Android uses in its preferences, and even give different sounds to different Growl priorities, if you want to have different sounds for certain apps (note that you'd have to change their priority in Growl on you Mac, too).
There you have it. It may seem like a lot of work, but it actually shouldn't take long at all to get everything up and running to your liking, and once you're done, you'll be on top of everything (and less annoyed by the notifications you don't want). Have any of your own tips for keeping all your notifications in order? Share them in the comments.