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Monday, April 15, 2024

How to Use the Focus Feature on iOS 15—and Get More Done

Sometimes it's hard to focus. When you have a dizzying number of screens pinging around you, they can be more distracting than helpful. But if some of those screens run one of the new versions of Apple's operating systems—iOS 15, iPadOS 15, WatchOS 8, and MacOS Monterey—there's a tool to make things easier. 

It's called Focus, and it lets you create distinct profiles to not only control what notifications are allowed to interrupt you (if any at all) but also rearrange the home screen to suit what you need at the moment. Need all your work apps front and center from 9 am to 5 pm, and only messages from colleagues? Customize and enable the Work Focus! What about zero disturbances when you sleep? Go for the Sleep Focus. 

Here, we'll walk you through the steps of how to make a custom Focus.

How to Access Focus

First, you need iOS 15 on your iPhone, iPadOS 15 on your iPad, WatchOS 8 on your Apple Watch, or MacOS Monterey on your Mac. (The latter is still in beta.) If you haven't installed these versions, we have instructions here, along with details on the many other new features. You should also back up your device before updating. 

You can create up to 10 Focus profiles. They're all accessible from the Control Center, which you can access on modern iPhones and iPads with a swipe down on the top right corner. In earlier models (that is, anything without Face ID), swipe up from the bottom of the screen. On Macs, the Control Center is in the menu bar (the toggle icon), and on the Apple Watch just swipe up from the bottom. It's the half-moon symbol. You can also go to Settings > Focus on iPhones and iPads, or System Preferences > Notifications & Focus on Macs. Focus on Macs and Apple Watches is a little more pared-down than what you get on iOS and iPadOS, because it doesn't change the layout of your desktop or watch face in any way. 

One important point: When you turn on a Focus, your Focus Status will be visible to your contacts. This acts similar to a status on messaging applications—if the app supports it and if you've granted it permission, your contacts will be able to see that you've silenced notifications, though they cannot see the name of your Focus. You can turn this sharing feature off within the settings menu for any Focus by tapping on Focus Status and hitting the toggle. 

If you have multiple Apple devices, your Focus will sync throughout all of them so you don't need to make new ones per gadget. And if you turn on a Focus on your iPhone, it'll turn on in every other device, though you can toggle this off by heading to Settings > Focus > and toggling off Share Across Devices

Creating a Focus

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Photograph: Julian Chokkattu

Open the Control Center, tap Focus, and you'll be greeted with Do Not Disturb, Work, Sleep, and Personal. These are all presets you can configure, but you can delete the last three if you want to create profiles from scratch. Tap the triple-dot button next to each and Settings to configure them, or the “+” icon at the bottom to create a new Focus. 

A Focus has three main components: notifications, home screen or lock screen customization, and scheduling. With every Focus, you can allow calls and messages from select contacts, and you can choose any app you still want to receive alerts from. Then you can choose to change the entire home screen to a custom page with specific apps and widgets to fit the Focus, plus dim or hide notifications from the lock screen. Finally, you can schedule a Focus to turn on automatically or have it trigger when you arrive at a certain location or open an app. 

Here's how to create one from scratch: 

  1. Tap the + sign at the bottom of the Focus page in the Control Center. Or you can go to Settings > Focus and tap the same icon at the top right. On Macs, head to System Preferences > Notifications & Focus and tap the + icon on the bottom left.
  2. You'll see a list of Focus profiles to choose from. Pick one, or tap Custom to make one from scratch. Some presets have special perks. For example, Gaming Focus can automatically turn on when you connect a wireless controller to your device, or Fitness Focus can be triggered when you start a workout from your Apple Watch. For the purposes of this how-to, we're sticking with Custom.
  3. Give your Focus a name, then choose a color and an icon. Tap Next.
  4. Now choose the people that are allowed to reach you through the Focus. Tap the + icon under Allowed People and tap a contact's name to add them. Below, you can also choose how calls behave. You can allow calls from everyone, or just your favorites? You can also toggle on alerts for anyone who calls you twice within three minutes. Tap Allow when you're done. Alternatively, if you don't want anyone to disturb you at all, tap Allow None.
  5. Next, do the same thing but for notifications. Tap the + icon below Allowed Apps and choose any app you want to receive notifications from. Tap Allow when done, or tap Allow None if you want zero notifications.
  6. Done! You'll be taken to the settings page for your new Focus, where you can turn off the Focus Status, customize the home screen, and schedule or automate it.

Want to delete a Focus? Open the Control Center, tap Focus, tap on the focus you want to remove, and then hit the Settings page. Scroll to the bottom and you'll see Delete Focus

Custom Pages

On the settings page of a Focus on iPhones and iPads, you'll see Home Screen. Tap it, and then enable Custom Pages if you want to rearrange your home screen layout when this Focus is on. For example, if you're using the Work Focus, you can create a custom home page that will put any work-related apps or widgets front and center. Don't worry, your usual home screen will come back intact when you turn the Focus off. 

Toggle Custom Pages on and you'll be able to select from a few existing pages to customize. Pick one and tap Done. Now turn the Focus on. Ta da! Your home screen has changed to a new layout. Sadly, you can't change the apps in the dock—they'll always be the same—but you can rearrange apps, add new ones, or add widgets. Just press and hold anywhere on the screen to start customizing. Once your page is set the way you like, turn off the Focus by tapping on it in the Control Center. See? Your original home screen is back.   

Scheduling or Automating a Focus

You can head into the Control Center and turn on your Focus whenever you want. Tap the triple-dot button next to the name of the Focus and you'll see options for the duration of the Focus. You can also schedule or automate them. Head to the Settings page for the respective Focus, and tap Add Schedule or Automation

You have four options: Time, Location, App, or Smart Activation. The last one automatically turns your Focus on based on your location, app usage, and other signals. Time is straightforward—just schedule it to run on specific days from 9 am to 5 pm. With Location, just enter an address, and the Focus will start when your phone enters this location. Finally, you can also choose an app to trigger a Focus. For example, if you have a Gaming Focus, you can have it turn on when you open a game. 

That's it! You've fully configured a new Focus profile. It can help keep distractions to a minimum whether you're playing a game, working out, working, or just need some time to yourself. 

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