Check out the updated Focus modes feature on iOS

by | Nov 1, 2022 | Focus

Takeaway: “Focus” is a feature on Apple devices that lets you mold your digital environment to stay on-task. I highly recommend customizing your own focus modes. I have ones for Personal, Work, and Sleep.

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Like some readers of this website, I’m pretty embedded in the Apple ecosystem. In my periphery right now is an iPhone, a MacBook Pro, an Apple Watch, and a pair of Apple headphones. There are some disadvantages to this Apple-only set-up (like cost and lock-in), but a big advantage is how these devices all connect with one another.

One of the best features Apple has added in years is “Focus modes.” Focus lets you mold your digital environment so you can stay better focused on what you intend to get done. As I mentioned to the Wall Street Journal last week, this should be the role of technology in our life: supporting us with what we intend to accomplish.

The feature lets you create and customize “focus modes”—I have one for personal use, one for work, and one for sleep. Each mode lets you choose who you get notifications from and which apps can interrupt you. In Apple’s most recent release, iOS 16, you can also select which home screen pages to show (and hide), and modify the information presented within certain apps when a focus mode is triggered. For example, different email accounts and calendars can be made visible depending on which mode you’re in. This feature is called “focus filters.”

As an example, when I fire up my “Work” focus:

  • I only receive notifications from coworkers. Notifications from distracting apps are silenced;
  • My phone’s home screen switches to a custom screen that has only the apps I use for work;
  • My Apple Watch switches to a simple face that doesn’t have any distractions and displays my calendar front-and-center.

In my work mode, these “focus filters” also get activated:

  • My phone goes into dark mode;
  • My priority work email account is enabled (it’s disabled the rest of the time);
  • My work calendars are enabled (they’re also usually disabled).

For me, the most valuable feature is the custom home screens. The other day, I spent a good hour customizing three home screen pages: one for my personal focus mode, one for the work focus mode, and a third for the sleep mode. Each has the apps I want to see across these three contexts. (The same app icon can now appear across multiple home screens, which makes this possible.)

Here are the apps and widgets I chose for each mode:


You can also change your Apple Watch screen to go with each mode. For example, when I switch to the work focus mode, my watch changes to this home screen, which displays my calendar front and center:

The new Focus features are invaluable if you use an iPhone, and especially if you have other Apple devices. Setting up your custom screens takes a bit of time—and it’s still annoying as ever to rearrange the icons across multiple pages—but I’ve found that effort worthwhile.

At its best, technology supports our intentions—it doesn’t get in our way. Apple seems intent on iterating on its Focus mode over time. I love what they’ve come up with so far and can’t wait to see where they take it.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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