Digital watches give you the time at a glance, clearly and simply. But setting them isn’t as easy as newer models that just call for a swipe or a tap, and instructions vary by style and brand. Most recent models can be set with buttons to the left and right of the watch face, but vintage models might require you to look into the back of the watch bracelet—and at an instruction manual.

Step 1: Punch the Right Buttons

Check your watch for a “Mode” function. A typical digital watch can be set with buttons visible off the watch face, either to the left and right or with four of them surrounding the face. The button may instead be labeled “Set” or “Adjust” or something similar. “Mode” often will tell you what functions are available. Press “Mode” two or three times or according to your instruction manual, until the display blinks.

Step 2: Set the Hour and Minutes

Continue setting the time. The Stauer Magnus digital watch, for example, has four buttons: Stop/Start, Reset, Mode and Backlight. Press “Mode” three times to start the process until the display blinks; “Reset” selects the hour, while hitting “Reset” twice selects the minutes. Hit “Mode” to select the time when you have it adjusted.

Step 3: Set an Alarm or Timer

Setting the alarm on the Stauer Magnus involves hitting “Mode” twice, and then selecting a combination of other buttons. It’s different for every brand—there’s almost a mystique to learning the intricacies of your watch—so check your instruction manual if it isn’t self-evident, and hang on to those instructions in case you don’t use them often.

Tips

Instead of buttons, many digital watches have tiny round keys to the side of the watch face. Instead of pushing them with your fingers, you’ll need to insert a ballpoint pen or a safety pin to push them in. Don’t use a pencil because the lead might break.

If you have an old-school LED watch, it may be 1970s retro-cool, but it’s even harder to reset than newer models. The Hamilton QED, for example, has buttons on the side—but you need to push those buttons just to display the time whenever you want to see it. To set the time, you’ll need to go into the back of the bracelet and press a timeset button on the back at the same time you are pressing “command buttons” on the front.