Create custom Focus modes on Apple Mac to stop distractions

There are many distractions from various sources and it can be hard to focus on work and other tasks on your Apple Mac. Create custom focus modes for activities to stop interruptions.

When you are up against a deadline and work needs to be finished or some task must be done, there can be many distractions preventing you like email, messengers, phone calls, texts and even tasks that need doing in games you play. Every notification you receive diverts your attention from whatever you are trying to do.

Distractions are not only on your Mac and they come from your iPhone too. In fact, you can be doubly distracted as a notification can appear on your Mac and iPhone at the same time.

Focus modes on the Mac, iPhone and iPad enable you to subdue many of these distractions and this enables you to concentrate better on whatever work or task needs completing. The step-by-step guide below shows how to set up a custom Focus mode on the Apple Mac. However, it will be automatically synced to your iPhone and iPad if you are running the latest versions of Apple’s operating systems.

When a Focus mode is created or enabled on the Mac, it also applies to your iPhone and iPad. You could just as easily create a Focus mode on the iPhone and let it sync to the Mac. That works too. Use whatever device you find easiest to use.

Focus mode is new to macOS Monterey and iOS 15. Before those, we had Do Not Disturb, which was similar, but not quite as powerful. In fact, Do Not Disturb is still available and selectable as a Focus mode. They are great for increasing productivity by focusing your attention on the work at hand.

The most interesting feature of Focus is the way that triggers can be created that automatically enable a particular mode. For example, you can specify that a Focus mode that prevents unwanted notifications is automatically selected whenever you watch a movie. You can watch in peace. You could set a Focus mode to be applied automatically when you are at home, so your boss can’t hassle you out of hours for example. There are many possibilities.

1 Show and select Focus modes on Macs

Focus mode is part of macOS Monterey and iOS 15. It works in the same way across devices and settings are synced between Mac and iPhone, but they are accessed in different ways and have different looking menus. Functionally, they are the same though.

Focus mode in Apple Mac system preferences

Open the Mac’s System Preferences and select Dock & Menu Bar. Select Focus in the sidebar and there is an option to show Focus in the menu bar. It is not essential that it is shown, but it does make it more obvious when it is on or off and it is easier to access.

Selecting the focus mode in the menu bar on the Apple Mac

Whether Focus appears in the menu bar or not, it is always shown in the Control Center. Click the double switches icon in the menu bar to show the Control Center.

Focus mode in the Control Center on the Apple Mac

Move the mouse over the Focus button and click the > arrow that appears. The same menu as when clicking the menu bar icon is displayed.

2 View and manage Focus modes

Create a new focus mode in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

Go to System Preferences > Notifications & Focus and select the Focus tab. Some Focus modes are provided to get you started, like Do Not Disturb, Driving, Sleep but if you need more modes or need different ones, click the plus button at the bottom. Ready-made Focus modes like Gaming, Mindfulness, Personal and Reading are available and these templates get you started with minimal effort, but let’s create our own Custom Focus mode.

Click the plus button and then click Custom on the menu.

3 Create a custom Focus mode

Creating a new focus mode in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

A window appears that enables you to select an icon for the Focus mode and choose its color. Use the scroll bar to see all the icons. Click in the box at the top and enter a descriptive name for the Focus mode you are creating.

4 Focus mode options

Set options for a focus mode in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

The Focus mode can be enabled right now using the switch at the top. However, there are several ways to customize it to make it even more useful. Click the Options button at the top right to allow or block certain types of notifications.

5 Allow calls or notifications when Focus is on

Set options for a focus mode in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

There are three options and at the top is Allow time-sensitive notifications. This gives apps and people the ability to send you notifications even when the Focus mode is enabled. What is the point of Focus then? In Messages for example, if you open a conversation with someone that has Focus enabled, it tells you in a brief status message. You can respect their desire for no contact right now, but you the option to ignore it and message them anyway. Clear the option if you don’t want to give people the option to ignore your Focus mode.

Allow calls from is for choosing whether to prevent all calls, clear the checkbox, or to allow calls from certain people. Calls on your Mac? Yes, Facetime can be used to take calls. Don’t forget Focus modes are synced to the iPhone, so your choice applies to that too.

Allow repeated calls lets people bypass the Focus mode block by calling a second time straight away. It means that in an emergency, someone could reach you by calling twice. Don’t tell everyone, just your closest friends and family and make sure they know it is only for emergencies.

6 Let people bypass Focus mode

Allow calls or notifications from people in Focus mode on Apple Mac

There are more ways to make sure that important people like your boss or relatives can still reach you when Focus mode is enabled. There is an Allowed Notifications From list. Click the plus button at the bottom and select people from your contacts that are allowed to bypass Focus mode restrictions.

7 Turn on Focus mode automatically

Set time, location or app based triggers for Focus mode on Apple Mac

We have seen how to select and enable a Focus mode manually, but the most interesting feature is the ability to turn it on and off automatically. There is a list at the bottom of Notifications & Focus that enables you to add triggers that automatically enable the selected Focus mode.

Click the plus button and select one of the options. The Focus mode can be triggered by time, location or the app you are using. Let’s look at a couple of these.

8 Automatic Focus mode

App trigger for Focus mode on Apple Mac

If you choose Add App-Based Automation, a list of apps installed on the Mac is displayed. Browse them and click the Add button. For example, you may not want to be disturbed when you are watching a movie on Apple TV+. Select it in the list and click Add.

Location based trigger for Focus mode on Apple Mac

If you select Add Location-Based Automation, a list of known locations is displayed. You may find that Home and Work are known and appear on the list, in which case they can be selected. If no locations are shown, click in the search box at the top and enter a location. It can be broad, like a whole city or a specific location like your home, office or wherever you use your Mac.

An iMac isn’t going to move, so a location-based trigger is not useful, but if you use a MacBook at home, work, cafes, stations and so on, a location-based trigger can be useful. The MacBook works out its location and if you are at one of the selected locations, the Focus mode is enabled without you having to do anything.

10 The final custom Focus mode

Focus modes in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

This is what a custom Focus mode looks like. We called ours Quiet time and allow just two people to bypass it. It turns on automatically when we play Apple TV or Music or when we are at home.

The other Focus modes could have other automatic triggers, so you could configure the Sleep mode to automatically activate between 11 PM and 7 AM. You probably don’t have your Mac next to your bed, but don’t forget, configuring a Focus mode here applies it to your iPhone too. You may find it easier to create and manage Focus modes on your Mac with a big screen and mouse pointer.

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