Get started with Focus modes and eliminate unwanted distractions

Get started with Focus modes and eliminate unwanted distractions

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These are my custom Driving and Writing Home Screens.
Find out how to use Focus modes on iPhone, iPad and Mac. Your frazzled nerves will thank you.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Apple’s new Focus feature is like Do Not Disturb on steroids. It is much smarter than the Do Not Disturb of old. Since not all work or relaxation is created equal, you can set up Focus modes for specific situations to keep unwanted distractions at bay.

When you’re working, you might want email and Slack to come through, unless you’re in a meeting.

When you’re at home, you may want most notifications to come through, but not if you’re having have friends over, playing games or watching a show.

This article will cover setting up Focus modes on iOS 15. If you have the latest iPhone, a brand-new Mac or you’ve kept up with software updates, you’ll want to check out our guide for iOS 16.

If you have an old device and you want to see how Focus modes work, keep reading.

How to set up and use Focus modes in iOS 15

Focus modes are a feature of iOS and iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and macOS Monterey.

Check in Settings > General > About on iPhone and iPad or  > About This Mac.

Create a new Focus

Create and edit Focus modes in Settings.
Create and edit Focus modes in Settings.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

On iPhone and iPad, go to Settings > Focus.

On the Mac, go to System Preferences > Notifications & Focus > Focus tab.

You might see a Focus mode for what you need in the list already — there are templates for Driving, Sleep, Personal and Work.

You can create your own custom Focus modes for various activities.
You can create your own custom Focus modes for various activities.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Tap + to create a new Focus mode. Select a template or tap Custom. Give it a name, icon and color.

In the example above, I created a Focus just for writing. In this mode, I don’t want to be disturbed, unless it’s a message from my editors. So, on the next screen, I selected who I want to receive calls and messages from. Here, you can add or remove specific people or tap Remove All to clear the list.

Under Calls From, you can select a category: Everyone (including people you don’t know), No One, Favorites or All Contacts (people in your contacts list). Enable Allow Repeated Calls to silence the first phone call but allow a second call. Tap Allow when you are done.

Decide which apps to allow

After that, pick which apps you want to let through. Tap Add App to add to the list or Remove All to clear the list. Enable Time Sensitive to let through any app with a time-sensitive notification. Tap Allow when you have added all the apps you want and Done to start using the Focus mode.

For my Writing Focus mode, I added the Mail, Slack and Twitter apps and silenced all contacts except my colleagues. I allow people to reach me after calling twice.

For my Driving Focus mode, I silenced all apps and contacts except my favorite contacts.

I have a Dungeons & Dragons Focus mode that allows messages from most of my friends and silences social media notifications.

Create a custom Home screen optimized for what you’re doing

How to create a custom Home Screen for your Focus Mode. A custom Home screen for your Focus mode brings apps you need to the forefront (and hides others away).
A custom Home screen for your Focus mode brings apps you need to the forefront (and hides others away).
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Every Focus mode can have a different Home screen associated with it designed specifically for the situation. For example, you can fill a Home screen with all the productivity and messaging apps you use at work for your Work focus. Or your Travel focus can feature apps and widgets you use for shopping and travel. Your Personal focus can feature social media and entertainment apps you use at home (or your original Home screen when no Focus is set).

Note, creating custom Home screens for Focus modes is a little complicated. First you create a new Home screen, then you associate it with a Focus mode.

Custom Home screens give you even more control

To get started, go back to the Home screen. Tap and hold on an empty spot to start editing. Then swipe over to the empty page on the right, and then swipe over again to get to the App Library. Add apps to your new Home screen by holding down on an app icon and dragging it onto the blank page. Add widgets to the page by tapping the + icon in the upper left of the screen.

When you’re done creating your new Home screen, and still in editing mode, tap on the page dots at the bottom of the screen. From here, you can hide different Home screens from your view.

Go back to Settings > Focus and select the Focus mode you created earlier. Tap Home Screen and enable Custom Pages. Check the new Home screen you just created (unchecking all the others) and tap Done.

