How to use iOS 15’s new Focus modes

These days, it is way too easy to be pulled from your work by notifications and other distractions. In order to help you keep your attention where you want it, Apple has added new Focus features to iOS 15.

The idea is to keep you “in the moment” by filtering out apps or notifications that you don’t want popping up during specific times. The nice thing is that you can create different profiles to keep you from being disturbed, depending on whether you’re at home, at work, getting ready for bed, driving, or for any other activity.

When you first start to set Focus up, it can seem a little daunting. There are a lot of choices, and a lot of ways you can tweak it. In fact, it may take a while before you get the combination of settings that works best for your lifestyle. But in the end, it will be worth it — it will mean that you won’t be sidelined during times you need to concentrate, and you won’t be bothered by irrelevant notifications when you’ve got other activities in hand.

Begin to focus

You access Focus mode via your Control Center (swipe down from the upper right corner). You’ll see the Focus button with a moon icon next to it. If you tap the icon, then the main Do Not Disturb profile will be active. If you tap anywhere else in the button, you’ll see a selection of other profiles that you can activate.

Tap on the three dots to the right of each button, and you can set the length of time you want that Focus profile to be active. Or you can tap the Settings button to tweak the settings for that Focus.

But perhaps the best way to start is to go to Settings > Focus, where you can set up all the various Focus profiles you are planning to use.

Set up your profiles

When you first open the Focus page in your settings, you’ll see a list of several profiles, starting with the basic Do Not Disturb and then going on to Personal, Sleep, and Work. If you tap on the plus sign in the upper right corner of the screen, you’ll find the others, including Driving, Fitness, Gaming, Awareness, and Readings. If none of those suit, you can create a custom profile.

In addition, there is a toggle that lets you can share the profiles across your various Apple devices.

We’ll look at some of the profiles in a moment, but let’s start by tapping on Do Not Disturb.

Do Not Disturb

The first thing you’ll see on top of the Do Not Disturb page (and, in fact, on top of all the profile pages) is the toggle to turn the mode on and off. After that, there are a variety of filters that you can tweak to determine when and how Focus will be set up.

Allowed notifications

Focus lets you specify people or apps that can continue to notify you even if you have Do Not Disturb active. For example, you may want to allow calls to come in from family members, or notifications from your work Slack.

To make these exceptions, tap on the People or Apps box to get to the Allowed Notifications page. (It doesn’t really matter which you tap; you’ll end up on the same page.)

Allowed apps

If you’re choosing one or more apps, then tap the App tab and then the plus button. You’ll get a list of your installed apps; check off those you want to add to the Allowed Notifications list, and select Done at the top right of the page. You’ll now see your chosen apps listed under Allowed Apps.

If you change your mind for any of your apps, you can just tap the minus sign next to each icon or select the “Remove All” link on the upper right of the Allowed Apps section.

You can also allow Time Sensitive notifications to come through by toggling it on. Time Sensitive notifications are from apps you’ve individually tagged as important enough to break through any filter, no matter what. To select which apps are that important to you, you have to leave Focus and go to Settings > Notifications; select the app or apps you want to qualify — say, Calendar — and make sure Time Sensitive notifications is toggled on for that app.

Allowed people

The way you allow notifications from specific people to break through the set Focus mode is pretty much the same as with the apps: select the plus sign under the People tab to add from your list of contacts. You can also allow incoming calls from various categories of people: either everyone who calls, no one (if you really want not to be disturbed), people who are tagged as favorites, or anyone in your contact list. You can also allow through any calls that are repeated within three minutes.

Other options

There are also a variety of other options.

  • You can choose to share your focus status — so if somebody texts you, they will get a display saying that you have notifications silenced.
  • You can hide notifications from your homescreen pages or your lock screen.
  • You can have only specific homescreens be active during certain times of the day — for example, you can put all your gaming apps on one homescreen, and keep that screen hidden when you’re at work. To do that, tap on the Home Screen button in your profile, toggle on Custom Pages, and then choose which page or pages you want to be available when that profile is active. (Pro tip: to hide those custom extra homescreens when you’re not in a Focus mode, long-press on your homescreen to put it in editing mode, then tap the dots at the bottom. Uncheck the screens you don’t want to show.)
  • You can arrange to have the focus mode turn on automatically during specific times and on specific days — for example, from 9AM to 5PM on weekdays.
  • You can even — and this is really nice — arrange to have it activate when you are at specific locations or when you’re using specific apps by selecting “Add Schedule or Automation” at the bottom of the mode settings page.

That brings you to the New Automation page where, for example, you can have it activate whenever you’re at work, or when you’re watching a Netflix video. And if this is something that happens often — for example, when you go to work or read in the evenings — activate Smart Activation, which will (hopefully) learn your habits and turn on Do Not Disturb when you need it. (If it gets things wrong, you can always turn it off.)

Focus profiles

In order to use the profiles, you need to set them up to fit your needs. I listed the ones available at the beginning of this article; in order to get used to them, let’s try setting up two: Personal and Driving.

When you tap on a profile that has not yet been set up, you are presented with a set of screens that walk you through the initial processing, including which people and apps should be allowed to notify you when the Focus is active.

After that, you are dropped into the Focus page for that profile, which will be similar to the Do Not Disturb setup described above. In Personal, you can not only tweak the allowed notifications but decide whether you want to share your Focus status, hide the notifications on your homescreen or lock screen, or create an automation that will turn it on and off at a certain time, in a certain place, or with a certain app.

Some of the other presets are more specific. For example, when I created a Focus for driving, the opening page of the wizard told me that it was silencing alerts and notifications while I was driving; that it would turn on automatically when I was driving; and that it would arrange auto-reply to let people know why I wasn’t responding to notifications.

And the Driving Focus page had a few differences as well. Allowed notifications include people but not apps (under the assumption that you’re not playing with apps while you’re at the wheel). There is an auto-reply option that lets you edit the message that will be sent to people who try to contact you while the Focus is on. And you can choose how the app will know you’re driving: automatically (based on detected motion), if the CarPlay app is activated, if the phone is connected to a car’s Bluetooth, or when you turn it on manually.

If none of the presets work for you, you can create a custom profile by tapping on the plus sign in the upper right corner of the main Focus screen and choosing Custom. You will be asked to name your new profile and to choose a color and icon to represent it. After that, the process is pretty much the same as for Personal, except that you can also tweak the name and appearance of the Focus in the profile’s screen.

So what next?

Now, when you tap the Focus icon in your Control Center, it will activate all the various features you’ve created for your profile. Note that the last profile that was active will be the one that is featured: for example, if you last used your Driving profile, the Focus button will have the car icon. Touch the icon to active it, or touch the word Focus to switch to a different profile.

The new Focus app in iOS 15 can be very useful by helping you concentrate when you need to, by letting you relax when you want to, by keeping unwanted calls and texts from waking you at night, and by keeping you safe from distractions when driving. It may take a while to figure out which profiles you want to set up, and to discovering what combination of factors works for you. But once you’ve got it working, Focus can really make things easier for you.

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