Turning Off Work with iOS 15 Focus Modes

I can’t tell you how to disconnect from work.

I honestly have a pretty bad relationship with downtime, likely caused by 15 years of bad habits and consulting clients whose idea of boundaries is letting you sleep in your own home for the holidays. But, as part of an effort to create a healthier relationship with work and rest, I’m taking some time at the holidays to relax, to decompress and recharge, to spend time with loved ones and projects that don’t involve screens.

The best way to disconnect from work is, of course, not to have any. Much like the most secure computer is one that’s off and in the desk drawer, this is an ill-fitted solution to our current era. So, we’re left trying to figure out how to handle this experience.

Thankfully, our most personal devices have some new tools in iOS 15 to help turn off work without severing the ties that bind us to our social groups that live in our phones. Those of us of a certain age have made whole communities out there on the internet, separated by geographic distance, but still part of our lives. I’m fortunate to have great friends in Canada, Australia, England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, and other parts of the world, and they are a rich part of my life.

Step One: App Separation

First up, you’re going to need to identify what’s work and what’s not. Work for me is Gmail, Slack, Jira, Github, Lattice, Zoom, JumpCloud Protect, and the Google suite of apps.

“But Tom,” I hear you say, “my friends live in the Mac Admins Slack!” Mine too! And I don’t plan on logging out there. I have a set of Work Slacks that can live in the Slack EMM app! The EMM app is meant for work use and has additional controls for enterprise admins. I moved my Work Slacks over to that app, which meant that I could have social Slack and work Slack in separate places. Sometimes, this is an inconvenience, but rarely.

Once you’ve got a set of apps that you can clearly identify as work, it’s important to move them to their very own page on your device, because that’s how iOS 15 works its magic.

Here’s my set of Work apps. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Step Two: Defining Personal Focus

You may remember that Apple added Do Not Disturb mode way way back in iOS 6. It was a simple switch to essentially prevent a phone from making noise when it shouldn’t. Five years later in iOS 11, Apple added Do Not Disturb While Driving, which added some new controls for use associated with vehicles. The flexibility of these features were… lacking.

The next step is applying some Personal Focus settings. Apple made some major improvements in iOS 15 regarding Focus Modes. This new system is a good way to define a Do Not Disturb mode, a Driving mode, a Personal mode, a Sleep mode, and a Work mode. You can also add more modes, but we’ll talk about that later.

Focus modes are setup in the Settings app under the main menu’s Focus item.

Focus Settings screen

Tapping on the Personal focus mode will let you configure a number of settings:

  • Contacts who can reach you
  • Apps that can alert you
  • Whether or not to tell people that you’re in a focus mode
  • Hide Notification Badges
  • Select Custom Pages to show or hide
  • Whether to Dim the Lock Screen
  • Whether to Show Silenced Notifications on the Lock Screen
  • Set a Schedule or Automation for Activation of the Focus Mode
My personal focus mode

For my Personal Focus Mode, I wanted to make sure that all my normal iMessage contacts could come through, as well as other key applications that are part of just living life in 2021: bank apps, personal calendars, messaging and calling apps, travel-focused apps, home automationm and other fun tasks. Setting allowed notifications lets you keep hearing from the things you care about without having to also hear from work.

Step Three: Hiding That Pesky Work Screen

Gathering up your work apps into a screen or two will let you do the next magic: hiding them from view.

From the Personal Focus screen, tap the Home Screen menu, and turn on Custom Pages.

Here, you can select which pages show and which do not, which is why it’s essential to put your work apps together.

Deselect your Work apps screen, then hit Done.

Once you’ve de-selected your Work apps screen, you’re ready to use your new Personal Focus mode and spend time away from the apps that you use for work.

Step Four: Other Settings

There are a few other settings here that will help you out with Focus modes and I want to go over them here.

Dim Lock Screen: Dimming your Lock Screen gives you a plainer experience on at the lock screen. A 90% or so opaque black window over your normal lock screen, the time and date, focus icon, and your messages. It’s a signal to you that the phone is in a focus mode and maybe you don’t want to be paying attention to it?

Silenced Notifications: You can put your silenced notifications — you know, the ones you don’t want to get? — on the Lock Screen anyway. Don’t do this. Don’t be that person. Cool? Cool.

Turn On Automatically: Okay, this one will make sense when we’re out of the woods with the Pandemic, and you can set this to turn on automatically when you get home from an office. Since we’re largely working from home these days, this doesn’t make a ton of sense based on location, BUT, you can set it to hours of the day. Turn off work at 6pm on weekdays? A good plan for a restful evening NOT thinking about Work, hopefully.

Add Time-Sensitive Notifications: Apple also added the concept of a time-sensitive notification to iOS 15, which can be allowed to break through your Focus mode on an app by app basis. If you turn this on, be sure to go into the Notifications screen in Settings and turn off your work apps for this feature.

Turn off Time Sensitive Notifications for your Work apps if you want to leave Time Sensitive Notifications on elsewhere.

Step Five: But What If I Need To Work?

I almost don’t want to put this in here. I want you to get the downtime you need, friend, and that means not checking in if I give you a loophole. If you can feel your willpower slipping, just think about getting another hour’s nap, or another show on Netflix, or a game with your kids. Do that first. THEN come back and let’s talk about this next part.

Cool? Cool.

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Happy Holidays, enjoy your family, and please take a break. We need you ready for 2022.