These are my custom Driving and Writing Home screens.
These are my custom Driving and Writing Home screens.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

For my Driving Focus mode, I have a big Maps widget on top, a Podcasts widget and a Music widget. I make sure the Messages icon is in the same place as on my regular Home Screen. I added the Wallet for quick access. And I have a folder with shopping apps, Reminders and my bank app for easy access.

For my Writing Focus mode, I added a Calendar widget, an Apollo widget set to the /r/apple forum, a Notes widget set to my Articles to Write note and a Podcasts widget. I added Slack and Twitter, Safari shortcuts to my website and my Cult of Mac articles, Files, Photos and the Apple Frames shortcut I use to make screenshots.

Set your Focus mode

Turn on Focus in Control Center in iOS, macOS and watchOS.
Turn on Focus in Control Center in iOS, macOS and watchOS.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

On iPhone and iPad, bring up Control Center by dragging down from the top-right corner of the screen (on iPad and iPhone X, XS, XR, 11, 12, 13) or by dragging up from the bottom (iPhone 6s, 7, 8, SE). Tap the Focus button and select a Focus mode.

On a Mac, open Control Center by clicking the switch icon in the menu bar and click Focus (the icon that looks like a crescent moon). Select a Focus mode.

Pro tip: Easy access

If you want to have easy access to Focus modes from the menu bar, click and drag the Focus icon while holding Command (). It will create a new menu bar item just for Focus Modes.

On Apple Watch, bring up Control Center by dragging up from the bottom of the watch face and tapping the Focus icon (the crescent moon). Select a Focus mode.

Automate your Focus mode with Shortcuts

Create a trigger to automatically activate a Focus

Automate Focus mode on iPhone, Mac, iPad or Apple Watch: Pick a trigger to set the Focus Mode automatically.
Pick a trigger to set the Focus mode automatically.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

If you’re getting ready to work, you don’t want to take a lot of steps, you want to jump right in. Automations can do some of the work for you, removing friction and getting you focused faster.

Go back to Settings > Focus and select the Focus mode you created earlier. Tap Add Schedule or Automation. You can pick a trigger like a time of day, arriving or leaving a location, or opening a particular app. A Smart Activation will turn on the Focus Mode automatically after learning some of your habits.

Create an advanced automation with Shortcuts.
Create an advanced automation with Shortcuts.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

If none of those triggers are what you want, Shortcuts offers some advanced options. Open Shortcuts > Automation (tab at the bottom) and tap Create Personal Automation if you’ve never made one before (otherwise, tap +). You have a lot of options for how and when you want to launch a Focus mode.

Let’s say I want to activate my Driving focus every time my phone connects to my car’s Bluetooth system. I’ll select Bluetooth from the list of automations, choose my car, tap Done and Next. Tap Add Action and search for the Set Focus action. The default action is “Turn Do Not Disturb Off,” so I’ll tap on the highlighted words to change it to “Turn Driving On.”

You can specify when the Focus mode should end. You can set the automation to end at a specific time, if you leave a location or if a calendar event ends.

Create a ‘Reset Focus’ icon

How to create an automation to reset Focus.
How to create an automation to reset Focus.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

On all of my custom Home screens, I have an icon that instantly turns off the Focus mode. It’s much faster than opening Control Center and switching back. I also made this using Shortcuts.

To do so, open Shortcuts and tap +. Name the shortcut something like “Reset Focus.” Tap Add Action and search for Set Focus. Then, tap Do Not Disturb and replace it with the Focus mode you created earlier. Tap on the icon in the upper right to pick a color and glyph — I recommend the grid of dots under the Symbols section — then tap Done.

Tap the Share button at the bottom and tap Add to Home Screen.

Dive deeper on Focus modes

Focus modes are a powerful tool. This article covered the basics of creating a new mode, customizing notifications based on contacts and apps, creating a Home screen and automating Focus modes.

To dive deeper into advanced features, look no further than Editor-in-Chief of MacStories and Shortcuts automation expert Federico Viticci. His annual massive review of iPadOS last year featured a section on the details of Focus modes and how they can affect notifications. You can read that section here: “Focus: The Details.”