Apple’s Evolution of Do Not Disturb Helps You Focus

by | Dec 1, 2021

Between texts, alarms, reminders, calls, and myriad other notifications on our iPhones, iPads, and Macs, it’s a miracle we get anything done at all. To free us from this onslaught, Apple previously provided Do Not Disturb, which let you set times during which you could be free from interruption. In iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey, Apple has gone even further. Do Not Disturb is now called Focus, and Apple has made it more powerful and flexible. Focus can turn on automatically at certain times, at particular locations, or when you’re using certain apps so you can avoid interruptions during activities like working out, doing homework, eating dinner, or gaming. But not all interruptions—you can allow certain people and apps to break through the cone of silence. A Focus can also hide or show certain Home screen pages, prevent notifications from appearing on the Lock screen, and more. Plus, all your devices can share the same Focus settings—we’re showing iPhone screenshots below, but the interface is identical in iPadOS and similar on the Mac, where you’ll find it in System Preferences > Notifications & Focus > Focus. In Settings > Focus, Apple provides a pre-built Focus for Do Not Disturb, Driving, and Sleep to match the old Do Not Disturb options:
  • Do Not Disturb: This catch-all Focus takes over from the old Do Not Disturb setting.
  • Driving: This Focus replaces the old Do Not Disturb While Driving option. It’s unusual in that it doesn’t allow any app notifications through at all (eyes on the road!). It also lets you write a custom auto-reply for those who text you while you’re driving.
  • Sleep: If you use Apple’s sleep management features in the Health app, you’ll use this Focus to control which notifications can get through while you’re asleep.
Apart from those, Apple makes six suggestions: Personal and Work (in the main list), and Fitness, Gaming, Mindfulness, and Reading (when you add a new Focus). You can also create a custom Focus from scratch. Apple’s suggestions are special in one important way. Fitness, Gaming, and Mindfulness can turn on automatically: when you’re engaged in a workout, when you connect a wireless controller, and when you’re in a Mindfulness session started from your Apple Watch, respectively. When configuring a suggested Focus or creating a new one from scratch, Focus runs you through several setup screens. One has you choose people whose notifications you want to come through regardless, and what to do about incoming phone calls. The other screen lets you pick which apps can notify you when the Focus is active, with an additional option to allow notifications marked as Time Sensitive through regardless. (Time Sensitive notifications include timed Reminders alerts, for instance, and are usually best left enabled.) Once your Focus is ready, you can configure various options, including:
  • Focus Status: Enable this option to allow apps to alert those who message you that you have notifications silenced.
  • Home Screen: If your Focus involves you using the Home screen a lot, you can have it hide notification badges that might lure you into another app or even hide entire Home screen pages that could be distracting.
  • Lock Screen: If you might be looking at your Lock screen while the Focus is active, you can have it dim automatically and hide or show silenced notifications as appropriate.
  • Schedule or Automation: Although you can turn on any Focus from Control Center, it may be easier to have it turn itself on automatically at certain times, in particular locations, or when certain apps are active.
As with any new feature, it’s going to take a bit to figure out how to make Focus work best for you. We’re still learning it ourselves, but here are some recommendations:
  • To identify when a Focus would be helpful, wait until you find notifications irritating and then think about which ones you’d want a Focus to block.
  • Create just one or two Focuses at first. You don’t want to end up with a bunch that interact in unexpected ways and cause you to miss important notifications.
  • Be careful with schedules and automations. An automation that invokes the Reading Focus when Books is open might work well for reading before bed but could be problematic if you read while waiting for a meeting to start.
  • It may be safest to allow silenced notifications to appear on the Lock screen so you can easily see what you missed afterward and adjust the Focus as necessary.
  • You can manually invoke a Focus by tapping the Focus button in Control Center and selecting the one you want. Tap the ••• button to the right of the Focus to specify when it should turn off automatically, or just tap the Focus again to turn it off.
Newness aside, Focus looks like it will help us all cut down on distracting notifications. And if all else fails, stick with just Do Not Disturb, Driving, and Sleep to replicate what we had before. (Featured image by iStock.com/Daisy-Daisy)