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How to use Focus mode in iOS 15

Now that iOS 15 has been released, it is available for every iPhone from the iPhone 6S and later. One of the new headlining features is Focus mode — a beefed-up Do Not Disturb that allows you to select which apps can bother you and when, customizing it for specific times of the day. Focus adds extra modes to the DND mode, customizing it for different times and activities.

Enabling Focus lets you halt notifications from ancillary, non-critical sources — for example, game and social apps during your workday; or, conversely, quiet notifications from business email accounts or Teams during your leisure hours. Not only can you determine which notifications and alerts can get through to you, but also which apps can command your attention. Setting a Focus status also communicates to others trying to reach you that you have silenced notifications. We show you various ways to set up Focus for optimal use.

Access and set up Focus from the Control Center

An easy way to access the Focus feature is via the Control Center, where it is located by default alongside the Do Not Disturb (crescent moon) button. If your Focus modes are already set up, you can choose the one you want from the Control Center.

  • Tap the word Focus, and a menu appears with the five major areas of focus.
  • Starting with Do Not Disturb, you can give the focus a schedule of exactly when to automatically switch on and off.
  • Customize people whose notifications can reach you through the Do Not Disturb setting.

There are a number of ways to access Focus settings, and this is one of them. You can configure your Focus settings from Control Center or set them up using the Settings app, as we discuss below. You can also switch off Focus from the Control Center. Once you’re set up, you can use the Control Center to switch the mode on or off.

Set up Focus from Settings

You can access the Focus feature via Settings > Focus. Once launched, there are five built-in focuses: Do Not Disturb, Driving, Personal, Sleep, and Work. The first two are set up but disabled by default. The last three need you to configure them. A Share Across Devices toggle is also enabled by default, and will share your Focus preferences with your  iPadOS 15, MacOS Monterey, and WatchOS 8 devices.

How to set up a new Focus mode

We recommend everyone set up their Do Not Disturb and/or Driving Focus modes, but you can feel free to stop there. In the example below, we configure a new Work focus to walk you through the process. You can create a custom focus that’s not listed in the presets, as well.

  • Go to Settings > Focus > Work and tap Set Up. The Share Across Devices toggle shares this setting with all of your Apple devices.
  • After reading an explanatory pane, tap Next.
  • In the Allow People for Notifications pane, tap the Plus Sign, which takes you to your contact list. Allow None means no contact.
  • Select the contacts whose notifications you will allow through during your Focus time.
  • When you’re finished adding contacts, tap the Allow button.
  • Choose apps you want notifications from by tapping the Plus Sign.
  • You can toggle the Time Sensitive button on or off so that any app whose notification is marked Time Sensitive can get through during your Focus.
  • Choose the apps you want to add and tap Done at the top right.
  • Toggle the Time Sensitive setting for apps on or off and tap the appropriate button.
  • That’s it! You’re done with the setup. Now you can see the summary pane.
  • You can still tweak settings like Home Screen and Lock Screen or add specific times when the feature comes on or goes off.

Focus mode FAQ

You begin with two Focus modes set up by default: Do Not Disturb and Driving. Do Not Disturb is the standard Do Not Disturb mode, while Sleep works with the Sleep section in the Health app to shut off distractions during your scheduled sleep time. You may have a Do Not Disturb set up for when you sleep, and you can use this as an excuse to swap that over to the Sleep section. To do so, just tap the button at the bottom of the Sleep section to set up your Sleep settings.

Here are the basic settings you’ll come across in most Focus modes.

  • Allowed Notifications: This allows you to choose specific apps or people who can contact you during your Focus mode. It’s split into People and Apps and applies only to this specific mode. So you might use this setting to allow calls from colleagues while your Work Focus mode is active.
  • Time-Sensitive: When turned on, this setting allows notifications to come through immediately, even if a Focus mode is active.
  • Share Focus Status: This setting tells apps you have notifications silenced and gives people the option to notify you if their message is urgent.
  • Options: This is split into two sections, Home Screen and Lock Screen, and allows you to change how your home screen and lock screen look when you’re in a Focus mode. For instance, you can hide notification number badges, only show specific screens, or show that you’re in a specific Focus mode on your lock screen.
  • Turn On Automatically: Do you want your Focus mode to start when certain criteria are met or when the system recognizes you might want it?

How critical is Focus?

Before iOS 15’s Focus feature, we all just muddled along with notifications of all kinds coming through like a free-for-all whenever the Do Not Disturb time frame ended. For many people with loose or predictable calendars and the ability to stay focused without any help, the Focus feature may seem like overkill. There’s a ton of flexibility to Focus, but also many unilateral decisions needed about the use of your time and relationships with others that may seem a little restrictive or beg for so many exceptions that the feature may be more trouble than it’s worth.

Inevitably, Focus will evolve for iOS users, and some will not get the settings quite right the first time. We suggest giving at least one new Focus a try — like Work or Personal — where you can limit contact during disparate parts of your day or while engaged in specific activities to see if Focus is helpful. If it’s not, then just switch it off.

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Mark Jansen
Mark Jansen is an avid follower of everything that beeps, bloops, or makes pretty lights. He has a degree in Ancient &…
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