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How to use Focus modes for notifications on iOS 15

A guide to Apple’s powerful new notification filtering feature

Screenshots of iPhones running Focus mode.

One of the most powerful new features in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey, is Focus mode.

At its core, a Focus mode is a more customizable version of Apple’s existing Do Not Disturb and is accessed from the same menu on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. But Focus modes are far more customizable, allowing for more granular triggers for when you’re filtering out notifications.

  • To set up a Focus, head over to “Settings” > “Focus” and hit the plus button to add a new Focus. You’ll also be able to see existing Focus modes that you’ve set up and edit them.
  • Apple offers a variety of preset Focus modes to start with, including Personal, Work, Fitness, Gaming, Reading, and more. You’re not limited to Apple’s preset suggestions, though some of the presets — like the Driving, Fitness, or Gaming ones — offer additional features and triggers that aren’t available to user-created ones. Apple’s Fitness Focus mode, for example, can be automatically triggered when you start a Fitness Plus workout on your Apple Watch, while the Gaming mode can turn on whenever you connect a Bluetooth controller.
  • You can create a custom Focus by selecting Custom, which will let you select a name, icon, and color for that specific focus.
Setting allowed contacts on a Focus mode.
Selecting which apps can send notifications.
  • Next, you’ll be asked to choose which of your contacts (if any) you’d like to be able to message you when that Focus mode is activated — similar to how Do Not Disturb works.
  • The following screen will ask you to select which apps (if any) you want to allow to send notifications when that Focus is active. For example, if you’re making a “Work” Focus, you might only want your email and Slack apps to be able to send you pings.
  • Lastly, Apple will ask if you’d like to be able to receive special “Time Sensitive Notifications” — a new category of extra-important notifications that apps will be able to send that might not be able to wait until later.
The toggle to permit time-sensitive notifications.
The main Focus setting menu.

Once you’ve finished setting up your Focus, you’ll end up on the Focus mode’s setting menu, where there are a few additional things you’ll be able to configure. You can also get back here at any time by heading to “Settings” > “Focus,” then selecting the Focus mode you want to edit.

  • The Focus Status menu will let you decide whether contacts will see a notice if you’re in an active Focus mode and their messages are muted. (Although right now, the only app that supports the feature is Apple’s Messages.)
  • The Home Screen menu allows you to hide specific home screens on your iPad or iPhone when you’re in a Focus mode. Combined with iOS 15’s App Library and the new ability to create multiple copies of an app icon, you can use this feature to customize what your phone looks like in different situations.
  • The Lock Screen menu offers the option to show or hide silenced notifications on the lock screen or to dim the lock screen when the Focus mode is active.
Focus modes on iPadOS 15.
Image: Apple

Finally, there’s the actual activation of a Focus mode. Apple offers two ways to turn on a Focus mode: you can either manually select it from the moon icon in Control Center or schedule it automatically (settings for which can be found in the Focus menu).

The simplest option is “Smart Activation,” which has your device automatically toggle a Focus on its own. But you can also add more granular manual controls, activating a Focus for specific times, when you’re at a specific location, or when you’re using specific apps.