I think Focus Modes are underrated and underused. I’m going to be covering this more in the Labs as we lead up to the release of macOS Ventura and iOS 16. As a starting point, I’m running a new experiment where I’m triggering Focus Modes from Calendar events. It’s early days, but I’ve got it working…
Two weeks from today I’ll be doing a free webinar on how Apple’s new Focus Mode works and some of my tricks for getting more out of it. I’d love for you to join.
Watching WWDC Monday, one announcement that landed with me was the new Focus feature. (If you follow my podcasts, this shouldn’t be a surprise.) Regardless, I’ve spent the last few days playing with this new feature, and I like it. Focus is like Do Not Disturb, except it solves most of the limitations associated with Do Not Disturb.
First, Build a Wall
With Focus mode, I can set a specific kind of focus. One of mine is Podcasting. When you set up a Focus mode, your Apple devices put up walls to keep out distractions while you work on focused work. That may be the best part of the Focus feature: It starts with a wall. It’s then up to you to punch very specific (and small) holes in that wall. The fact that it begins with the concept that everything is blocked is why it works.
Make Exceptions for People
You can then add specific people that can breakthrough. Getting interrupted while trying to make an entertaining show is distracting. So in the case of my Podcasting Focus, the only people that can get through are my podcast partners and my wife.
Make Exceptions for Apps (or Don’t)
Next, you can poke holes for app notifications. In the case of podcasting, the only app I’m letting through is Zoom on my Mac. In my “Legal Work” Focus, it’s a different set of apps. This is the nice thing about switches and dials. Different areas of focus require different kinds of walls.
Consider Time-Sensitive Notifications
In addition to exceptions for people and apps, you can also make space for time-sensitive notifications to get through. Maybe this is something like a delivery notification or a notice that your Lyft driver is waiting. While I’ve got this option turned on for some of my Focus setups, it’s off for podcasting. Again, no interruptions are allowed when the mic is hot.
Let Folks Know
You can also auto-respond, letting people know you are in Focus mode and giving them a way to breakthrough if something is truly important. I use this feature in most modes.
Choose a Home Screen
If that’s not enough, you can also have your phone go to a specific home screen when you set the Focus mode. This includes pages you usually keep hidden. I will be setting up a hidden page of apps I use when I play music (metronome, tuner, sheet music app, and music app for play-along) and tie it to a reasonably liberal Focus mode. Then when I trigger the mode, I get the hidden music tools home screen.
You can trigger Focus mode based on app usage, time of day, or, location. Alternatively, “Smart Activation” uses all of these variables for the device to turn it on for you. Also, the Shortcuts integration is bi-directional. I could just as easily run a Shortcut that has an action that triggers the Music Focus mode. It’s up to you.
The Walls Go Up Everywhere
Another great point about Focus mode is that it works across all your devices. If I set this Podcasting Focus Mode on my Mac, it also kicks in on my iPhone and iPad. For years, my pre-podcast ritual involved finding stray Apple devices to turn off before hitting the red button. This solves that.
Room for Improvement
I am digging Focus mode but already see a few things I’d like added/changed. First, picking multiple contacts for exceptions is slow and painful. I’d prefer it also give me an option to select contact groups, like “family” or “clients”. I would also like the ability to duplicate focus modes as a starting point for new modes. Finally, I’d like to be able to customize the focus notification based on the specific Focus mode.
Focus Mode and Contextual Computing
Regardless, this new feature is aces. Moreover, it dovetails with my never-ending quest to further contextualize all of my time with technology. When I want to write a contract, I need my digital gizmos to set me up for that task and no other. When I want to make music, it should be the same. With a bit of effort, Focus mode will bring this power to all of us and across all of our Apple devices. I’m only two days into figuring out the best workflows for Focus mode, but I can already see how this will be a fixture of my work (and leisure) time going forward.